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