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NHRIs help drive change on death penalty

Graphic: Inmate in a prison courtyard

A Bill to abolish the death penalty in Malaysia will soon be tabled in parliament, following advocacy by the NHRI and changing public sentiment.

A Bill to abolish the death penalty in Malaysia will soon be tabled in the parliament, with more than 1,200 people on death row set to win a reprieve, following growing public opposition to capital punishment.

Executions in Malaysia are currently mandatory for murder, kidnapping, possession of firearms and drug trafficking, among other crimes.

Of the 1,279 inmates currently on death row, 710 are Malaysians and 569 are nationals of other countries (including 118 from Nigeria). A total of 932 inmates have been convicted of drug offences and 317 have been convicted of murder.

"We have made a decision and I don't think we are going to make a U-turn," Liew Vui Keong, the minister in charge of law, told Al Jazeera this month, noting studies showed capital punishment was not an effective deterrent.

Liew added that there should be a moratorium on all executions, pending the passage of the legislation.

The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) has actively campaigned to end the death penalty, submitting a comprehensive position paper to the government after hosting a National Conference on the Death Penalty in June 2018.

SUHAKAM also held consultations with government agencies, civil society organisations and religious leaders, including the Mufti of Perlis, the Mufti of Wilayah Persekutuan and Bishops from across Malaysia, to share perspectives and build support to end the death penalty.

In a statement, SUHAKAM warmly welcomed the government's proposal to "fully abolish" the death penalty.

"The death penalty has no place in a modern legal system given there is no conclusive evidence of the deterrent value of the death penalty and SUHAKAM advises that a legal or de factomoratorium on the use of the death penalty be observed pending the abolition," the statement said.

Graphic: Inmate in a prison cell

The APF provided financial assistance to support SUHAKAM's advocacy efforts, as part of our efforts to strengthen the capacity of national human rights institutions in the Asia Pacific to promote the abolition of the death penalty.

Through the Abolition of the Death Penalty Project, we also provided support to two other APF members.

The Myanmar National Human Rights Commission hosted a two-day Workshop on the Moratorium of the Death Penalty in October 2017.

Bringing together parliamentarians, senior government officials, civil society representatives and journalists, the workshop explored the issue in detail and prepared a statement and recommendations for consideration by the Government.

Since Myanmar is considered abolitionist in practice – it has not carried out an execution since 1988, although the death penalty is still imposed for some serious crimes – the workshop concluded by recommending that the government consider a moratorium on the application of the death penalty, pending its eventual abolition.

In addition, the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines has implemented a comprehensive suite of activities to gather community support and advocate against the proposed reintroduction of the death penalty in the country.

These activities include a national survey – the first of its kind in the Philippines – on attitudes towards the death penalty, as well as community-based consultations, a social media campaign, legal research, partnerships with universities and advocacy with parliamentarians.

Date: 19 November 2018

Exterior wall of prison

A 2016 APF report described patchy progress towards abolition of the death penalty across the Asia Pacific, despite positive developments in other parts of the world.

The report includes general recommendations for NHRIs to consider, including reviewing their State's criminal code, monitoring trials in all capital cases and monitoring pre-trial and post-trial detention.

Image credits

  1. Inmate in a prison courtyard - APF
  2. Inmate in a prison cell - APF
  3. Exterior wall of prison - APF