Kuala Lumpur (The Star/ANN) - Malaysia has seen positive developments in the move towards abolishing the death penalty, said European Union ambassador and head of delegation to Malaysia Luc Vandebon.
"Progress is in the making. While public opinion reportedly favours capital punishment, there is a change of mood and atmosphere.
"A simple indicator is that the number of death sentences far exceeds the number of executions. In 2010, a large number of death row convicts were pardoned or had their sentences commuted. Of the 114 sentenced to death, there was only one reported execution.
"Furthermore, influential and high-level personalities have spoken out against the death penalty," he said at the grand finals of the Pleadings Competition among university law students held at the Parliament building in Kuala Lumpur.
Among those present were National Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) president Hasmy Agam, Malaysian Bar president Lim Chee Wee, Dewan Negara deputy president Doris Brodie and diplomats.
In October, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Nazri Aziz said the government would look into abolishing the mandatory death sentence for drug offences and replacing them with alternative sentences.
He cited the 250 Malaysians arrested as drug mules and sentenced to death overseas as one of the reasons.
Removing the mandatory death sentence for drug trafficking, Vandebon said, would be an important first step towards complete abolition and would provide for new opportunities. He suggested replacing the death penalty with a life sentence.
"It will make it possible to disprove the thesis that, if you abolish the mandatory death penalty, the crime rate goes up," he said, adding that there were over 900 currently on the death row with almost two-thirds sentenced for drug offences.
"Singapore has recently introduced amendments to its mandatory death penalty regime. Thailand has abolished the death penalty for juvenile offenders. Indonesia is moving away from the capital sentence."