Washington DC, October 14, 2019 (CABNC): As of 22 February 2019, 1,281 people were under sentence of death in Malaysia, held in 26 detention facilities across the country, a new report by Amnesty International, a human rights organisation, has revealed. A startling 44% (568) of all those under sentence of death were foreign nationals, from 43 countries. Nationals from Nigeria made up 21% (120) of this group, with those from Indonesia (16%), Iran (15%), India (10%), Philippines (8%) and Thailand (6%) following suit.
The report, Fatally flawed: Why Malaysia must abolish the death penalty, reveals the use of torture and other ill-treatment to obtain “confessions”, inadequate access to legal assistance, an opaque pardons process and other serious violations of the right to a fair trial that have put people at risk of execution.
Malaysia is among a minority of states that continue to impose the death penalty for drug-related offences. As part of the public debates on the announced legislative reforms, several calls have been made to retain this punishment because of its perceived deterrent effect. However, not only there is no evidence that the death penalty acts as a unique deterrent; it has also not been proven either to be a deterrent to drug use nor an effective way to prevent drug-related deaths.
Through its research for the preparation of this report, Amnesty International has found that those on death row for drug trafficking were frequently convicted after they were found in possession of and transporting relatively small quantities of drugs without having committed or being involved in any form of violence, and were often people that are at the low-end of the drug chain (drug couriers). In many cases, they claimed that they were forced or lured into the drug trade by their partners or people they knew, for example, or because of their lack of financial means.
Given the low-ranking and the elevated risks such positions entail, many of those who have been sentenced to death have shown to have little or no control over what drugs and what amounts they were asked to carry; they had little or no information about where the prohibited substances were coming from or going to and were in many cases only in possession of a name and a mobile phone to call once arrived at their assigned destination. This situation leaves couriers more exposed to the risk of the death penalty, as they usually have no information about those occupying higher positions in the hierarchy of criminal drug networks, which they can share with the authorities to assist with the disruption of further drug trafficking activities and avoid being sentenced to death.
The use of the death penalty for drug-related offences is the most extreme sign of the predominantly punitive response that states have put in place in the context of the so-called “war on drugs”. As has been shown in recent UN studies, such policies have been detrimental to the enjoyment of human rights,55 Having a particularly dire effect on the most marginalized sectors of society. Nevertheless, the negative impacts on the lives of people continue to be frequently ignored as the effectiveness of the international drug control regime is measured by the number of drugs seized or the number of people arrested for drug offences.
The heavy reliance on criminal laws, repressive policies and other measures based on prohibition have resulted in widespread human rights violations. Current drug policies have failed to address the underlying socio-economic factors that increase the risks that lead people to engage in the drug trade, including ill-health, denial of education, unemployment, lack of housing, poverty and discrimination. As seen by the cases documented in this report, drug control laws and policies have worsened structural sources of vulnerability, stigma and discrimination that affect people who engage in the drug trade, especially women and those belonging to marginalized and disadvantaged communities.
Malaysia must start to fulfil its promise to abolish the death penalty in forthcoming legislation by ending its use for drug-related offences and eliminating the mandatory death sentence, Amnesty International said today, as it launches a new report to mark the World Day Against the Death Penalty.