Asia is the first retentionist region worldwide. The number of people executed in Asia remains higher than the total number of executions in the rest of the world. Several countries in the region do not publish any statistics regarding death penalty use and the public opinion that supports capital punishment is still a major challenge to face. Indeed, in 2013, at least 37 executions were reported in 10 countries within the region, and more than a thousand death sentences were pronounced in 17 countries. However, reflecting the international trend, the abolition of capital punishment has increased these past ten years in Asia. The number of executions has decreased, governments have imposed more rigorous restrictions to limit the use of the death penalty and a more open debate has been launched. Over the last decade, five countries in the region have abolished the death penalty for all crimes, Nepal in 1997, Bhutan in 2004, the Philippines and Cambodia in 2006, and last but not least Mongolia in 2012.
In spite of this progress, there are still numerous challenges to be faced in order to abolish capital punishment in the region. Some set-backs have put this progression into perspective: India and Pakistan resumed executions and extended the scope of capital punishment respectively in 2012 and 2014; Indonesia and Singapore resumed executions as well.
In this context, tackling death penalty in Asia and particularly in East and South East Asia, is an absolute priority.
Malaysia remains one of the 55 countries that retains the death penalty for ordinary crimes, despite growing international calls and local campaigns for its abolition. Official statistics on all matters relating to death penalty remain secret and data are hard to obtain. However, according to Amnesty International’s Death Sentences and Executions 2013 Report, there were an estimated 992 people on death row in Malaysia; more than half of them were sentenced to death for conviction of drug trafficking. Indeed, Section 39(b) of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 requires the death penalty for drug-related offences, which violates international standards.
According to article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) – to which only 25 States are not parties, including Malaysia – the death penalty cannot be used in the context of crimes that are not considered as “the most serious crimes”. The United Nations Human Rights Committee, in charge of the interpretation and follow-up of the implementation of the ICCPR, concluded on several occasions that drug trafficking “does not meet the threshold of ‘most serious crimes’”.
This violation of international standards and the lack of transparency are subject to growing contestations, which achieved a positive outcome: the Malaysian government recently proposed to review the mandatory death penalty for certain drug-related offences. Therefore, this Regional Congress will be a great opportunity to think about the progressive abolition of the mandatory death penalty.
ECPM chose to organise the Regional Congress on the Death Penalty in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in order to make the most of its regional and international influence. Organising the Congress in this forefront regional capital city will facilitate the attendance of international political, judiciary and civil society representatives, which will guarantee the diversity and richness of the academic programme.
Over the last decades, Asian civil society’s commitment to abolition has increased. The Malaysian abolitionist movement, led by the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN, co-organiser of the Regional Congress), the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM), and Bar Council Malaysia (both partners of the Regional Congress), has strengthened. The cooperation of these structures on the Regional Congress will reinforce and empower the existing Asian abolitionist movement, making it more visible at the global level.
The Regional Congress will be aimed both at civil society and politicians, governments and regional organisations. Its aims are as follow :
Ensure the representation of the region’s players
The Regional Congress must create a dynamic in Asia, particularly by strengthening the active abolitionist movement, bringing together and empowering isolated players, enhancing ADPAN’s legitimacy and visibility and integrating the region’s representatives in world debates.
Ensure the continuity of debates
The debates which started at the Regional Congress on the following themes will be considered in more details at the World Congress: the death penalty and drug trafficking and consuming, the mandatory death penalty, unfair trials, and the use of diplomacy as a tool in the promotion of abolition, in Asia and worldwide.
The Regional Congress will be held on the 11th and 12th of June 2015 at Renaissance Hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The academic programme will include an opening ceremony, a plenary session, two roundtables, four workshops and a closing ceremony. This Congress will also grant a special importance to informal discussions between guests.
More than 300 participants are expected to attend the Congress, and around 55 of them will be financially supported by ECPM.
Like the previous World Congresses organised by ECPM, a wide media coverage is expected. ECPM will mobilise the targeted countries’ media – including retentionist ones– in order to ensure a broad diffusion across Asia. The implication of international media will contribute to raise public awareness worldwide.