Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Japan may execute before year ends

There are fears Japan may carry out more executions after the current session of parliament is due to end on 25 December.

The country doesn't usually execute while parliament is in session, raising concerns of a spate of hangings each time the Japanese parliament (Diet) goes into recess.

Japan has executed fifteen people so far in 2008, the highest rate in more than thirty years.

The last executions were carried out in October, when two convicted murderers were sent to the gallows by new justice minister Eisuke Mori, who had only been in the job a matter of weeks.

Next in line?
Amnesty International (AI) is concerned Makino Tadashi may be among those hanged before the end of the year.

Makino Tadashi has been at serious risk of execution since 30 September, when his latest appeal for clemency was rejected.

He was sentenced to death in 1990 for murdering a woman and injuring two others, after previously serving 16 and a half years in prison for a murder and robbery committed when he was 19 years old.

According to AI appeals, his lawyers argued unsuccessfully during his trial in 1994 that "he lacked adequate mental capacity and could not be responsible for his crimes".

A series of appeals and legal challenges have all been rejected.

Increasing toll
There has been a rapid increase in executions in Japan since December 2006, with 28 people hanged in two years.

Japan executed four prisoners, including two men over seventy years of age, on 25 December 2006, Christmas Day.

Activists and lawyers had earlier expressed concern that the government would resume executions after the final parliamentary session for the year.

Executions in Japan are usually carried out in secret, and prisoners are only given a few hours notice they are about to die.

According to AI, "this means they must spend their entire time on death row fearing they could be taken for execution at any time".

The organisation said their families "typically receive no notice at all".

Urging action
AI is encouraging people to write letters of appeal to Minister of Justice Eisuke Mori urging him not to execute Tadashi Makino, and calling on him to end the secrecy surrounding the death penalty and order an immediate moratorium on the death penalty.

Appeal letters should be sent to:

MORI Eisuke
Minister of Justice
1-1-1 Kasumigaseki
Chiyoda-kuTokyo 100-8977, Japan
Fax: +81 3 3592 7088
+81 3 5511 7200 (via Public Information & Foreign Liaison Office)

Salutation: Dear Minister

Related stories:
Japan: Record toll with new hangings -- 28 October 2008
Japan: New minister faces next hanging -- 14 October 2008
Japan: New minister sends three to death -- 12 September 2008
Executions in Japan -- 2006 - 2008 -- 12 April 2008
Japan: Minister steps up rate of hangings -- 12 April 2008
Long wait, sudden death in Japan -- 28 August 2006

Friday, 12 December 2008

China: Executions to preserve order, control

[Please note: long post]

China concluded three prominent capital cases with the execution of four defendants in late November.

They included:
* Wo Weihan, a medical scientist convicted of spying and shot in Beijing on the morning of 28 November
* Yang Jia, who was executed on 26 November following his conviction for the murder of six police officers
* Wang Zhendong, who ran a financial scam involving non-existent ant farms, also executed on 26 November.

Scientist or spy?
Wo Weihan, 59, was convicted of spying for Taiwan in a trial condemned as unfair by his family and human rights groups.

His case attracted international attention after public appeals for his life from his daughters, the European Union and Austria. His wife and daughter were reportedly Austrian citizens.

Chinese media reported that his co-accused, 66 year-old missile expert Guo Wanjun, was executed on the same day. His case, however, did not generate international appeals.

Amnesty International (AI) issued several appeals urging Chinese authorities not to execute Wo Weihan and expressing concern he may not have received a fair trial, "particularly as he was not allowed prompt access to a lawyer".

In the days before the execution, AI said Wo Weihan should be pardoned rather than executed.

It said the charges against Wo Weihan included that he discussed the health of senior Chinese leaders, which was considered a state secret, and that he sent information from a "classified" magazine, which was actually available in the Chinese Academy of Sciences library.

"Available information suggests that Wo Weihan did not receive a fair trial according to international standards," said Sam Zarifi, the organisation's Asia Pacific Director.

"He was convicted of violating China's vaguely-defined state secrets law. China is entitled to prosecute people for spying but for him to be killed by the Chinese government is cruel and inhumane."

The organisation said his family claimed he confessed to the charges "in the absence of a lawyer and ... he later recanted his confession and claimed innocence, which raised doubts over his treatment in detention".

One of his daughters said her father did not receive a fair trial.

"The execution is not fair. The process was not transparent," she said.

"The evidence in the verdict was vague and circumstantial, and he was found guilty through a confession that was forced out of him and which he retracted later in court. We can only now appeal to stop any execution and keep my father alive."

His family was not officially informed of the execution and two of his daughters issued a statement afterwards saying they were "deeply shocked, saddened, disappointed and outraged".

"We, the family, were not allowed to say goodbye. We were also denied the most fundamental and universal right of information about what was happening with our father. Throughout these four years since our father's arrest, the family was kept in the dark."

Europeans condemn, Chinese defensive
Austrian foreign minister Ursula Plassnik condemned the "cold-hearted and inhuman approach taken by the Chinese judiciary” in the case, and extended her condolences to his family.

"The fact that the execution was abruptly carried out on the day of the human rights dialogue between the EU and China emphasizes the ruthlessness and coldness with which this case was handled," she said.

China was stung into defending the evidence against Wo and the conduct of his trial, issuing several statements in the week after the execution and publishing detailed allegations against him in state-run media.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Wo was convicted after a "just and fair trial" and Europen criticism was "a direct interference in China's judicial sovereignty".

According to Xinhua, Qin Gang said all citizens were equal before the law, and Wo could not be made an exception "simply because he has foreign relatives".

Mental illness claims over Yang Jia
Unemployed Shanghai man Yang Jia, 28, was executed on 26 November for killing six police officers with a knife in a 1 July attack on Shanghai's Zhabei district police station.

He was convicted of premeditated murder after a closed trial and sentenced to death on 1 September by Shanghai No. 2 Intermediate People's Court.

The Shanghai Higher People's Court rejected his appeal against the death sentence on 20 October.

The Supreme People's Court approved his death sentence on 21 November, five days before he was shot.

Some reports said he was taking revenge on police for beating him in custody in October 2007, after he was arrested for riding an unlicensed bicycle and accused of stealing it.

Chinese media reports referred to claims he had unsuccessfully sued police for "psychological distress" over his interrogation, but only international reports referred to the allegations of ill-treatment by police.

Yang's lawyers argued at his trial and appeal hearings that he was suffering from mental illness at the time of the attack, but the court ruled he was mentally competent at the time.

His case generated relatively widespread discussion within China, and conflicting reports from his father and local lawyers regarding his legal representation.

Ant scammer executed
Wang Zhendong, general manager of a fake scheme to breed ants, was executed for fraud on 26 November in Liaoning Province, northeast China.

Fifteen other company managers were jailed for between five and 10 years by the Yingkou Intermediate People's Court last February.

Xinhua reported that investors lost 3 billion yuan (417 million U.S. dollars) in the scam between 2002 and 2005.

The report said more than 10,000 joined the scheme to breed ants to make liquor, herbal remedies and aphrodisiacs, which Wang promised would earn returns of 35 to 60 per cent.

The AFP newsagency said some small investors lost their life savings in the racket.

"Fake investments and pyramid investment schemes have become common during China's transition from a planned economy to a free market," AFP said.

"Chinese leaders have tried to eradicate the scams, fearing widespread losses could add to already percolating social unrest."

