At Malaysia's presentation of its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) report at the United Nations in Geneva in 2013, one of the recommendations which had substantive amount of support was for Malaysia to put a stop to executions.
At least 18 states - including Norway - raised concerns about the death penalty and made recommendations for Malaysia to establish a moratorium on executions, as well as take steps to eliminate mandatory death sentences.
In response, the Malaysian government delegation stated it was studying the “issues arising from the imposition of [the] death penalty”, with the view of making recommendations on ways forward.
According to Amnesty International’s 2015/2016 report on Malaysia, official statistics listed 33 executions carried out between 1998 and 2015.
In a written reply to a question by Bukit Gelugor parliamentarian Ramkarpal Singh in May, Minister in Prime Minister’s Department Nancy Shukri said there were 1,041 death penalty inmates as of May 16 this year.
Mandatory death sentence is applied to those convicted of drug-trafficking, firearm offences, murder, and treason.
In November last year, attorney-general Mohamed Apandi Ali had called mandatory death penalty a “paradox” because it takes away a judge’s discretion in imposing sentences.
In late 2012, International Centre for Law and Legal Studies (I-Cells) was tasked with providing a comprehensive review of the laws and practices on death penalty in Malaysia.
According to Nancy, the research group appointed Roger Hood, emeritus professor of criminology from Oxford University, as consultant in 2014.
When asked why the study took more than three years, Nancy admitted it took a long time but said it was fair because the review was "very thorough".
“They (the researchers) went back in history to the 1800s. They looked into every aspect of the law, the history, why the law was made in such a way.
“That’s why, according to them, it took so long. They finished only about two months ago,” Nancy told Malaysiakini at the sidelines of the Sixth World Congress Against the Death Penalty in Oslo, Norway, on June 22.
The minister said it was important to ensure the recommendations put forth by cabinet echo public opinion on the matter.
“If you see cases that happened in Malaysia, especially the victims' families, they always want an eye for an eye ... So it becomes a challenge for the country.
“It's better to get a proper study to be done professionally and see whether this (amending) is something that the Malaysians can accept because we want to be at par with others as well.
“And not only that, we are talking about a human being, even though talking about what the accused or the perpetrator had done to the victim, it is very difficult for the government to just take away what (punishment) is already there.
So therefore … we feel that we need to go back to the court but still, we need to see what is the outcome of the study on legislative reforms, whether they (the recommendations) include that or not,” she said.
Make study public
The NGOs are urging the government to release the study.
“The study and recommendations must be made public,” said Hector.
For regional grouping Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (Adpan), Malaysia going on record in front of its UN peers that it was carrying out a study adds another layer of accountability.
“It is only prudent that the report be made public now that it is completed,” said Adpan executive member Ngeow Chow Ying.
Nancy said it was about timing.
“I cannot pre-empt it because we have to present to cabinet but I believe there shouldn’t be any problem (to share the study with the public) because it is an academic study to propose to the government what is best.
The minister herself has not read the contents of the study.
“I have not seen it (the study) because it is only I-Cells and the AG’s Chambers (which are involved). Once they have prepared the recommendation paper, I will be the one (to read it), the person to table to cabinet.
“But of course it will be up to the government to take which part of the recommendations that the government feel is suitable for Malaysia to pick up,” she said.
Adpan was confident that recommendations from I-Cells’ leader Hood, whose scholarship on death penalty is known globally, would reflect international standards.
“Prof Roger Hood is an authority on this issue and he is a strong abolitionist; his recommendations will be to abolish the death penalty. The report is to be tabled to cabinet for approval. It will be a test on our politicians," said Ngeow.
Amnesty International Malaysia executive director Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu added: "Death penalty reforms have been bandied about since 2010. Six years on, it is good to note that some progress has been made and we hope that the government will heed international calls to abolish the death penalty in its entirety."