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