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Pakistan's mixed signals on death penalty

Two human rights organisations have urged the government of Pakistan to suspend executions while it considers a proposal to commute all death sentences.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) asked the government to ensure no-one was executed while the constitutionality of the proposal was considered by the Supreme Court.

In an open letter to the prime minister of Pakistan, Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani, they "welcomed this initiative as a historical breakthrough in the fight against the death penalty" but expressed concern that prisoners could still be hanged while it was being examined.

On 21 June, the prime minister announced the government would recommend to president Pervez Musharraf that all current death sentences be commuted to life imprisonment.

The government tabled a written statement in the national assembly on 21 November confirming the Law Ministry was considering the proposal.

The government was also reportedly reviewing laws relating to various capital offences, including laws for anti-terrorism, rape and gang rape, to examine any amendments that could be made consistent with Islamic principles.

Amnesty International reported on 31 October that 15 people had been executed since the prime minister's June announcement.

Review, but expansion
Despite the June announcement and the review, the government of Pakistan has given mixed signals on the death penalty recently with the announcement that the scope of the death penalty would be expanded to include 'cyber-terrorism' offences.

President Asif Ali Zardari released a new ordinance on electronic crime in early November making 'cyber-terrorism' a capital offence.

According to an AFP report, the ordinance would provide that: "Whoever commits the offence of cyber-terrorism and causes death of any person shall be punishable with death or imprisonment for life."

The report said the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Ordinance, which had yet to be approved by parliament, covered crimes that used computers or other electronic devices to threaten national security.

It would apply to Pakistanis and foreigners living in the country and abroad.

The HRCP criticised the proposal, noting that "under customary international human rights law, the death penalty is accepted only in very rare circumstances -- including the most extreme nature of crime carried out with the use of lethal weapons".

It said the law would be seen as "an oppressive law unless the punishments are proportionate to the crime and do not involve the death penalty".

"The present legal system in Pakistan does not guarantee due process and therefore the imposition of the death would only add to the miscarriage of justice suffered by thousands of people executed by the State," the organisation said in a statement.

State of justice
The open letter, by HRCP chairperson Asma Jahangir and FIDH president Souhayr Belhassen said the Supreme Court had intervened to review the constitutionality of the proposal in light of the in light of the country's Qisas and Diyat Ordinance.

The organisations argued that the law relating to Qisas and Diyat in effect withdrew the state -- and therefore the rule of law -- from deciding the punishment for crimes such as manslaughter and murder.

Instead the victim’s heirs determined the punishment, including the consideration of any pardon or compensation.

"FIDH and HRCP have repeatedly asked for a profound reform of the Qisas and Diyat Law because it de facto amounts to a privatisation of justice, as the offences of physical injury, manslaughter and murder are no longer offences to the state, but are considered a dealing between two private parties," the letter said.

"The State withdraws from one of its main responsibilities, as it no longer is the guardian of the rule of law through the exercise of justice.

"In addition, under this law, pardoning a condemned prisoner in case of murder rests solely with the heirs of the victim, rather than with the President, contrary to Article 45 of the Constitution.

"Indeed, under this ordinance, passed as a law in 1997, the aggrieved party is given precedence to choose the penalty for the culprit. Under Islamic law, the punishment can either be in the form of qisas (equal or similar punishment for the crime committed) or diyat (compensation payable to the victim's legal heirs)."

Pakistan has one of the largest death row populations in the world, with about 7,000 people believed to be living under sentence of death.

World Day appeal
The HRCP issued a statement on the World Day Against Death Penalty (10 October) noting "that the systematic and generalized application of death penalty had not led to an improvement of the law and order in the country".

"It is ironic that while Pakistan has one of the highest rates of conviction to capital punishment in the world with around 7,000 convicts on the death row in Pakistan today, yet its law and order is alarmingly dismal," the organisation said.

On the contrary, "[t]he massive application of death penalty has not strengthened the situation of law and order in the country".

"The HRCP argued that the death penalty was discriminatory, unfair and utterly inefficient and must be abandoned in accordance with the international human rights law."

Related stories:
Will Pakistan's death row be emptied? -- 24 June 2008
Call for abolition: Pakistan columnist -- 17 October 2006
Pakistan: Thousands in "brutal" system -- 12 October 2006

Monday, 24 November 2008

Indonesia: Five more set to die

Indonesia plans to execute five people before the end of this year, including a Nigerian convicted of drug offences.

According to a report by The Jakarta Post, assistant attorney general for general crimes Abdul Hakim Ritonga said the remaining four were Indonesians.

The newspaper said the executions would be carried out on Nusakambangan Island

Five executions have been carried out on the island since June, with two Nigerians shot for drug trafficking and three Indonesians for terrorism offences.

Assistant attorney general for general crimes Abdul Hakim Ritonga said on 14 November that there were 92 prisoners on death row in Indonesia, although they were at varying stages of their appeals and applications for presidential clemency.

Some 14 had appealed to the president for clemency, 38 had filed judicial reviews and the rest were undecided about their next courses of action.

"The death sentences of the 92 convicts have been declared legally binding and are pending administrative procedures [before they are carried out]," he said.

Bonaventura Daulat Nainggolansaid, a spokesman for the attorney general, said in August that 39 convicted drug traffickers would be executed by the end of 2009, including foreign nationals.

"The president has rejected clemency for 39 people, so the next stage for them is execution," said Indradi Thanos, head of the national police drugs unit, according to a Reuters report.

Related stories:
Indonesia executes Islamist terrorists -- 9 November 2008
Firing squad: Seven minutes to die -- 26 August 2008
Indonesia: More to die for drugs -- 12 August 2008
Indonesia: Record number executed in four weeks -- 20 July 2008
Indonesia: Drug offenders executed, more to come -- 29 June 2008
Drug penalty violates international law -- 06 May 2007

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Viet Nam: Death penalty reduction debated

Deputies in Viet Nam's national assembly (NA) have debated a proposal to reduce the number of capital crimes, including for corruption, bribery and producing fake drugs.

According to Thanh Nien News, the current session of the NA considered an amended draft criminal code, which would see the death sentence removed from 17 of the current 29 capital offences.

NA deputies spoke against removing the death penalty for these offences at sittings on 7 November.

"It is necessary to retain death sentences for embezzlement and bribery to prevent people from engaging in the crimes, as our fight against corruption is now very fierce," said Nguyen Dang Trung, NA deputy and Chairman of the Ho Chi Minh City Bar Association.

Earlier in the week, judicial committee chairwoman Le Thi Thu Ba said the death penalty was necessary for bribery and corruption because they were "a national disaster".

The Thanh Nien report said deputies told the NA the death penalty should not be removed from crimes such as manufacturing counterfeit food and pharmaceutical products, because "it could affect human life on a large scale, hinder smooth economic growth and cause other serious consequences".

Other deputies argued it would not be reasonable to remove the death sentence for crimes against humanity and national security, when an offender could be executed for killing one person.

The reported comments left open the possibility that the death penalty could be removed for other offences on the proposed list, including for rape, fraud, smuggling and organising the illegal use of drugs.

"Developmental" need to kill
Presenters at a seminar in October argued the death penalty was necessary to deal with "extremely dangerous crimes", particularly given the country's current stage of development.

The VNA news service reported the workshop, organised by Vietnam's Institute of State and Law and Germany's KAS Institute, discussed the use of the death penalty and the possibility of abolition.

It reported that unnamed legal experts pointed to "the experiences of some countries at a similar developmental level to Vietnam" to argue the death penalty was needed to deter potential criminals against "certain crimes".

