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UN experts hail Malaysia's move to scrap mandatory death penalty

They say the move 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 offences'.

Bernama
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An activist holds a placard at a protest in Kuala Lumpur against the execution of a Malaysian on death row in Singapore. The government has agreed to replace the mandatory death penalty in Malaysia with alternative punishments subject to the discretion of the courts. Photo: AFP
An activist holds a placard at a protest in Kuala Lumpur against the execution of a Malaysian on death row in Singapore. The government has agreed to replace the mandatory death penalty in Malaysia with alternative punishments subject to the discretion of the courts. Photo: AFP

United Nations (UN) human rights experts have hailed the government’s decision to revoke the mandatory death penalty for a range of serious crimes, saying the move could spare the lives of some 1,300 prisoners on death row. 

"The decision bolsters the global trend towards universal abolition. The death penalty is incompatible with fundamental tenets of human rights and dignity.

"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'," they said in a statement published on the website of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights yesterday.

The Abolition of Mandatory Death Penalty Bill 2023 replaced the mandatory death penalty with alternative sentences in relation to 11 crimes, including murder and terrorism, and gave judges the discretion to consider mitigating circumstances and commuting sentences for these offences, the statement added.

According to the experts, the new law will apply retroactively, allowing those on death row 90 days to seek a review of their sentences.

"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 offences," they said.

They also expressed hope that the decision 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.

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