ULAN BATOR (Reuters) -- Mongolia's president called for an end to the death penalty and pledged a moratorium on executions today, an unusual step in Asia where the death penalty is an integral part of most countries' justice systems.
Information about the death penalty, including details about those awaiting death, is a state secret in Mongolia.
Mongolia executed at least one person in 2008, compared with over 1,700 in China, 111 in the United States, and 15 in North Korea, according to Amnesty data.
"Mongolia is a dignified country...and our citizens are dignified people," President Tsakhia Elbegdorj said in a speech to Mongolia's parliament, the Great Hural.
"Therefore, I ask Mongolia to put behind us this death penalty which degrades our dignity to death," he said. "The road democratic Mongolia has to take ought to be clean and bloodless."
Elbegdorj, who opposed the death penalty while member of parliament, has commuted the death sentences of at least three people since he took office in mid-2009.
Amnesty International hailed the move as a "key step toward full abolition of the death penalty" by a country it ranks alongside North Korea for the secrecy in which it veils its executions.
Amnesty, which campaigns for the complete abolition of the death penalty in all countries, has lobbied for Mongolia to eliminate the punishment as it reforms its criminal code.
A draft code reserves capital punishment for premeditated murder and assassination of a state or public official, but removes it for rape, banditry, terrorism, sabotage, and genocide.
"Prison conditions for death row inmates are reported to be poor. Families are not notified in advance of the execution and the bodies of those executed are not returned to the family," Amnesty said in its statement hailing Elbegdorj's announcement.
About nine people are thought to be on death row in Mongolia.
Mongolia has had previous moratoria on executions, including one in the early 1950s.