"They agreed that the abolition of the death penalty should follow a road map with specific steps depending on certain social conditions," the report said.

This is similar to the argument used by senior officials in China, who have argued the county needed to achieve a certain level of development before it could abolish the death penalty.

Notwithstanding this argument, the officials have been unable to point to evidence that the death penalty provides a greater degree of deterrence than other, less severe, punishments.

Ministry proposal
Vietnamese media reported in July that the Ministry of Public Security recommended the death penalty be abolished for 12 crimes, including smuggling, trading in false products and hijacking (ADP story here).

VietNamNet reported a recommendation would be made to the National Assembly to amend the Criminal Code to limit the penalty to what the paper described as "only to those committing the most heinous crimes and people considered to be a serious danger to the community and the nation's security".

"The aim of the amendment is to make the country’s criminal code more compliant with world trends to humanise laws and completely abolish the death penalty," said Nguyen Ngoc Anh, head of the Legal Department of the Ministry of Public Security.

In 1999, the number of offences attracting a death sentence was reduced from 44 to 29 offences.
VietNamNet said 116 people were sentenced to death in 2006 and 95 in 2007, although it did not confirm how many people were actually executed.

The July VietNamNet report said the full list included: appropriating property by fraud; smuggling; producing and trading fake food and medical products; being involved in producing, storing and circulating counterfeit money, bonds and cheques; organising the illegal use of drugs; hijacking aeroplanes or ships; corruption; taking and giving bribes; destroying army weapons or technical equipment; being involved in an invasion; anti-human crimes and those convicted of war crimes.

Human rights call
On 10 November Amnesty International encouraged Vietnamese authorities to "carry out the proposed reforms and introduce a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty".

It said Vietname authorities did not allow international standards for fair trials to be followed in practice.

"Legal counsel is often assigned to defendants at the last minute, allowing little pre-trial preparation," the organisation said.

"The defence is not always allowed to call or question witnesses, and private consultation with counsel may be limited.

"In many cases, all the defence counsel can do is plead for clemency."

Related stories:
Viet Nam: Reduction in death penalty offences? -- 23 July 2008
Viet Nam death penalty "not deterring drugs" -- 25 November 2006

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Australia tries to reclaim principle

The Australian government has attempted to restore its credibility on the death penalty after the prime minister last month appeared to support the execution of the Bali bombers.

Ten days before the executions were carried out, prime minister Kevin Rudd said Australia was "universally opposed to the death penalty".

And hours after the three convicted terrorists were shot by firing squad, foreign minister Stephen Smith said Australia would support an upcoming moratorium resolution in the United Nations (UN) General Assembly.

However no senior member of the government has publicly said the men should not have been shot for the 2002 attacks which killed 88 Australians.

Lawyers acting for three Australians on death row in Indonesia criticised the government's silence on the executions, saying this selective approach would be detrimental to their clients' interests.

'Deserve the justice'
Rudd appeared to adopt his predecessor's double standards on the death penalty when he said on 2 October that they "deserve the justice that we delivered to them".

The following day he claimed the nature of that justice was a matter for the Indonesian justice system, but he would only say the government's policy was one of "general opposition" to the death penalty.

He was criticised for seeming to support the executions, and only speaking out against death sentences when Australian lives were at stake.

Media reports suggested government backbenchers later expressed concerns about the prime minister's equivocation on the issue.

With mounting speculation over the timing of the executions, Rudd was asked on Melbourne radio on 30 October a series of five questions about whether he approved the execution of terrorists, and the Bali bombers in particular.

His answers tried to tread a fine line by opposing the death penalty in the most general terms possible, while saying nothing that could be quoted as a direct criticism of the impending executions in Java.

He repeated that the government was "universally" opposed to the death penalty and twice said the government only intervened on behalf of Australian citizens.

He described the October 2002 attack as a "murderous, cowardly and callous act".

"But I’m not going to pretend to you ... that our policy on the death penalty has changed. It’s always been one of universal opposition."

Opposition -- but afterwards
Hours after the executions were carried out on 9 November, foreign minister Stephen Smith said the government would soon co-sponsor a UN General Assembly resolution calling for a moratorium.

"In the near future at the UN General Assembly we will be co-sponsoring a resolution calling effectively on a moratorium on capital punishment and that's been Australia's position for some considerable time," he said.

Some commentators reported this as a new development in Australian human rights policy in the wake of the executions. But in fact Australia has for many years co-sponsored UN resolutions opposing the death penalty, a fact which has not often been the subject of public discussion.

Smith did not say if Australia would do anything different at the UN in the coming weeks than last year, when it was one of 75 countries that co-sponsored the 18 December moratorium resolution.

Cautious welcome
Lawyers for the three Australians on death row in Indonesia welcomed Smith's comments, but criticised the government's silence on the latest executions.

Julian McMahon, part of the legal team advising Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, said he thought it "would have been better for us to stand up more clearly and speak more firmly and loudly in the region prior to the execution".

"To be pro-active if you like but the response after the execution has been exactly what I would have hoped for," he said.

"I just think that we should have been doing it consistently rather than just after the execution."

John North, who represents Scott Rush, said the government should consistently oppose the death penalty.

"They shouldn't try and cherry pick those that should be executed and those that should not," he said.

In another interview he said: "When the death penalty is hanging over the heads of young Australians there is no room for ambivalence."

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Indonesia executes Islamist terrorists

Indonesian firing squads killed three men for terrorism offences shortly after midnight this morning.

Amrozi bin Nurhasyim, Ali Ghufron (also known as Mukhlas) and Imam Samudra were shot simultaneously by separate firing squads for organising the October 2002 Bali bombing.

"At 12.15am, the convicts ... were executed by shooting and followed up with an autopsy," said Jasman Pandjaitan, a spokesman for Indonesia's attorney general's office, according to a report in The Australian.

"They have been stated as dead. At this moment the bodies are being washed by the family."

They were executed on Nusakambangan Island in Central Java, near the high security prison where they had been held.

Their bodies were taken to the mainland and then flown by helicopter to their home villages in East and West Java. Police struggled to maintain order when the bodies were greeted by family and hundreds of supporters for Muslim burials.

Last night's events brought to a head weeks of feverish speculation, fuelled by rumours the executions were imminent, contradictory statements from government officials and intense coverage by foreign journalists.

At different times the delays were attributed to a lack of bureaucratic coordination, successive nights of rain or claims the government was unwilling to provoke Islamic extremists by carrying out the sentences.

The three men were reportedly frustrated at the delays and keen for their "martyrdom" to proceed.

The executions bring to ten the number of people known to have been put to death in Indonesia in the past five months. This represents a dramatic increase in the country's use of the death penalty when compared with the nine people executed in the four years to 2007.

Some victims oppose death
The 2002 bombings of two Bali nightclubs killed 202 people and injured 88, leaving many with severe burns.

While some victims welcomed news of the executions, others remained opposed the death penalty.

Australian Barbara Hackett, whose daughter Kathy Salvatori was killed in the bombings, said she did not believe in the death penalty, according to one report.

"It can't bring back Kathy or the other 201 victims," she said.

Georgia Lysaght, who lost her older brother Scott, said the executions would not bring him back.
"The fact that it has happened doesn't bring Scott back, it doesn't change what's happened, it doesn't bring any sense of closure," she said.

"It doesn't make me feel that justice has been served. The only just thing to do would to be able to see my brother again, and that is not going to happen."

