A group of UN human rights experts appealed on Monday for Singapore to halt the execution of a Malaysian man who has intellectual disabilities. 

Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam, known as Naga, was originally scheduled to be hanged on Wednesday for drug offences after spending more than a decade on death row. 

“We note that a temporary stay has been granted today until a final appeal can be heard tomorrow. However, we are seriously concerned that, if the appeal is dismissed, he could still be executed imminently,” the experts said in a statement

Incapable of understanding 

Mr. Dharmalingam, 33, was apprehended in 2009 after he crossed the border carrying nearly 43 grams of diamorphine, a narcotic analgesic used to treat severe pain.  He was sentenced to death in 2010.  

His lawyers argued that Mr. Dharmalingam should not have received the death penalty because he was incapable of understanding his actions.  During the trial it was revealed he has an IQ of 69, which is recognized as representing an intellectual disability.  

”We are concerned that Mr. Nagaenthran a/l K Dharmalingam did not have access to procedural accommodations for his disability during his interrogation. We further highlight that death sentences must not be carried out on persons with serious psychosocial and intellectual disabilities,” said the UN experts. 

“We are also concerned that his past 11 years on death row has reportedly caused further deterioration of his mental health.” 

Illegal and ineffective 

They added that under international law, countries which have retained capital punishment may only impose it for the most serious crimes, namely those involving intentional killing. 

“Drug related offences do not meet this threshold,” they said. “Resorting to this type of punishment to prevent drug trafficking is not only illegal under international law, it is also ineffective. There is a lack of any persuasive evidence that the death penalty contributes more than any other punishment to eradicating drug trafficking.” 

The UN experts called on Singapore to commute the death sentence against Mr. Dharmalingam, in line with international human rights law. 

They recalled that the country had amended its drugs legislation in 2012, which allowed drug couriers to be sentenced to life behind bars if they assist the Public Prosecutor, or in cases of “abnormality of the mind”.  The death penalty remains mandatory in other cases 

“We urge Singapore to further reform its legislation to ensure the death penalty is never compulsory, as mandatory death sentences are inherently over-inclusive and unavoidably violate human rights law,” said the experts.  

Independent viewpoints 

The five experts who issued the statement were all appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. 

As Special Rapporteurs, they are mandated to report to the Council on thematic issues which include extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; the human rights of migrants, and the rights of persons with disabilities. 

Experts are independent from any government, and serve in their individual capacity.  They are not UN staff, neither are they paid by the Organization.