Lawmakers want to revise law, as Vietnam faces execution dilemma

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As hundreds of executions have been pending since last year due to the absence of lethal injection drugs, lawmakers suggested Vietnam reinstate the firing squad.

Speaking on Friday, National Assembly Vice Chairman Huynh Ngoc Son proposed the adjustment to the Law for Enforcement of Criminal Verdicts, which took effects last July, Vietnamnet reported.

He said it was impossible to prolong the "troublesome situation," because without being executed, the death penalty loses its power as a deterrent.

According to Son, nearly 450 death-row inmates have been awaiting execution since the new law took effect, but they could not be carried out due to the lack of the necessary drugs.

The European Union, where the country had planned to import the drugs from, refused to sell them to Vietnam, saying that the country should eliminate capital punishment, instead, he said. The EU, in fact, has already abolished the death penalty in all of its member states and is now an active promoter of abolishing the practice worldwide.

In the meantime, some prisoners have asked for swift executions, and others have died from diseases. Prisons are also facing certain difficulties in managing the inmates, according to the latest report from judicial agencies.

Even though the Health Ministry has been working with related agencies to get the drugs, mostly through importation, it remains unknown when it will get them, Son said. Not to mention that it would take time for trials, so "everything is not simple," he added.

"Still, the government did not agree (it should revise the law)," the National Assembly's vice chairman said. "However, it is possible to execute with firing squad without causing pressures on executioners. That is, to rely on advanced technologies."

Dinh Xuan Thao, an assemblyman from Hanoi, agreed with Son, saying that it was necessary to amend the law to allow both execution methods firing squad and lethal injection, Dan Tri reported.

But, Thao, who also heads the National Assembly Standing Committee's Institute of Legislative Studies, said that in the future Vietnam should revise laws to reduce death penalty sentences as much as possible.

It meant that only those convicted of terribly serious crimes would be subject to such punishment, while others could have theirs decreased to life sentences without being eligible for parole, he explained.

However, Phan Trung Ly, chairman of the National Assembly Law Committee, said it would be "funny" if the law were revised again without having ever been enforced in the first place.

He said what mattered was the lack of accountability among government agencies in applying the law, not difficulties in importing drugs.

Although a government decree on enforcing the law regulated three drugs for lethal injection, neither the Ministry of Public Security nor the Ministry of Health took responsibility for preparing the drug stock, but kept blaming on each other, Ly said.

He also said that when proposing the switch, the government cited that firing squad was costly and caused undo stress for executioners, plus grounds for such executions were limited.

After the proposal was approved, the government agencies made lots of "meticulous" and "costly" preparations for the new execution method to end up realizing that no drugs were in stock, because "no one agrees to sell drugs for killing people," Ly said.

According to the lawmaker, many well-equipped rooms built with the American advanced design have been invested by the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Public Security, while hundreds of officials have been trained to carry out executions via lethal injection.

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"Especially the Ministry of Defense, according to the report, has managed to build three execution sites, even though only just two criminals are set to be executed under the ministry."

In the meantime, an assemblyman from the central province of Nghe An, Dr. Nguyen Minh Hong, director of the Vietnam Center for Medical Progresses Study and Application, said it was not that difficult to produce toxic drugs, but that there is no current "framework" to authorize or oversee such production.

"A handful of la ngon (Gelsemium elegans Benth) is poisonous enough to kill a person, but no one produces and dares to produce toxic drugs (from it) to kill people without policies and orders from government agencies with authority," he said.

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