According to a report in The Times, several UK families also spoke out against the death penalty for the convicted terrorists.

Susanna Miller, who lost her brother Dan, said: "The death penalty is an 18th-century punishment. My brother was a lawyer, he would have disapproved.

"Also, these men were low-level terrorists, the bigger ones are at large. They should have been given life sentences."

Maggie Stephens lost her 27 year-old son Neil Bowler in the bombings.

"By executing them we are doing to them what they did to us," she said.

Related stories:
Indonesia: Human rights appeals for bombers -- 02 November 2008
Execution wrong - even for terrorists -- 31 October 2008
Bali bombers: One week to live? -- 13 October 2008
Uncertain when Islamist bombers will die -- 25 August 2008
Bali executions will inspire martyrs: expert -- 25 February 2008
Bali bombers may soon get their wish -- 10 November 2007

Saturday, 8 November 2008

ASEAN urged to promote abolition

An international human rights organisation has called on five Asian countries to use the mechanisms of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to encourage abolition of the death penalty.

Souhayr Belhassen, president of the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) wrote to all ASEAN members in October arguing the regional organisation "has a role to play to promote the abolition of the death penalty in the region".

She said the abolition of the death penalty would serve ASEAN's stated aims, including to "accelerate... social progress in the region" and to "reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person".

The letter called on the five member states that had abolished the death penalty in practice -- Cambodia, the Philippines, Myanmar, Brunei Darussalam and Lao PDR -- to place the issue of the death penalty on the ASEAN agenda.

It urged these countries "to use the various mechanisms and forums of ASEAN to establish a dialogue on the death sentence with those member States who continue executions, in the interest of fulfilling the ASEAN declaration of principles integrated in the preamble of the ASEAN Charter".

Belhassen expressed FIDH's "deep concern" that five member states still carried out executions, namely Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam.

She also highlighted the difficulty compiling statistics about the death penalty in the region, since a number of ASEAN member states kept this information a state secret, and the wide range of offences for which is was applied, including non-violent crimes.

"FIDH expresses deep concern with the number of offenses punishable by death in certain member States. In the Socialist Republic of Vietnam for example, 29 crimes carry a death sentence, some of which include drug trafficking, theft, and various economic crimes," she wrote.

"FIDH calls on the Heads of State and Governments of ASEAN to ensure that the abolition of the death penalty is made a priority for ASEAN, particularly within the 'ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community'.

"ASEAN should work to ensure that secrecy surrounding death sentences in these countries is lifted in accordance with the 2006 report of Phillip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, which stated that 'those countries who maintain executions have a clear obligation to disclose the details of their application of the penalty'."

The member states of ASEAN are: Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei Darussalam, Viet Nam, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Cambodia.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Indonesia: Human rights appeals for bombers

Two international human rights organisations have called on the Indonesian government to grant clemency to the three Bali bombers, who may be killed by firing squad as early as tonight.

Indonesian human rights organisations have also protested against the country's use of the death penalty.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) this week wrote to Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono urging him "in the strongest terms" to halt the executions [27 Oct].

Amnesty International (AI) released a statement opposing the executions and calling on Indonesia to "draw a line under its policy of escalating executions" and establish a moratorium [31 Oct].

Seven people have been executed in Indonesia since June 2008, five for murder and two for drug offences.

Illegal, against the trend
Human Rights Watch argued in its letter that the three death sentences were a breach of international human rights standards, as well as running counter to an international trend away from the death penalty.

"Rather than allow the executions to go forward, you should commute the men’s sentences to life in prison," wrote Joanne Mariner Elaine Pearson, deputy director of the organisation's terrorism and counterterrorism Asia division.

The organisation was particularly critical that the three men were sentenced to death under special counter-terrorism legislation enacted after the bombing, when retroactive criminal laws are prohibited under Article 15 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

It said Human Rights Watch "strongly opposes the death penalty in all circumstances because of its inherent cruelty and finality".

"We also note that there is no clear evidence that the application of the death penalty serves as a more effective deterrent against criminal activity than other forms of punishment."

Human Rights Watch said it deplored acts of terrorism and recognised "the government's duty to bring to justice persons responsible for such serious crimes".

"We condemn the 2002 Bali bombings as horrific and inexcusable attacks, and believe that the perpetrators should be held to account," the letter said.

"We strongly believe, however, that the death penalty is not an appropriate sanction, particularly in this instance."

The human rights organisation was also concerned that Indonesia retained and used the death penalty "contrary to the global trend toward the abolition of the death penalty", and had recently increased the rate of executions.

Simply more violations
The latest statement from Amnesty International said the executions would add further human rights violations to the violation of the original attacks.

"While the Bali attacks were a horrific atrocity, Amnesty International firmly believes that to continue the cycle of violence through state sanctioned killing will not bring redress for the victims, and furthermore answers the violation of human rights with further violations," it said.

While there was "no reliable evidence that the death penalty deters future criminal acts", Amnesty International said these executions "may only serve to perpetuate such atrocities".

"There is a serious risk that the executions will turn the bombers from murderers to martyrs, whose memories will be used to increase support and recruitment to their cause."

It said the death penalty was the ultimate denial of human rights, and it said unequivocally that it was opposed to it "in all cases without exception regardless of the nature of the crime, the characteristics of the offender, or the method used by the state to kill the prisoner".

This was instead an opportunity for "Indonesia to draw a line under its policy of escalating executions and to establish an immediate moratorium with a view to abolition".

The organisation issued a revised action appeal on 16 October 2008, calling for its supporters to appeal to the Indonesian government for all death sentences to be commuted, including those imposed on the three bombers.

It also asked people to express concern that the law under which the three were convicted was applied retrospectively, "violating international law and the Indonesian Constitution".

Related stories:
Execution wrong - even for terrorists -- 31 October 2008
Bali executions will inspire martyrs: expert -- 25 February 2008
Bali bombers may soon get their wish -- 10 November 2007

Friday, 31 October 2008

Execution wrong - even for terrorists

Comment by Tim Goodwin
This story was first published on ABC Australia's Unleashed. Read the debate on the story here.

After more than two years of delays and legal brinkmanship, it seems it is finally going to happen. In the coming days Indonesian firing squads will shoot the three men sentenced to death for organising the October 2002 Bali bombing. The bureaucratic wheels are turning to provide the time, the place, the personnel, the training, the equipment and the legal authority to kill three people.

Many in Australia and Indonesia will applaud the executions, looking to the firing squads to deliver revenge and a measure of emotional release. Some journalists will reach for that dubious cliche and ask whether the victims now have 'closure'. And their deaths will bring an end to the stream of heartless and absurd statements from the men who gained an aura of macabre celebrity from the media attention.

Undeniably these three men are criminals, whose actions had a shattering impact on the hundreds of people killed or injured and the thousands who cared for them. Undeniably the bombers deserve harsh punishment, both to protect society from what they may do again, given the chance, and to signal a collective outrage at their crimes. None of that is at issue.

But there are unsettling questions in the countdown to the executions. Is it ever acceptable for a government to kill convicted criminals in the name of society as a whole? Or is it justified in this case?

Here's an answer: execution is never justified. The death penalty is never an appropriate response to serious crime. This includes the Bali bombers. It is possible to condemn their crimes while also believing they should not be killed by the state.

Even if their executions deliver a sense of revenge, they represent a step that no government has the right to take. No government should carry out the coldly planned and delivered act of putting a human being to death in the name of justice. The enormity and the horror of these people's crimes will never be wiped away by their deaths, and the promise they destroyed can never be returned.

