Why The Death Penalty Should Be Abolished

Posted on October 24, 2018


“Death penalty will be abolished. Full stop.” These were the words of the de facto Law Minister Datuk Liew Vui Kong on the 10th of October, 2018, the 16th World Day Against Death Penalty. It was like a bolt out of the blue and to those of us who thought such a day will never come, it was jubilation.

Under Promise 27 of the Pakatan Harapan Manifesto, PH promised to abolish all mandatory death by hanging in all Acts but what was announced went beyond that. It will be abolished, period. Perhaps the Prime Minister’s speech at the United Nations less than two weeks ago was indicative of his Government’s intention when he said…

“The new Malaysia will firmly espouse the principles promoted by the UN in our international engagements. These include the principles of truth, human rights, the rule of law, justice, fairness, responsibility and accountability, as well as sustainability. It is within this context that the new government of Malaysia has pledged to ratify all remaining core UN instruments related to the protection of human rights.”

Among the conventions not ratified by Malaysia is the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) where the death penalty is not prohibited but clearly limited by a number of pre-conditions. Abolishing the death penalty would bring Malaysia in-sync with the requirements of ICCPR and pave the way for Malaysia to ratify without reservations.

Some of the reasons why the death penalty should be abolished in Malaysia are…

    1. Innocent people can and have been executed. In the US, where statistics are available, since 1973, over 156 people have been released from death rows in 26 states because of innocence. At least one person is exonerated for every 10 that are executed. Death penalty is an irreversible action, the innocent cannot be brought back to life. (https://www.aclu.org/other/case-against-death-penalty).
    2. In October, 2017 the Seremban High Court released a 20 year-old South Korean student who was charged for possession of 219gm of cannabis which carries a mandatory death sentence under Section 39B (1) (a) of the Dangerous Drugs Act (1952). A police witness insisted that the defendant was the only person at the scene until the defendant’s lawyer, Gobind Singh Deo showed a CCTV recording of other people at the scene. Can you imagine what would have happened if there was no such CCTV recording? (https://www.nst.com.my/news/crime-courts/2017/10/287244/south-korean-student-freed-drug-trafficking-charge)
    3. The criminal justice system is also inherently unfair. Not all offenders who committed capital crimes get convicted or executed. It depends on whether they have money or not, the skills of their lawyers, the discretion of judges (and juries) and in some cases, the race of the offenders and their victims. Many of those executed for drug possession are drug mules driven to smuggle drugs due to their desperation for money while the drug lords escape justice.
    1. A society that values life is one that not only not take a life but find ways to preserve and protect it. If this value is embraced by the society as a whole, it makes committing murders and actions that lead to the death or harm to others, abhorrent. It would also spur people to find ways to preserve lives through medical research and to bring comfort to those enjoying their life to the fullest. In short, placing a high value on life brings huge benefits to a society. Is it any wonder that most of the top 20 countries in the Legatum Prosperity Index (https://prosperity.com/rankings) are also countries that has abolished death penalty?
    2. You can’t say killing is wrong by killing. The message we are sending when we execute someone is that it is alright to take a life under certain circumstances. That life is not valuable, or some lives are less valuable than others. If you truly believe killing is wrong, then stop killing.
    3. Killing another vicariously is still killing. Even the most pro-death penalty advocate would baulk if asked to pull the trigger or turn on the switch to execute a person. They would rather through the State, hire some undisclosed persons to do the morbid act. But whether we do it ourselves or through someone else, by supporting state killing of a person, we are equally guilty of the act.
    1. A vast majority of the 195 countries listed in the United Nations have abolished the death penalty for all crimes (105) or have de facto abolished it, that is, there is a moratorium on it while laws are being changed (36). Malaysia has just recently joined this group of those who have declared its intention to abolish but have not changed the law to reflect this position. The remaining 54 countries still retain and active in carrying out the death penalty.
    2. Amnesty International holds that the death penalty breaches human rights, in particular the right to life and the right to live free from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Both rights are protected under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN in 1948.
    1. The key to real and true deterrence is to increase the likelihood of detection, arrest and conviction. Tackling drug abuses, improving the economy and providing more jobs are more effective as measures to deter crime.
    2. In the USA, more murders take place in states where capital punishment is allowed. Between 2000-2010, the murder rate in states with capital punishment was 25-46% higher than states without the death penalty. (http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/deterrence-states-without-death-penalty-have-had-consistently-lower-murder-rates)
    3. Promoting the death penalty as a deterrent to crime masks the real problems and thus the real solutions.
    4. For the death penalty to be an effective deterrent it would have to be applied consistently and promptly but this would not fulfil the demand for the due processes of the rule of law. As such, the time taken to convict a person of capital offences and the number of people who eventually get executed are so small that it failed as a means of deterrent.
    5. Life imprisonment is a better alternative. The thought of having their freedom taken away or restricted for the rest of their lives or substantial part of it could be a better deterrent.
    6. Prisons should move from a place of punishment to a place of rehabilitation and restoration so that these offenders can become responsible and contributing members of society eventually.
    1. Many argues that it is necessary to deliver justice to the families of victims by executing the murderer, an eye for an eye justice. But are we certain that all families want the offender killed or that taking another life would help ease their pains?
    2. More meaningful ways to help families of victim like counselling and financial support could be lost with the belief that killing the offender is the end goal. In some cases where families who wants to forgive the killer are against executing the person. Their grieve and guilt would be compounded if the offender is given the death penalty.
    3. A responsible society odd to move away from encouraging negative emotional actions like seeking vengeance, which is destructive. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye ends up making the whole world blind.”

For new Malaysia, we want to take bold steps to transform our country into a modern, progressive and influential voice for peace, harmony, justice and non-violence in this world and abolishing the death penalty in totality is a bold step in that direction.
“Because life is precious and death irrevocable, murder is abhorrent, and a policy of state-authorized killings is immoral.” Amnesty International.