By John Bunyan
KUALA LUMPUR, June 10 — A Human Rights Watch (HRW) representative Phil Robertson has insisted today that any abolishment of the mandatory death penalty in Malaysia needs to be accompanied by a legislative amendment in the Parliament before the pledge can be put into effect.
The deputy director of the human rights watchdog’s Asia division said Malaysians must instead to take a wait-and-see approach as Putrajaya has historically only delivered little of its promises despite promising so much on human rights.
“Malaysia’s public pronouncement that it will do away with the mandatory death penalty is an important step forward, especially when one considers how trends on capital punishment are headed in precisely the opposite direction in neighbouring countries like Singapore, Myanmar, and Vietnam.
“But before everyone starts cheering, we need to see Malaysia pass the actual legislative amendments to put this pledge into effect because we have been down this road before, with successive Malaysian governments promising much on human rights but ultimately delivering very little,” he said in a statement.
Earlier, Malaysia’s de facto law minister Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar announced that the government has agreed to abolish the mandatory death penalty and substitute sentences at the discretion of the court.
Wan Junaidi also confirmed that the Cabinet has agreed that further scrutiny and study be carried out on the proposed substitute sentence for 11 offences carrying the mandatory death penalty, one offence under section 39B of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 [Act 234] 2 and 22 other offences which carry the death penalty but at the discretion of the court.
This further study will be carried out in collaboration with the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) Legal Affairs Division, the Prime Minister’s Department and other interested ministries and departments.
Robertson described the latest announcement on the death penalty by the Malaysian government as merely to show the international community that the country is progressing forward.
“The Malaysian government loves to float trial balloons about human rights initiatives because it knows the international community has a short attention span and will take this as a sign of Malaysia progressing forward.
“But the reality is often more complicated, so we’ve learned to be wary. Hopefully, Malaysia will do the right thing by immediately implementing this pledge to do away with the mandatory death penalty,” he said.
Malaysia has had a moratorium on all executions since 2018 while awaiting recommendations from the committee.
In August 2019, the Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration formed the Special Committee to Review Alternative Punishments to the Mandatory Death Penalty to examine alternatives to the mandatory death sentence.
However, the PH government collapsed in February 2020 before the Bill for the abolition of the death penalty could be tabled in the March meeting of Parliament that year.