Over the past 30 years, the death penalty has increasingly been seen as a human rights issue. Under the key international human rights charters, every individual has certain basic rights such as the right not to be tortured and the right to life. In the words of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, "these rights derive from the inherent dignity of the human person". They are not granted by our parents, our families, our race or the society around us. This is why murder is, among other things, a violation of human rights.

Because no government grants us these rights, no government has the power to take them away. Only where there is a direct or immediate threat to life are police, soldiers or individual citizens permitted to use lethal force. An overwhelming majority of countries have come to agree the death penalty is the ultimate violation of the right to life by a government.

The legitimacy of modern government rests on protecting their citizens, and ensuring the conditions for people to achieve their potential. It used to be argued that executions were necessary to protect communities from criminals and deter further crime. Both of these arguments are now threadbare, with modern prisons offering physical security and mounting evidence that the severest punishment does not deliver a greater level of deterrence against crime.

When it is applied to murder, there is a fundamental contradiction at the heart of the death penalty which destroys it as a symbol of a society's values. It is not possible for a government to demonstrate the supreme worth of human life by killing. Some claim the very seriousness of killing proves the importance of the innocent life the state is acting to avenge. But far from cancelling out the original crime, it instead places the state in the position of mimicking the killer's original decision that a particular person should no longer live.

The ethical dimensions of execution also need to be tested against the reality of death penalty systems around the world. It is easy to imagine the unremorseful criminal, tried in a perfect justice system where execution sends an unmistakeable signal to would-be criminals that they will receive the same punishment if they similarly offend. This situation does not exist anywhere in the world.

The firing squad and the scaffold are symbols of absolute state power, but also of infallible state power, and there is no such thing as an infallible justice system. There are cases where the defendant is certainly guilty, including the Bali bombing conspirators. However many cases are far from certain, which introduces the very real risk of error -- even the best justice systems in the world make mistakes. To accept that some people will be killed as a result of mistaken convictions is to accept that innocent people will inevitably die.

For a penalty that is supposed to deliver justice using the ultimate and irreversible sanction, this reality is simply unacceptable.

Even in the case of the guilty, it is not possible to reserve execution for offenders who have expressed no remorse for their actions. Showing mercy or allowing a prisoner to live is not a reward for their remorse. It is a statement about who we are, and what we value as a society.

The death penalty is ultimately about politics more than criminal justice. For all the talk of it providing greater deterrence against crime (which can't be demonstrated) or satisfying public opinion (when few governments allow a free and informed debate), it is used to show a government's determination to stand against the threat of personal crime. It is retained by countries that no longer carry out executions, because it sends all the right political signals to keep it on the books. In countries like China, Iran and Saudi Arabia it is also a very useful means of maintaining control over the broader population. It is no accident these countries are among the few that still carry out public executions.

We will wake up one morning soon to hear the three Bali bombers have been shot during the night. The sentences will have been carried out. There will be some grim satisfaction. Two governments will have proclaimed their resistance to terrorism. Three more people will be dead. And nothing else will have changed.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Japan: Record toll with new hangings

Japan has executed fifteen people this year, the highest rate in more than thirty years, after it hanged two convicted murderers today.

The latest executions were the first approved by new justice minister Eisuke Mori, who only took office last month.

The justice ministry this morning confirmed that Michitoshi Kuma, 70, was hanged in the Fukuoka detention centre, and Masahiro Takashio, 55, at the Sendai detention centre, according to a report in Japan Today.

"The executions were carried out after we repeatedly gave full, cautious and appropriate consideration," AFP newsagency said Mori told reporters.

Japan Today reported that Kuma was sentenced to death for murdering two seven year-old girls, who he kidnapped on their way to school and strangled in southern Japan in February 1992.

The report said Takashio was convicted of the stabbing murder of a 55 year-old woman and her 83 year-old mother before he robbed them of 50,000 yen.

Sharp increase prompts concern
Human rights activists and lawyers have been alarmed by the rapid increase in executions in Japan since December 2006, with 28 people being hanged in less than two years.

There have also been indications that a succession of justice ministers wanted to reduce the delay between the finalisation of a death sentence and the prisoner's execution.

The last year when there are thought to have been more executions was in 1975, when 17 people were hanged.

Japan now has 101 prisoners on death row.

Related stories:
Japan: New minister faces next hanging -- 14 October 2008
Japan: New minister sends three to death -- 12 September 2008
Executions in Japan -- 2006 - 2008 -- 12 April 2008
Japan: Minister steps up rate of hangings -- 12 April 2008
Japan: Sixteen hanged in thirteen months -- 04 February 2008
Long wait, sudden death in Japan -- 28 August 2006

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Two Australians spared in Viet Nam

Viet Nam has granted clemency to two Australian citizens who were sentenced to death for drug offences.

The announcement brings to seven the number of Vietnamese-Australians spared execution since 2003.

Vietnamese prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung announced the decision at a joint media conference with his Australian counterpart Kevin Rudd at Parliament House in Canberra on 13 October.

"[B]uilding upon the excellent friendship between our two countries and on humanitarian grounds, I've informed the Prime Minister, the Vietnamese President has decided to grant clemency to two Vietnamese Australians charged with drug trafficking," he said.

The decision spares the lives of Jasmine Luong and Tony Manh, who now face the prospect of life in Viet Nam's notoriously harsh prison system.

Tony Manh applied for clemency after an appeal court confirmed his death sentence in November 2007 for heroin trafficking.

Jasmine Luong was given a death sentence in March 2008 when prosecutors appealed the original life sentence imposed in December last year.

Luong claimed she only agreed to carry the nearly 1.5 kilograms of heroin that was found hidden in her luggage and shoes in order to pay her estranged husband's gambling debts.

Five other Australian citizens in Viet Nam have had their death sentences commuted to life imprisonment since 2003, all for drug-related offences.

In each case the Australian government has supported applications for clemency and made representations appealing for the sentences to be commuted.

'Close ties'
During the media conference, both leaders paid tribute to the ties between the two countries, saying bilateral trade was now worth about $7 billion per year.

Dung said through an interpreter that the two countries had developed "good cooperation in such areas as politics, diplomacy, economics, trade, investment, tourism, education and training, culture, defence, security and many others".

Related stories:
Viet Nam: Life, and death, sentences for drugs -- 30 April 2008
Drug penalty violates international law -- 6 May, 2007
Viet Nam death penalty "not deterring drugs" -- 25 November, 2006
Another Australian spared in Viet Nam – 19 November 2006
To begin, good news in Viet Nam -- 18 February 2006

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Taiwanese group stirs debate on abolition

A Taiwanese abolitionist group has encouraged the government to set an example in Asia by abolishing the death penalty and is holding a series of events to promote debate on the issue.

The Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty (TAEDP) staged a concert on 10 October, the World Day Against the Death Penalty, to promote its campaign and next month it will hold a series of international forums on criminal code reform.

Taiwan was one of six countries chosen by the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty (WCADP) for the day of action, and human rights campaigners worldwide encouraged the government to introduce a moratorium on executions.

The TAEDP pointed to global trends against the death penalty and recent statements by senior government leaders.

"Abolishing the death penalty is actually a global trend," said TAEDP executive director Lin Hsin-yi (林欣怡) on the World Day, according to the Taipei Times.

"We've seen too many cases around the world in which people are found innocent only after they were executed — There is unfortunately no chance of reversing the sentence for them."

