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 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.