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Death penalty will not save our little ones

Amnesty International Malaysia is outraged by the brutal murder of eight-year-old Nurin Jazlin. We offer our deepest condolences to her family members and loved ones. This disgusting and terrifying crime is a sad reflection of how unsafe our country really is for girls.

It is depressing, but the reality is that Nurin is just the latest in a series of girls who have died as a result of sexual abuse and violent crimes. Many in this nation have not even fully recovered from the brutal rape and murder of 10-year-old Nurul Huda Abd Ghani in Johor Bharu back in January 2004.

Public outrage in this matter is completely understandable. However, calls for the death penalty to be applied to the offenders of this crime are misplaced.

In fact, countless men and women have been executed worldwide for the stated purpose of preventing crime, especially the crime of murder and sexual violence. Yet Amnesty International has failed to find convincing evidence that the death penalty has any unique capacity to deter others from commuting particular crimes.

A survey of research findings on the relation between the death penalty and homicide rates, conducted for the United Nations in 1988 and updated in 2002, concluded: ". . .it is not prudent to accept the hypothesis that capital punishment deters murder to a marginally greater extent than does the threat and application of the supposedly lesser punishment of life imprisonment."

However, Amnesty does hold that governments have the responsibility to ensure the safety of everyone who lives in the country. According to international standards, governments must first of all respect people's human rights in other words, governments themselves must not violate human rights.

Governments must also protect peoples' rights ensuring that other people or bodies do not abuse people's rights. And lastly, governments must fulfil human rights, making them a reality in people's everyday experiences.

In the case of children, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), a legally binding UN treaty that Malaysia has ratified, clearly states in Article 34 that:

"States Parties undertake to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse."

Article 37(a) of the CRC states: "No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment."

The state might argue that it is impossible to prevent violations against girls, especially if they are perpetrated by individual members of society. But this is precisely where preventing harm towards all potential victims requires the strengthening of the general judicial and administrative framework, including effective education for everyone on gender and human rights.

At the same time, law enforcement officials need to be sensitised on the specific nature and impacts of violence against women and girls. This principle is called due diligence on the part of the government, and it is enshrined in the CRC and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw), another legally-binding UN treaty ratified by Malaysia.

Amnesty International Malaysia would like to see the Malaysian government and the police force being more proactive in addressing these concerns, in consultation with women's organisations, shelters, and individual men, women and girls from the public. The nation mourns Nurin Jazlin. Let us never have to mourn another girl child in these circumstances ever again.

The writer is executive director, Amnesty International Malaysia.