She said there were positive signs Taiwan could play a leading role in abolition across Asia.

"There has been no execution at all in Taiwan for nearly three years, and there are already debates on the topic," she said.

"We think there’s a hope, especially because Minister of Justice Wang Ching-feng [王清峰] has openly spoken against the death penalty and President Ma Ying-jeou [馬英九] hinted so as well during the [presidential] campaign."

Wang has said she supported abolition and Ma campaigned on a promise to uphold international human rights standards.

"Although Ma did not say it clearly, ending the death penalty is one of the ideas outlined in these documents," Lin said.

Partnerships stimulate debate
Next month the TAEDP will hold forums with experts from three European countries to share perspectives on abolition and inform debate about reform.

The Taipei Times reported the first forum on 3 November would hear from two leading French lawyers, who would speak about reform of the criminal code and international law.

The event is being organised in conjunction with the French office in Taiwan, the National Taipei University and the Taiwan Law Society, with support from the European Economic and Trade Office.

"The objective of Taiwan's Criminal Code is to re-educate and reform prisoners, not to kill them," a TAEDP volunteer told the Taipei Times.

German academics will discuss abolition, social safety, victim protection and prison reform at a seminar on 6 and 7 November, organised by the TAEDP and the German Institute in Taipei.

Death penalty experts from Great Britain will address the process of ending the death penalty on 13 and 14 November.

Related stories:
Life Watch to save Taiwan's innocent from death -- 12 February 2008
Torment on Taiwan's death row -- 15 May 2007
Taiwan limits mandatory penalties -- 29 January 2007
Abolition debate for Taiwan in 2007 -- 12 January 2007
Taiwan: Death penalty benefit an 'illusion' -- 14 December 2006
Taiwan working towards abolition? -- 21 February 2006

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Indonesia: 'Firing squad not torture'

A constitutional challenge to Indonesia's method of execution has failed, with a court ruling the pain of execution by firing squad did not amount to torture.

Lawyers for the three men sentenced to death for the October 2002 Bali bombing argued death by shooting violated the constitution's ban on torture.

But the Constitutional Court yesterday rejected the application to have the executions carried out by another method.

"There is no method of execution without pain," presiding judge Mohammad Mahfud said, according to newsagency AAP.

"The feeling of pain suffered by those convicted of the death penalty is the logical consequence attached to the process of death," The Age reported he said.

Other methods of execution such as beheading, electrocution or lethal injection carried "the risk of inaccuracy in the execution which, in the end, will create pain", but this did not amount to torture under the constitution.

Executions can proceed
The attorney general's office claimed in August that the constitutional challenge was no impediment to the executions being carried out.

But yesterday's decision means the government can have the men shot without claims the legal process had not run its course.

A spokesman for the attorney general said last week the government would announce plans for the executions on Friday (24 October).

Torture claim
Amrozi bin Nurhasyim, Ali Ghufron (also known as Mukhlas) and Imam Samudra asked the court to rule the firing squad unconstitutional, instead requesting a method such as lethal injection or beheading, which they have claimed in the past was more "Islamic".

They argued a delay between the shots by a firing squad and their deaths would constitute torture.

Surgeon Jose Rizal told the constitutional court in September that aiming at the heart may not be accurate.

"An accurate shot causes instant death, but it if misses, it takes time to die," he said.

Catholic priest Charlie Burrows told the court he witnessed the execution of two Nigerian drug traffickers in June 2008, when the men took seven minutes to die after they were shot.

"They were moaning again and again for seven minutes," he told said in court. "I think it is cruel, the torture."

Defence lawyer Wirwan Adnan yesterday claimed the court's 76 page decision recommended the government consider other execution methods that could ensure a fast death.

Related stories:
Bali bombers: One week to live? - 13 October 2008
Uncertain when Islamist bombers will die -- 25 August 2008
Bali executions will inspire martyrs: expert -- 25 February 2008
Bali bombers may soon get their wish -- 10 November 2007
Bali: Execution closer for bombing leaders -- 09 October 2007
Bali bombers lodge appeals -- 08 December 2006
Execution delay for Bali bombers -- 21 August 2006
Bali bombers closer to execution -- 11 April 2006

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Japan: New minister faces next hanging

Amnesty International is concerned that Makino Tadashi may be the next death row prisoner executed in Japan.

That would make him the first person put to death by Japan's new minister of justice, Eisuke Mori, who said he would follow the pattern established by his predecessors, and the 27th person executed in less than two years.

Mori, who took office on 24 September, said in an interview last week [1 Oct] that death sentences should ideally be carried out within six months of being finalised.

"We should respect judges' decisions" when they hand down death sentences, he said according to The Japan Times.

Like one of his predecessors, Kunio Hatoyama, he suggested there should be a more routine system that depended less on the approval of the minister at the time.

The Japan Times quoted Mori as saying it may be better to time executions according to a standard rule because "it's not advisable that the number of executions varies depending on who is justice minister".

There has been an alarming increase in the pace of executions in Japan since December 2006.

The three previous justice ministers approved a total of 26 executions in 22 months, including 13 put to death in one year when Hatoyama was minister.

Next in line?
Amnesty International said Makino Tadashi was at "imminent risk" of execution after his latest appeal for clemency was rejected on 30 September.

Makino Tadashi was sentenced to death in 1990 for murdering a woman and injuring two others.

He had previously served 16 and a half years in prison for a murder and robbery committed when he was 19 years old.

According to Amnesty International, his lawyers argued unsuccessfully during his trial in 1994 that "he lacked adequate mental capacity and could not be responsible for his crimes".

A series of appeals and legal challenges have all been rejected.

"Appeals for clemency typically take years to process, however this latest rejection took only 3 months," the organisation said in an urgent action appeal.

Related stories:
Japan: New minister sends three to death -- 12 September 2008
Executions in Japan -- 2006 - 2008 -- 12 April 2008
Japan: Minister steps up rate of hangings -- 12 April 2008
Japan: Sixteen hanged in thirteen months -- 04 February 2008
Long wait, sudden death in Japan -- 28 August 2006

Monday, 13 October 2008

Bali bombers: One week to live?

[Update below]

Media reports are speculating the three convicted Bali bombers may be shot next week after the Indonesian government today announced it would make a statement about the executions next Friday, 24 October (also here).

According to one report, a spokesman for Attorney General Hendarman Supandji said there were "no obstacles" to prevent the executions, clearly referring to the current constitutional challenge by the three arguing that execution by firing squad amounts to "torture".

"The date and day of the execution of the three bombers will be announced next Friday by the attorney-general," a spokesman for the attorney-general's office said, according to another report by the AFP newsagency.

"We will make some preparations and coordination with the firing squad and other related parties like prison officials," Jasman Simanjuntak said.

The spokesman said the attorney general's office would provide details on the execution date next week.

Prosecutors and local officials have repeatedly announced in recent months that they were ready to carry out the executions when ordered (example here).

A spokesman for the attorney-general's office said last Friday the three would be executed before the end of the year.

Veil of secrecy?
Early media reports of the announcement speculated that the timing meant the three could be executed next week because "Indonesia typically announces executions after they have been carried out".

Death row prisoners in Indonesia are usually given 72 hours notice when a date is set, but the Indonesian government may attempt to maintain greater secrecy around these executions in order to prevent Islamist protests.

Given the media circus that has developed around the three convicted terrorists, any notice given to the men or their lawyers would certainly be made public. It would also likely trigger further legal manoeuvres by the lawyers and public statements by the three.

