Skip to main content

Countdown to Human Rights Day

Join Angelique Kidjo for a concert for human rights

Learn more

Press releases Special Procedures

Malaysia: UN experts hail parliamentary decision to end mandatory death penalty

11 April 2023

GENEVA (11 April 2023) – UN human rights experts* today hailed a decision by the Malaysian parliament to revoke the country’s mandatory death penalty for many serious crimes, a decision that could potentially spare the lives of 1300 prisoners on death row.

“The decision bolsters the global trend towards universal abolition,” the experts said.

“The death penalty is incompatible with fundamental tenets of human rights and dignity. We reiterate that the mandatory use of the death penalty constitutes an arbitrary deprivation of life and is a fundamental infringement upon the independence of judiciary and fair trial guarantees,” they said.

“It denies judges the possibility to consider the defendant’s personal circumstances or the circumstances of the particular offence and individualise the sentence. The mandatory death penalty is not compatible with the limitation of capital punishment to the “most serious crimes.”

The policy shift replaced the mandatory death penalty with alternative sentences in relation to 11 crimes including murder and terrorism, and gives judges the discretion to consider mitigating circumstances and commuting sentences for these offenses. According to the experts, the new law will apply retroactively, allowing those on death row 90 days to seek a review of their sentences.

The experts stressed that those sentenced to death, often hail from ethnic minority groups and in some cases include persons with disabilities, who suffer from a severe deterioration of their mental health due to prolonged periods of imprisonment. In Malaysia, most of those sentenced to death are charged with drug related offences.

“With this decision, Malaysia sends a strong signal supporting the abolition of the death penalty in a region where capital punishment is too often imposed for a broad range of crimes such as drug related offenses” experts said. “The majority of these offences do not meet the threshold of the most serious crimes, meaning those of extreme gravity involving intentional killing, which remains the only category of offense for which the death penalty can be imposed under international law,” they said.

The UN experts expressed hope that the recent decision to abolish the mandatory death penalty would pave the way for the complete abolition of the death penalty in Malaysia, and eventually in the whole region.

“Pending the full implementation of this law in the coming months, we will continue to support Malaysia in its efforts towards full abolition, including by supporting ratification and implementation of the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aimed at the abolition of the death penalty,” they said.

The experts: Mr. Morris Tidball-BinzSpecial Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Ms. Tlaleng MofokengSpecial Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; Ms. Priya Gopalan (Chair-Rapporteur), Mr. Matthew Gillett (Vice-Chair on Communications), Ms. Ganna Yudkivska (Vice-Chair on Follow-Up), Ms. Miriam Estrada-Castillo and Mr. Mumba Malila – Working Group on arbitrary detentionMs. Fionnuala Ní AoláinSpecial Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; Mr. Gerard Quinn, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities; Mr. Fernand de VarennesSpecial Rapporteur on Minority issues; Ms. Margaret SatterthwaiteSpecial Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers.

The Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, Country Page - Malaysia

For further information and media requests, please contact:  Anna Fischer ([email protected]) or write to [email protected].

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact Maya Derouaz ([email protected]) or Dharisha Indraguptha ([email protected])

Follow news related to the UN's independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts

Concerned about the world we live in?
Then STAND UP for someone's rights today.
and visit the web page at