House debates

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Grievance Debate

Death Penalty

6:14 pm

Photo of Chris HayesChris Hayes (Fowler, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I take the opportunity to again raise my concern about the recent and deteriorating regional situation in respect to the use of the death penalty. Notwithstanding progress in our relationship, as a matter of principle, I must condemn the recent executions in Indonesia. Today, I also draw attention to the recent spat of extrajudicial executions taking place in the Philippines since the election of President Rodrigo Duterte.

My concern about and condemnation of the death penalty represents values that I believe are shared by most in this House. Our values in this regard are so strong that a cross-party working group on the death penalty was formed in this parliament and meets on a bipartisan basis to discuss the death penalty and to advance our advocacy in respect of abolition on a worldwide basis. An example of this shared concern was the foreign minister's recent statement stressing Australia's opposition to the death penalty to her Indonesian counterpart, Ms Retno Marsudi, at the ASEAN meeting in Laos on 25 July, just before the third round of executions in Indonesia under the new Indonesian government.

The international context is clear: the vast majority of nations have abolished the death penalty or have put into effect de facto arrangements amounting to a moratorium on capital punishment. Over 160 countries around the world have abolished the death penalty or have embarked on moratoriums. Fewer than 40 countries still carry out capital punishment. President Duterte appears determined to return the Philippines back to this minority of nations, with the added and most alarming element that executions in the Philippines do not even require the sanction of the law.

Whilst the death penalty remains legal under international law, executions can only be carried out for serious, violent crime, and this does not extend to drug related offences. Indonesia signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 2005. An instrument of the covenant urges states to have a high regard and respect for human life. This same universal value is echoed in Indonesia's law on human rights of 1999. In theory at least, Indonesia should reject the death penalty or at least continue its earlier moratorium on its use. The ICCPR and human rights laws outline principles, standards and guidelines that establish clear measures for a state to be able to fulfil its objectives in a healthy democracy. Whatever drug policies a nation adopts, human rights should always be the mirror for a nation to set its standards and guidelines.

The three rounds of executions in Indonesia, on 18 January and 29 April 2015 and on 28 July this year, all under the new President, Joko Widodo, broke the de facto moratorium that was encouraged by his predecessor, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The executions were mainly for drug related offences and they mainly involved foreigners, tragically including two Australians, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, both of whom had shown—according to all, including the governor of the prison—all the qualities of a complete rehabilitation.

Returning to the Philippines: since the recent election of President Rodrigo Duterte, according to Human Rights Watch, more than 4,000 people have been executed by police or vigilantes without their conviction being recorded by the courts. So draconian and lawless are these arbitrary measures employed by President Duterte that the Catholic Church has embarked on a campaign entitled 'Thou shalt not kill.'

Both the Indonesian and Philippines presidents invoke populist rhetoric in the use of the death penalty, especially against drug related crime. They say it acts as a deterrent—an argument long debunked by most credible authorities and certainly not supported by any credible evidence. One only has to look at the United States to see that the threat of execution does not deter gun or other serious crime.

Further, we know that in all legal systems mistakes do happen. In countries like Indonesia, the newspapers report the arrest and sometimes imprisonment of judges and officials for corruption and other related irregularities. The reports also highlight elements of manipulation and, sometimes, the fragility of the legal system. But the fact remains that, once someone is executed, that is final. Mistakes can happen in law. Take the case of Mary Jane Veloso, who was due to be executed on 29 April last year along with Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukamaran. However, she won a surprise reprieve on the actual eve of execution after police arrested a person in Manila and now say Veloso was being used and was innocent of the offence. Another is Zulfiqar Ali, a 52-year-old Pakistani condemned prisoner who was notified he was to die in 72 hours on 25 July this year. Ali obtained an eleventh-hour reprieve. It was widely felt that the trial did not meet international standards. An international report conducted by the human rights and law ministry found that Ali was innocent of the crime.

In a world of increasing transnational crime, I believe it is in a nation's interest to abolish the death penalty. A very large number of abolitionist countries, Australia included, refuse international police cooperation and criminal intelligence sharing where the provision of such information or assistance could predictably expose a person to the death penalty. Many argue it is in Indonesia's best interests to abolish the death penalty or at least return to its former moratorium on executions. That is because Indonesia faces a huge problem with its own citizens being on death row in foreign jurisdictions. In April 2015, there were 279 Indonesian migrant workers facing execution abroad. In April this year, 12 months later, the figure was still 227, despite many executions taking place and the efforts of the Indonesian foreign affairs ministry to secure releases by paying blood money.

There is another, separate Indonesian domestic context which also suggests it may not be in Indonesia's practical interest to use capital punishment, even for terrorism offences. Executions can give a terrorist a type of martyr status. The case in point which demonstrates this is the execution of Imam Samudra, one of the masterminds behind the Bali bombing in 2002, which killed 202 people. After his execution, Samudra was buried in a grave outside Banten, 90 kilometres from Jakarta. Today, this site is seen as a point of pilgrimage for budding extremists inspired by his example.

Despite the well-publicised meeting between the Indonesian and Filipino presidents, it would be retrograde for President Widodo to follow his counterpart down the path of extrajudicial killings. The editorial in The Jakarta Post of 30 June 2016 poignantly said:

Opting for the extreme way of eradicating drug-related crimes will not only mark a setback, but also undermine Indonesia's credibility as a champion of democracy and human rights. Worse … if manifested in policy, would justify state violence and undermine the rule of law as the country's foundation.

The executions in Indonesia and disturbing extrajudicial killings in the Philippines should in no way deter us from our efforts to achieve the abolition of the death penalty. There are many things that we can do, and for starters I think we should monitor the levels of cooperation required of the AFP with foreign jurisdictions. Further, I think we should be raising in trade negotiations the importance that we as a country place on the non-use of capital punishment, as well as continuing our efforts in the United Nations and other international agencies to advocate for the worldwide abolition of the death penalty. I also fully support Australia's ambition for a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council and applaud the efforts of the Minister for Foreign Affairs to use this as a vehicle towards a constructive platform for the pursuit of Australia's objective of the abolition of the death penalty worldwide.