For the occasion of the World Day against the Death Penalty on Octobre 10, the Community of Sant’Egidio has invited Malaysian advocate and solicitor Suzana Norlihan Alias to speak on the subject. She is one of the few speakers in the field who can give an Asian perspective on the death penalty.
Currently a lot is happening around the death penalty in Asia. The president of the Philippines has suggested to reintroduce capital punishment, and in Sri Lanka the president wants to start executions again after forty years. The Community of Sant’Egidio hosts a yearly international conference for Ministers of Justice from countries that have abolished the death penalty and countries that still apply it. One of the attendants last year was the minister from Malaysia. During a ceremony at the Colloseum in Rome, which was specially lit in green light for the occasion, he announced the abolition of the death penalty in his country. The issue is currently under debate in Malaysia. Over 1200 people are currently on death row in the country.
Ms. Norlihan is one of the few speakers who can shed light on the issue in Asia from personal experience. She studied Law at the International Islamic University of Malaysia and established her own law firm in Kuala Lumpur in 2002, which is unusual for a Muslim woman in the country. In her work she fights for a fair trial for clients who are often not helped by others. Many of them are death penalty cases. “A suspect is also someone’s son or daughter, father or mother. If I can prevent someone receiving a death sentence, I’m not only helping that person, but a whole family”, she says.
Apart from her expert knowledge in the legal field, Ms. Norlihan can also speak from personal experience. She has a brother who has been imprisoned in Malaysia since 2002 and who received a death sentence in 2009. Her unique perspective includes both a legal attitude and the experience as a next of kin. She has given talks on the death penalty in various universities in Malaysia, as well as in its parliament. With her talks, she voices the many people in Asia who are not heard by anyone. She was one of the speakers at the 7th World Congress Against the Death Penalty this year, where 1500 attendants from 115 countries exchanged experiences and strategies to abolish the death penalty.
Ms. Norlihans lecture on an Asian perspective on the death penalty will be introduced by Prof. Anton van Kalmthout. Until his retirement in 2010, he was a professor in criminal and immigration law at Tilburg University. Van Kalmthout was chairman of the Supervisory Board of the Dutch Probation Institute (Reclassering Nederland) and represented the Netherlands in the European Committee against Torture. He is currently a board member of Penal Reform International. In his introduction, he will address the question of a humane alternative for the death penalty from a European perspective.
The evening will be moderated by Ms. Annemarie Pieters, Vice President of the World Coalition on the Death Penalty, an international coalition of 166 organisations who strive for the abolition of the death penalty.