Friday, October 21, 2011

EU for the abolition of the death penalty in Malaysia

Public event to Promote the abolition of the death penalty in Malaysia
Kuala Lumpur, 13 October 2011, 3pm-6pm
Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre
Welcoming remarks by H.E. Vincent Piket
Ambassador and Head of Delegation of the EU to Malaysia

Yang Berhormat Dato' Seri Nazri Abdul Aziz, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department
Yang Berhormat Senator Tan Sri Abu Zahar Ujang, President of the Senate
Yang Amat Arif Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Raus Sharif, President of the Court of Appeal
Honourable Dato’ Hashim Yusof, Judge in the Federal Court
Datuk Liew Vui Keong, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department
Lord Alf Dubs of the UK House of Lords and Member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Abolition of the Death Penalty
Honorable Justice Nico Tuijn, Vice-President of the Court of Appeals of Den Bosch, the Netherlands
Professor Datuk Dr Khaw Lake Tee, Vice President of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia
Mr. Tony Woon, Secretary-General of the Malaysian Bar
Excellencies, representatives of the Malaysian government
Excellencies, Ambassadors, High Commissioners and representatives of the diplomatic corps
Distinguished guests from Academia, the law profession, civil society organizations and the general public
Members of the Media

I am pleased to welcome you at this "Public event to promote the abolition of the death penalty in Malaysia". With today's seminar the Delegation of the European Union, the Bar Council and the National Human Rights Commission (SUHAKAM) are marking the International Day against the Death Penalty.

We see this seminar not as an isolated event, but as the start of a campaign. In it we hope to engage with the Malaysian Government, with both houses of Parliament, with the law enforcement bodies and the judiciary, with civil society and with the general public. I am grateful to the Honourable Minister Dato' Seri Nazri Aziz for his support to participate in this debate. I am also grateful for the engagement shown by many members of both sides of parliament, including members of the Malaysia-EU Inter-Parliamentary Caucus.

The European Union holds a strong and principled position against the death penalty. The ban on capital punishment is enshrined in the EU’s founding treaty. Today, none of the 27 EU Member State practises the death penalty. Its abolition is a pre-condition for new Member States to join the European Union.

The abolition of the death penalty worldwide is one of the main objectives of the EU’s human rights policy. Where the death penalty still exists, the EU calls for its use to be progressively restricted and we insist on it being carried out according to minimum standards. The EU uses all its available tools of diplomacy and cooperation to work towards the abolition of the death sentence. In 2011 we have granted EUR 8 million (RM 34 million) to civil society organisations around the world working to that end.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
The number of countries that are abolitionist in law or in practice has gone up over the past decade, rising from 108 in 2001 to 139 now. These countries are located on all continents of the world: Europe, Asia-Pacific, the Americas, and Africa. They include developed countries as well as developing countries. And they include countries with differing majority religions – Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity. From that, I conclude that the abolition of the death penalty is a value that transcends borders: geographic, economic, and spiritual.

At the same time, 58 countries worldwide still have the death penalty. In 2010 23 countries are known to have carried out executions. And, the Asia-Pacific region accounts for the highest number of executions in the world.

However, there are also positive developments in Asia. Cambodia, Hong Kong, Nepal, Philippines and Timor Leste have abolished the death penalty. Mongolia announced a moratorium. Brunei has not carried out an execution since 1957; South Korea since 1997. No execution has ever taken place in Lao PDR. For the second consecutive year, no executions were recorded in Indonesia in 2010. And no executions happened in Thailand in 2010.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Malaysia still has the death penalty. In 2010, there were 114 death sentences. There was one execution reported. And there are 744 persons on death row.

Today I venture the opinion that, while Malaysia is a retentionist country, and while reportedly public opinion 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 sentences were pardoned or commuted. Influential and high-level personalities have spoken out against the death penalty. The Honourable Minister is among them and I salute him for his courage doing so.
Last June, Parliament set up an informal, bipartisan group to promote abolition. At its inaugural meeting, the bi-partisan group called for a moratorium on the death penalty. Such a move would create some important opportunities. It would make it possible to disprove the thesis that, if you abolish the death penalty, your crime rate goes up. It would give an opening to a review of the penal code, for examining if the crimes now punishable with death are really so serious that they warrant death. It would create space for awareness raising among the public, to show that nonlife penalties that have an equally deterrent and retributive force as does life.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Each year on 10 October, the world marks the Day against the Death Penalty. Let us stop and think for a minute about the death penalty concretely.
Somewhere in a prison in Malaysia a woman in her early twenties is awaiting trial. This woman, a single mother with a three-year-old child, was naive, irresponsible and plain stupid when agreeing to carry into Malaysia a bag that her new-found boyfriend had given her. The bag turned out to contain an amount of hard drugs.

If found guilty, the young woman deserves to be punished, there is no doubt. But, I am asking those in favour of the death penalty, does the young woman deserve to be executed, as is the mandatory penalty for drug trafficking? Does her child deserve a life burdened with the memory of her dead mother hanging from the gallows? Would those is favour of the death penalty as an abstract notion still be in favour if the young woman was their mother, their child, their sister, their friend? Would they be willing to carry out the execution? And what if, in whatever way, there had been a miscarriage of justice and the young woman was executed innocent?
“Death has no appeal.” Under that motto the three co-organisers of today’s seminar hope to contribute to a public debate involving the government, parliament, law enforcement and the judiciary, academics and civil society and the general public. The abolition of the death penalty will be a challenging, but rewarding process, and it may involve several intermediate steps. It is a sovereign process for Malaysia to pursue, but in this process the EU countries hope to be your partner.

Thank you for your attention.

* This welcoming address was copied from PDF format, and I thank H.E. Vincent Piket for making available a copy of his speech, which is published here as part of our struggle for the abolition of the death penalty here in Malaysia and elsewhere.

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