UN attention for Pacific countries that practice death penalty
The United Nations has drawn attention to the three Pacific island nations that still posess the death penalty in law.
The United Nations has drawn attention to the three Pacific island nations that still have the death penalty in law.
Today is World day against the death Penalty, but execution has yet to be abolished in Tonga, Nauru and Papua New Guinea.
Ben Robinson reports.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in the Pacific region, Catherine Phuong says the death penalty risks the execution of innocent people and is not a deterrent to crime.
CATHERINE PHUONG: So we were really pleased to see earlier this year that Fiji became the 99th country to abolish capital punishment for all crime, at the moment it's left with Nauru, Tonga and Papua New Guinea that retain the death penalty law, but even then when you look at the situation for those 3 countries, they actually are abolitionists in practise because we haven't seen any executions in the Pacific for a long time, so there's a clear global trend toward abolition and I hope that we will soon be able to confirm that the Pacific is a death penalty free region.
The last execution carried out in the Pacific was in Tonga in 1982. The president of the Tonga Law Society, Laki Niu, says three young men were hanged for murder after a random act of violence went too far.
LAKI NIU: Soon afterwards there were motions made to the government to abolish hanging but the Parliament didn't approve it and they didn't change the law, at least the law up to now, although I must say there have been murders committed, serious ones as well, but it would appear that trial judges since 1982 do not wish to sentence people to death.
The minister of Justice in Tonga, VUNA FA'OTUSIA, says even though the death penalty hasn't been applied for decades it's still an effective deterrent.
VUNA FA'OTUSIA: Sometimes there are cases that definitely deserve the ultimate prize, e.g., death penalty, I believe that's the view of the previous government and also our present governor , so we don't expect to change anytime soon. We are comfortable just leaving it there in the law than repealing it all together.
In Nauru, no executions have taken place since the island became an independent republic in 1968. A former minister of justice and an opposition MP, Mathew Batsiua, says Nauru's constitution allows the death penalty to be written into law, but no such law currently exists. He says a previous attempt to abolish the death penalty from the constitution was unsuccessful.
MATHEW BATSIUA: It was part and parcel of the review of the constitution in 2006, up until 2010 when then was a referendum, unfortunately it was caught up in a host of other changes being proposed and so the abolishment of that particular cause in the constitution failed as part of the referendum package but I think future attempts have these kind of issues separated I am fairly confident that the majority of Nauruans will support the removal of that.
But Amnesty International's Pacific lead, Rebecca Emery, says she fears the current government in Nauru may seek to draft the death penalty into law.
REBECCA EMERY: Well this is one of the key concerns is that whenever you have a government that is showing some tendencies to move away from rule of law and human rights noms that when they do have the death penalty on their books it's a topic which they unfortunately may resort to which needs to be considering the buddle of advocacy and pressure that's put on Nauru.
Mr Batsiua says he thinks all politicians in Nauru favour abolition.
MATHEW BATSIUA: Look I think that the majority of Nauruans will feel the same way as I do and that is we do not support the death penalty in any form. There's been no attempt or any effort from any government to propose such laws, and I think the abolition of the death penalty from both sides of the house.
It's not clear whether the death penalty in Papua New Guinea enjoys cross party support after it was reintroduced in 2013. The deputy leader of the opposition, Sam Basil says his Pangu party is yet to determine its position on the death penalty, but he thinks the public is divided.
SAM BASIL : We got people being killed at random in tribal fights and we don't have a proper system in place to hold those accountable. Families of the victims and the people that have suffered will ask for that penalty to be imposed but you will also find that in other areas that are not exposed to tribal fighting or being exposed to hold ups, for example, people living in cities enjoying life, going to churches, they will want that penalty to be abolished. So I would say that in PNG we are a little bit confused on how we should handle this situation.
With about a dozen prisoners on death row, the PNG government has ruled out lethal injections as its preferred method of execution. It investigated firing squads and hangings before announcing in May that the death penalty was under review before being implemented. The minister of Justice didn't return calls, but the United Nations resident co-ordinator in PNG, Roy Trivedy, says the review is ongoing.
ROY TRIVEDY: I think that clearly there were many people advocating different positions on the death penalty and the government also to its credit held a serious of public consultation meetings in Port Moresby and elsewhere on this issue, so we are pleased that so far at least the death penalty has not been implemented and we will continue to advocate against the use of the death penalty in Papua New Guinea.
Roy Trivedy says he's not convinced that further international pressure will encourage Papua New Guinea to abolish the death penalty.
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