Singapore: IBAHRI calls for revocation of scheduled execution of Nagaenthran Dharmalingam

Monday 8 November 2021

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) calls on Singapore to revoke its decision to execute Nagaenthran Dharmalingam, a Malaysian man with an internationally recognised intellectual disability who has been sentenced to death by hanging for a drug-related offence. His IQ is assessed to be 69.

In November 2010, Mr Dharmalingam was convicted of trafficking 42.72 grams of heroin into Singapore and sentenced to death under Singapore’s Misuse of Drugs Act. The Singaporean authorities have scheduled his execution for 10 November 2021. The High Court of Singapore is due to hear a constitutional challenge to his execution on Monday 8 November 2021.

IBAHRI Co-chair and former Justice of the High Court of Australia (1996 – 2006), the Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG stated: ‘The IBAHRI strongly condemns the scheduled execution of Nagaenthran Dharmalingam. It is an affront to human dignity, in violation of Singapore’s obligation to ensure protection for persons with disabilities and surprising that such a modern and progressive country is so out of step with global human rights norms. United Nations bodies and special procedures have repeatedly emphasised that drug-related offences do not meet the threshold of “the most serious crimes” for which death sentences may be imposed in countries that have not abolished the death penalty. The IBAHRI calls on Singapore to immediately revoke and commute Mr Dharmalingam’s death sentence’.

Mr Dharmalingam’s defence attorney attempted to raise evidence at trial regarding his client’s intellectual disabilities in the form of a psychiatric assessment that highlighted his inability to make judgements, decisions, control impulses or assess future consequences. Reportedly, the court dismissed the evidence, refusing to recognise and consider the impact of Mr Dharmalingam’s intellectual disabilities on his culpability and capacity to commit a criminal offence.

Under Article 10 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – to which Singapore is a State party – State parties reaffirm that ‘every human being has the inherent right to life and shall take all necessary measures to ensure its effective enjoyment by persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others’. State parties also recognise that all persons are equal before and under the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law (Article 5(1)), shall ensure effective access to justice for persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others (Article 13(1)) and freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (Article 15).

IBAHRI Co-chair and Immediate Past Secretary-General of the Swedish Bar Association, Anne Ramberg Dr Jur hc commented: ‘It is clear that Singapore’s authorities hold views on the rule of law and human rights that are contrary to those held by the IBAHRI and the international community. That the court disregarded Mr Dharmalingam’s intellectual disability during the trial proceedings and sentencing demonstrates Singapore’s profound lack of respect for the relevant international standards and the principle of proportionality. The IBAHRI opposes the death penalty, without exception, and calls on the Singaporean authorities to immediately reintroduce the moratorium on executions and to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its Second Optional Protocol without delay, which prohibit such cruel and barbaric practices’.


Notes to the Editor​​​​​​​

  1. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​On 15 May 2008, the IBAHRI Council adopted its Resolution on the Abolition of the Death Penalty, which considers, inter alia, the clear trend towards viewing the death penalty as a breach of international human rights standards, as well as committing the IBAHRI to actively promoting the abolition of the death penalty.
  2. Click here to find out more about the IBAHRI’s work on the abolition of the death penalty.
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  4. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), established in 1995 under Founding Honorary President Nelson Mandela, is an autonomous and financially independent entity, working to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.
  5. Find the IBAHRI (@IBAHRI) on social media here:
  6. The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.
  7. The IBA acts as a connector, enabler, and influencer, for the administration of justice, fair practice, and accountability worldwide. The IBA has collaborated on a broad range of ground-breaking, international projects with the United Nations, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, The Commonwealth, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, among others.

  8. Find the IBA (@IBAnews) on social media here:

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