The Malaysian Bar wholeheartedly welcomes the decision of the Malaysian cabinet to totally abolish the death penalty in Malaysia.
We commend the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Liew Vui Keong, for making the announcement on 10 October 2018, which coincided with the 16th World Day Against the Death Penalty. We look forward to seeing the legislation being tabled and passed by both houses of Parliament in the parliamentary session that began on 15 October 2018.
The Malaysian Bar has long advocated and campaigned for the total abolition of the death penalty in Malaysia, and we have on numerous occasions passed resolutions to that effect, at our annual general meetings.
The cabinet decision is a clearly correct and conscionable one. The death penalty, as a form of retributive justice, is akin to taking “an eye for an eye”: it does not assure a safe and secure society, but diminishes our collective humanity. Very little is achieved in having the death penalty except to satisfy the need for revenge. In a modern society, we must focus more on rehabilitation and restoration.
The Malaysian Bar is steadfast in our view that life is sacred, and every person has an inherent right to life. This right is enshrined in Article 5(1) of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia, which shuns the arbitrary deprivation of life. The right to life is a fundamental right that must be absolute, inalienable and universal, irrespective of the crime committed by the accused person. As we progress in our democratic development, we must shift away from killing people in the name of ‘justice’.
The government will need to work with the pardons boards — both federal and state — to ensure that the more than 1,250 convicted individuals currently on death row are also spared from the death penalty.
All death sentences should be commuted to sentences of imprisonment that are proportionate to the gravity of offences committed and take into consideration the mitigating factors and distinctive circumstances that surround each case. Only then will the punishment meted out be both just and effective.
The Malaysian Bar stands ever ready to assist the government in fully realising the total abolition of the death penalty in Malaysia.
George Varughese is president of the Malaysian Bar.