Suhakam dismayed by govt’s decision to maintain death penalty

Suhakam chairman Razali Ismail.

PETALING JAYA: The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) today expressed disappointment with Putrajaya’s decision to abolish the mandatory death penalty instead of doing away with the punishment altogether as previously promised.

“Although a good first step, a discretionary death penalty is still a barrier to upholding human dignity and the right to life,” its chairman, Razali Ismail, said in a statement.

Razali said there was always the possibility of an innocent person being on death row due to several reasons, including an inadequate defence and a misapplication of forensic science.

Citing a US-based initiative that has exonerated more than 300 death row inmates through DNA evidence, Razali wondered how many people in Malaysia would be freed from death row if a similar initiative was undertaken in the country.

“Capital punishment is irreversible. Once someone has been executed, there exists no way to remedy their death in the event of a miscarriage of justice.”

Razali went on to reiterate Suhakam’s position that the death penalty has no place in a modern legal system as it violates the right to life, which is the most basic of all human rights.

He then urged the government to take concurrent steps towards total abolition of the death penalty and move towards ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT).

Earlier this week, it was reported that the government plans to abolish the mandatory death penalty and replace it with discretionary death sentences for 11 offences under two acts.

Rights group Lawyers for Liberty slammed the move as “shocking, unprincipled and embarrassing” and described it as a “complete U-turn” from the announcement made by the Cabinet last October, in which it decided on a total abolition of the death penalty and gave a public undertaking to this effect.