The government has also suggested recently it would move towards secret executions, with indications it would only reveal upcoming drug executions after they were carried out.

Before two Nigerian men were shot in June 2008 for drug offences, a government minister was quoted by the Antara newsagency suggesting Indonesia was planning to carry out further executions in secret to prevent public protests.

"The date of the execution is not to be made public to prevent public controversy," said Monang Pardede, assistant deputy to the General Crimes chief of the Central Java higher prosecutor's office.

According to Antara, he said the executions would not be publicised until after they were carried out, in order to prevent what the newsagency described as "undue public reactions".

"We are afraid we will face difficulties if they are announced beforehand," he said.

Update -- 14 October
The attorney general's office today denied reports the three would be executed before 24 October.

Spokesman Jasman Pandjaitan told Australia's ABC network that the details would be revealed next Friday but they would not be shot before then.

"No, not yet", he said."We're explaining on the 24th because we've received so many questions from the foreign media.

"We still don't know the exact time of the executions."

Related stories:
Uncertain when Islamist bombers will die -- 25 August 2008
Bali executions will inspire martyrs: expert -- 25 February 2008
Bali bombers may soon get their wish -- 10 November 2007
Bali: Execution closer for bombing leaders -- 09 October 2007
Bali bombers lodge appeals -- 08 December 2006
Execution delay for Bali bombers -- 21 August 2006
Bali bombers closer to execution -- 11 April 2006

South Korea: Challenge to death penalty law

A South Korean death row inmate has been given leave to make a constitutional challenge to the country's death penalty law.

The Gwangju High Court filed the appeal on 3 October on behalf of a 70 year-old who was convicted of murdering four tourists on board his boat, according to The Korea Times.

The newspaper reported that he asked the provincial court to file his petition claiming the death penalty is unconstitutional.

It said his appeal would be suspended until the Consititutional Court ruled on the application.

The validity of the current death penalty law was last confirmed in 1996.

The judge at his trial said: "At the time of the latest constitutional ruling on the death penalty in 1996, the Constitutional Court stated it was constitutional although it indicated the need to scrap the capital punishment on a long term basis."

Amnesty International said in December 2007 that South Korea was "in practice" an abolitionist country, after it had not executed anyone for ten years.

The last executions in South Korea were on 30 December 1997, when 18 men and 5 women were executed in prisons across the country.

Related stories:
South Korea: Death penalty for child murders? -- 09 April 2008
South Korea: 100 days for abolition -- 06 February 2008
South Korea: Renewed calls for abolition -- 12 October 2007
Call for South Korea to show 'leadership' -- 27 June 2006
South Korea death penalty hearing -- 10 April 2006
South Korea: Kim Dae-jung's call for abolition -- 06 March 2006
South Korea – former president calls for abolition -- 27 February 2006

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

The wrong signal for Asia’s firing squads

Comment by Tim Goodwin

When he was opposition leader, Kevin Rudd was derided by the government for his 'me too' strategy in the 2007 election campaign, after he promised to implement several Coalition initiatives.

The strategy successfully neutralised areas of government advantage, clearing the air for Labor to focus on key areas of difference such as climate change.

While human rights barely figured in the campaign, it was expected a Labor government under Rudd would strike a more progressive path, albeit within the limits of his socially conservative outlook. And in the main it has done so, making changes from abolishing temporary protection visas to legislation removing commonwealth discrimination against same sex-couples.

As Attorney-General Robert McClelland said in his prepared speech for a conference at the Melbourne Law School last Friday: "I think it is fair to say that Australia is 'back in business' when it comes to human rights."

In one critical area of human rights policy, Kevin Rudd has been pursuing business of his own. His takeover of coalition policy on the death penalty was slower than the earlier acquisitions, but no less successful.

Last week he took full control of John Howard's position and committed to the double standards that will dog him as they dogged his predecessor. This hypocrisy will undermine the Rudd government’s efforts to save the lives of Australians facing cruel execution overseas.

"Deserving" to die
On Perth radio last Thursday, the prime minister reacted to the latest reprehensible claims of the three Bali bombers that they were "holy warriors" who had no regrets about the October 2002 bombing which killed 202 people.

He condemned the men, who currently await execution, and said they "deserve the justice that we delivered to them". The following day he said the nature of that justice was a matter for the Indonesians and their justice system.

He claimed the government's policy was still one of "general opposition" to the death penalty, but the damage was done. No amount of "general opposition" will be meaningful in the face of specific support for particular people to be shot dead.

The Prime Minister's comments on the issue over two days were vintage Howard. Signal your support for an execution, say you don't support the death penalty in Australia and will only intervene in the case of Australians under sentence of death, and claim in general terms to be opposed to the death penalty.

Me too, business as usual.

Rudd has even adopted his predecessor's tactic that the penalty is a matter for the Indonesians. Obviously that is true, but it clearly signals Australia has no objection if that penalty is death.

Howard used this line many times to support executions in Indonesia, the United States and Iraq. The idea we would agree with a penalty simply because it was part of another country's legal system showed a soft spot for post-modern cultural relativism that he never betrayed in his speeches on education and history.

A gradual retreat
In Howard's case, his comments on the death penalty were more a matter of clarifying his position, inconsistent as it was. In Rudd's case, it has been a slow retreat from his rhetoric in opposition.

In October 2005, in the wrenching lead-up to the hanging of Australian citizen Nguyen Tuong Van in Singapore, as shadow minister for foreign affairs he addressed parliament in ringing tones. Rudd told members they were speaking to a clemency motion because they held "one fundamental human value to be true, and that is the intrinsic dignity of all human life".

"For our policy to be credible, we must apply it universally," he said. "We must be credible in our opposition to capital punishment as a matter of policy wherever it occurs, whether in the United States, China or Singapore."

The day after Van Nguyen's execution, Rudd again stressed it was important our policy on the death penalty was consistent. He said "whether we are talking about individuals in Iraq or Indonesia or elsewhere, our policy has to be consistent".

Rudd, Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Minister for Foreign Affairs Stephen Smith have repeatedly said the Government would only intervene in cases involving Australian citizens.

This would be fine, if it was only a comment about when Australia makes diplomatic or political representations. But in practice it seemed to mean the Government would only declare a death sentence was inappropriate if an Australian was involved.

Now that Rudd has indicated his satisfaction the Bali bombers will get what's coming to them, he has effectively said there are times when the death penalty is justified. He is giving a nod and wink to Indonesia to execute the bombers, while arguing only Australian citizens should be spared that punishment.

Agreement and hypocrisy?
But he is taking us down one of two dead-ends. One is the argument that Australia and many Asian countries actually agree on the fundamental position that some people, and some crimes, deserve execution. All that is left is to politely disagree on where to draw the line.

The other is the more dangerous road of hypocrisy, where all representations from the Australian government are dismissed as double standards and special pleading.

Asian countries are sensitive to being lectured by western governments, but they are just as sensitive to the taint of hypocrisy in the positions taken by those same governments.

If Australia took a consistent position on the death penalty, it would not be committing itself to intervening in every case, including sending in diplomats to argue for the lives of terrorists who killed our people. And it is not megaphone diplomacy to state what Australia believes, as a matter of official policy.

Simply taking, and defending, a principled position would be a step forward, and would give Australia the moral credibility to argue for the lives of its own citizens.

Both Howard and Rudd have been trying to walk both sides of the issue, courting the part of the electorate that supports the death penalty, while arguing they haven't abandoned a long-standing and bipartisan human rights policy.

