Sunday, 24 June 2007

Australia: Rudd would oppose death penalty

The author of a new biography of Australia's Opposition Leader says Kevin Rudd would launch a campaign against the death penalty if he was elected Prime Minister.

Robert Macklin said Mr Rudd had not spoken widely about the issue before, but his authorised biography contained "a heck of a lot that is absolutely brand new".

"For example, I'm sure that no one has ever mentioned that if he gets to be prime minister one of his important foreign policy objectives will be to begin a campaign to rid the world of the death penalty," the ABC quoted him as saying.

As Opposition spokesman for foreign affairs, Kevin Rudd was active in his opposition to the execution of Australian citizen Van Tuong Nguyen in Singapore, making personal representations and public calls for the Australian Government to intervene in the case.

On 3 December 2005, the day after Van Tuong Nguyen was hanged, Mr Rudd told a media conference that Australia could do "a lot more" to abolish the death penalty.

"The Prime Minister has asked today whether there was anything more that Australia could now do to abolish the death penalty worldwide. The Prime Minister's response was that there was not much more that Australia could do," Mr Rudd said.

"I disagree with the Prime Minister, there is a lot that Australia can do. Australia must, with the Europeans, work through the United Nations to abolish the death penalty universally."

He said Australia could work against the death penalty through the United Nations and in cooperation with "the Europeans".

Australia had signed the Second Optional Protocol of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, along with 50 other countries.

"But [that] leaves about 150 other countries to go, around the world. And that is where Australia can team up with the Europeans, who have a similar attitude to Australia, to make sure that we put in every effort to abolish the death penalty universally and for all time," he said.

"It doesn't matter whether we are talking about the death penalty in the United States, the Islamic Republic of Iran, or in the Republic of Singapore, Australia should get behind the Europeans, through the United Nations, to put in every effort to abolish this form of punishment, once and for all, throughout the world, and for all time."

He also called for consistent opposition to the death penalty worldwide.

"It is important that our policy is consistent. Labor policy, like the Liberal policy, worldwide, is opposed to the death penalty. And whether we are talking about individuals in Iraq or Indonesia or elsewhere, our policy has to be consistent.

"When it comes to Australians, Australian citizens, who are convicted of the death penalty, then together with the Liberal Party, Labor's policy is to make representations to the government concerned to try and seek clemency."

Related stories:
Remembering Van Tuong Nguyen -- 29 November, 2006
MP criticises "tragic waste of human life" -- 29 November, 2006
Trade undisturbed by Singapore execution -- 04 July 2006
Victoria criticises Singapore death penalty -- 17 April 2006

Thursday, 14 June 2007

No death penalty in draft Thai constitution

The assembly drafting Thailand's next constitution has removed any reference to the death penalty from its draft charter, according to a report in The Nation.

The Constitution Drafting Assembly (CDA) this week removed the expression "death penalty", which The Nation said paved the way for "a possible future campaign to eventually end capital punishment in Thailand".

If the death penalty was provided for in the constitution, a campaign for abolition would have to counter the argument that the punishment was allowed -- or protected -- by the country's highest law.

If references are left out of the final constitution, future campaigns against the death penalty will not face this significant impediment.

"It's good that the capital punishment issue has been adjusted [to remove it from the charter] as it reflects the thinking of a society that doesn't resort to violence," said Kannika Bantherngjit, a member of the CDA.

"We should no longer resort to an eye for an eye and should look at the real cause of crime. Strong punishment is not right. It leads to society solving problems by force."

The country's previous constitution was overturned by the military junta that seized power in September 2006.

Sunday, 3 June 2007

Bali 9 challenge may win and fail

The current constitutional challenge to three of the Bali 9 death sentences may not be enough to save their lives - even if they win.

Andrew Chan, Scott Rush and Myuran Sukumaran have taken the case against their death sentences for heroin smuggling to the Indonesia's Constitutional Court.

They are challenging the validity of laws used to sentence them to death despite a guarantee of the 'right to life' in the country's constitution.

Professor Tim Lindsey, Director of the Asian Law Centre at the University of Melbourne, wrote about the significance of the case in articles published in The Australian in March and The Herald Sun in May.

He said the Constitutional Court was "neither a quick fix, nor the end of the road" for the three men.

The eventual impact of the case may turn on how Indonesia's constitution is enforced in its judicial system, which is based on the Napoleonic model inherited from the Dutch former colonial ruler.

"In some European-tradition systems, the authority of constitutional courts has often been tightly restricted to constitutional review, sometimes preventing them from hearing appeals from other courts or reversing their decisions," he wrote. Indonesia's Constitutional Court "fits squarely into this category".

Professor Lindsay said the current cases were not "appeals", asking the court to overturn a previous decision of another court. They were rather " 'in principle' challenges to the constitutionality of statutes - in this case, the drugs legislation under which the Bali Nine were convicted".

Even if they won their challenge though, the Constitutional Court had said "its judgments cannot be applied to earlier decisions of other courts". Such a decision would make the death penalty unconstitutional from that point on, but "existing sentences would not be altered".

"This approach is intended to give certainty to court decisions and prevent constitutional reviews from becoming de facto appeals," Professor Lindsey said.

Legal, but harder
However, he said a constitutional win would give their lawyers further impetus for further appeals, and increase the political pressure against the executions.

He wrote in The Herald Sun: "It is hard to imagine a democratic government that would have the nerve to carry out a technically legal execution when the Constitutional Court had declared the death penalty contrary to the Constitution.

"It might be that the Indonesian Government would unilaterally agree to suspend all executions."

Even though President Yudhoyono has said he would not grant clemency to drug offenders, a court decision "outlawing future executions would offer him a way out" by sparing Indonesians and foreigners on death row.

Given the case's challenge to any use of the death penalty in Indonesia, Professor Lindsey concluded in The Australian that the court judges were aware their decision "will be one of the most important they will make, for Indonesians and foreigners alike".

Related stories:
Australians appeal Bali death sentences -- 02 May, 2007
Firing squad for six of Bali nine -- 10 September, 2006
Bali 9 death sentence confirmed -- 26 April, 2006