UN Experts Condemn Singapore’s Execution of Malaysian on Drug-Related Charges

By Manik Mehta
Datchinamurthy Kataiah has escaped the gallows for now. According to his lawyer, M. Ravi, the High Court granted the stay of execution of Datchinmoorthy pending the outcome of the hearing of his prison correspondence misconduct legal challenge to be heard on 20th May. 

NEW YORK, May 16 – After having unsuccessfully appealed to Singapore not to carry out the execution of a Malaysian national suffering from a mental condition, United Nations experts issued a strong condemnation of Singapore for ignoring their plea and carrying out the execution of the Malaysian national on a drug-related offense.

The UN experts have called for an immediate end to the death penalty.

Reacting to the Malaysian national’s execution by Singapore, the UN appointed independent human rights experts urged Singapore to immediately impose a moratorium on the death penalty.  They maintained that the continued application of the death penalty for drug-related offenses ran counter to international law.

The UN experts reminded that countries that still carried out the death penalty may impose it only for “the most serious crimes”.  The eleven experts, constituting the human rights group, issued a statement saying that under international law “only crimes of extreme gravity involving killing” should be considered “most serious”. They said that “drug offenses clearly do not meet this threshold”.

The Malaysian national already executed by Singapore was Nagaenthran Dharmalingam in April while a Singaporean Abdul Kahar bin Othman was executed in March also for drug-related offences.

The execution of Dharmalingam, despite reports about his intellectual disability – according to New York based sources, he suffered from a deteriorating mental health condition and was himself a victim of human trafficking – was strongly criticized, with some human rights advocates calling it “inhuman”.

“Executions of persons with intellectual disabilities and for drug-related offences are a violation of the right to life and the right to be free from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and amount to unlawful killings,” the experts remarked in their statement.

The experts urged the Singaporean authorities to halt any plan to execute another man – also a Malaysian national who has been convicted for a similar offense – and to immediately impose “an official moratorium on all executions with a view to fully abolishing the death penalty”..

Datchinamurthy Kataiah, awaiting execution, was arrested for trafficking 44.96 grams of diamorphine from Malaysia to Singapore, and sentenced to death in May 2015.

Although his execution was scheduled for 29 April 2022, a stay was granted until May May. The UN experts have urged Singapore to, instead, commute his death sentence to imprisonment in accordance with international human rights law and standards.

Additionally, the UN experts raised concerns over the discriminatory treatment of individuals belonging to minorities, as in the case of Mr. Kataiah, and reports about reprisals against their legal representatives.

The argument by UN experts is that the application of the death penalty constitutes an “arbitrary deprivation of life”, since it is imposed without any possibility of taking into account the defendant’s personal circumstances or that of the particular offense.

 “As a first step, the Government of Singapore should review, without delay, the scope of the death penalty, particularly with regard to drug-related offences, in order to ensure that its imposition and implementation are strictly limited to cases involving intentional killing,” they concluded.

The UN experts, called “special rapporteurs” and independent experts, are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report on specific human rights theme or the situation prevalent in a country. The positions are honorary and the incumbents do not get paid for their work.

The HRC experts are Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Working Group on Arbitrary Detention,  Miriam Estrada-Castillo (Chair-Rapporteur), Mumba Malila (Vice-Chair), Elina Steinerte, Leigh Toomey, Priya Gopalan; Felipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants; Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on minority issues; Siobhán Mullally, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children; Gerard Quinn, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities; Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health.