My message to the prime minister is this: it isn't possible. This sort of populism at home will backfire in the region.

If the government's highest priority is saving Australian citizens from the noose and firing squad in Asia, which it should be, its hypocrisy will only undermine these efforts. As it has in the past, this inconsistency will put Australian lives at risk.

Is it too much to expect the Australian government to have a view that no execution is acceptable, and to say it out loud when asked?

Related stories:
Australia: Rudd supports Bali executions -- 02 October 2008
Australian government reminded of death penalty opposition -- 23 September 2008
Australia defends selective appeals for life -- 16 August 2008
'Only Australians' should be spared execution -- 06 January 2008
No Australian government will oppose terrorist executions -- 10 October 2007
Australia: Rudd would oppose death penalty -- 24 June 2007
Australia 'should act against death penalty' -- 03 August 2006

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Global focus on Asia's executioners

Human rights activists worldwide are this month campaigning for an end to the death penalty in Asia.

The sixth World Day Against the Death Penalty, held this Friday 10 October 2008, is focusing on six countries which exemplify important issues in the region:
  • Japan - secrecy and a lack of transparency
  • Pakistan - unfair trials
  • Viet Nam - with a high number of offences punishable by death
  • India and Taiwan - encouraging the introduction of a moratorium, and
  • South Korea - highlighting calls for abolition.
According to the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty (WCADP), which organises the annual day of action, the region is home to 60 per cent of the world's population. Some 95 per cent of people in the region lives in a country with the death penalty.

"In many cases, trials are unfair, the death penalty is used for a wide range of crimes, including non-violent ones (drug trafficking, embezzlement), and the lack of transparency characterizes the legal system in many countries,"it said.

The WCADP said however there were some positive changes in the region that raised hope for a "death penalty-free Asia".

"Over the last few years, the total numbers of death sentences and executions have decreased in Asia," it said in a statement.

"Periods of moratorium (i.e. the temporary suspension of executions) are longer and more frequent.

"Alongside these improvements, there are more and more organized Asian activists in favor of the abolition of the death penalty."

Think regionally, act globally
The campaign is centred on collecting signatures on a series of petitions targeting governments in the six countries.

Campaign events in Asia and around the world will raise awareness of the region's use of the death penalty and encourage the six countries to take specific steps towards abolition.

The 2007 World Day Against the Death Penalty helped build support for the United Nations (UN) resolution calling for a moratorium on executions. The UN General Assembly adopted the resolution by an overwhelming majority on 18 December 2007, with 104 member states voting in favour, 54 countries voting against and 29 abstentions.

Related stories:
Victims opposing the death penalty -- 10 October 2007
Sign the global petition against executions -- 3 September 2007
New voice against Asia's executions -- 10 October 2006
World Day call for Australian leadership -- 10 October 2006
Global protest against failure of justice -- 10 October 2006
Call to action on 10 October -- 4 September 2006

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Australia: Rudd supports Bali executions

Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd today confirmed his support for the execution of the three Bali bombers, saying they 'deserve' the 'justice' they will receive.

Rudd was responding to comments by the three yesterday that there would be revenge attacks if they were executed, and expressing no remorse for the October 2002 bombing.

"The Bali bombers describe themselves as holy warriors," Rudd said on Fairfax Radio in Perth (story also here).

"I say the Bali bombers are cowards and murderers pure and simple and frankly they can make whatever threats they like.

"They deserve the justice that we delivered to them."

The final step
Rudd’s remarks today complete his move in recent months to take over the policy -- and the double standards -- of his predecessor, John Howard.

Under the previous prime minister, the Australian government supported particular executions where the government's political self-interest was involved, while arguing that it was "universally" opposed to the death penalty.

Confirmation of Australia's position under Rudd will again draw accusations of hypocrisy from across the region, and undermine the country's diplomatic attempts to argue for clemency for its own citizens facing execution overseas.

A gradual shift
Rudd told a media conference on 18 July 2008 that the government was opposed to the death penalty, but would not intervene in the cases of foreign nationals facing execution.

At that stage he stopped short of endorsing the use of the death penalty, arguing only that Australia would limit intervention to cases involving its own citizens.

"I would say by way of general principle the following, that together with the Liberal Party, our policy has been one of stated universal opposition to the death penalty, but in the case of foreign terrorists, we are not in the business of intervening on any of their behalf’s," he said.

However, before he was elected prime minister, Rudd called for a consistent position on the death penalty and international action towards abolition.

On 3 December 2005, the day after Australian citizen Van Tuong Nguyen was hanged in Singapore, Rudd told a media conference: "It is important that our policy [on the death penalty] is consistent."

Rudd's biographer Robert Macklin said in June last year that "one of his important foreign policy objectives" if he became prime minister would be to campaign for worldwide abolition of the death penalty.

Bombers facing death
Amrozi, his brother Mukhlas and Imam Samudra yesterday appeared in public outside their prison in Central Java for the Islamic holiday Idul Fitri.

The three men were sentenced to death for the bombing, which killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.

"If anybody kills us, God willing, there will be retaliation," Samudra said yesterday.

He also said the executions would not be carried out, and he had no regrets over what he had done.

Lawyers for the three men are currently mounting a constitutional challenge against Indonesia's death penalty, arguing execution by firing squad amounts to torture.

Related stories:
Australian government reminded of death penalty opposition -- 23 September 2008
Australia defends selective appeals for life -- 16 August 2008
'Only Australians' should be spared execution -- 06 January 2008
No Australian government will oppose terrorist executions -- 10 October 2007
Australia: Rudd would oppose death penalty -- 24 June 2007
Australia 'should act against death penalty' -- 03 August 2006

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Australian government reminded of death penalty opposition

The Australian government has been reminded of the stance it took on the death penalty before it won office, after a member of parliament introduced a resolution yesterday calling for clemency for three young Australians under sentence of death in Indonesia.

New South Wales MP Chris Hayes introduced the private member's bill yesterday, which noted three members of the so-called 'Bali 9' faced execution for drug trafficking, and called on the Australian government to advocate clemency.

A shorter version of the same resolution was introduced on 29 May 2007, by Robert McClelland, who is now attorney-general in the Rudd Labor government.

The two resolutions differ in three significant respects, with the latest resolution:

* expressing "opposition to the imposition of the death penalty", whereas the earlier version explicitly opposed only "the imposition of the death penalty on any Australian citizen"

* calling on the Australian government to "advocate clemency for these three Australian citizens [on death row in Bali], as and whenever appropriate", and

* encouraging law reform to implement the Indonesian Constitutional Court's October 2007 recommendation that alternatives be provided to a mandatory death penalty.

Robert McClelland was publicly rebuked by his leader Kevin Rudd during the 2007 election campaign, after he made public remarks encouraging consistent opposition to the use of the death penalty and "shrewd diplomatic activism" for abolition within the region.

(Thanks to Cynthia Banham for the tip about the Hayes resolution, in her article in today's Sydney Morning Herald.)

Related stories:
Australia defends selective appeals for life -- 16 August 2008
'Only Australians' should be spared execution -- 06 January 2008
Three of 'Bali 9' off death row: Indonesia -- 6 March 2008
Indonesia: Right to life and execution -- 30 October 2007
No Australian government will oppose terrorist executions -- 10 October 2007
Australia: Rudd would oppose death penalty -- 24 June 2007
Australia 'should act against death penalty' -- 03 August 2006