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NHRIs call for abolition of the death penalty

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The heads of three APF member institutions have called for an end to the death penalty in countries in the Asia Pacific region.

The heads of three APF member institutions - Australia, Malaysia and the Philippines - have called for an end to the death penalty in countries in the Asia Pacific region.

In an opinion piece for the Sydney Morning Herald following the executions in Indonesia of convicted Australian drug smugglers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, said there was evidence of a trend in south-east Asia towards abolition of the death penalty.

Professor Triggs noted that Cambodia, Timor Leste, Nepal, Bhutan and the Philippines had ended executions and de facto moratoriums have existed for some years in Laos and Thailand. In the Pacific, Fiji has de facto ended the death penalty and New Zealand abolished it in 1989.

Commutation of the death penalty is common in Malaysia, Myanmar and Singapore. However, China, Vietnam, Japan and Indonesia maintain a strict policy of executions, Professor Triggs wrote.

Following the strong community response within Australian to the execution of the two men, Professor Triggs suggested that "the time has come to collaborate with countries across the Asia Pacific to agree to a moratorium on the death penalty as a first step towards ending it for good globally".

Professor Triggs identified a number approaches to achieve this goal, including by placing the issue on the agenda of the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting and seeking a consensus position through ASEAN's Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights.

"While many Asian states remain outside the international human rights treaty system", she wrote, "[p]olitical leadership, building on recent de jure and de facto moratoriums on the death penalty, has the potential to prove highly effective."

The outgoing Chairperson of the Philippines Commission on Human Rights, Loretta Rosales, also spoke strongly against the use of the death penalty when Filipino citizen Mary Jane Veloso was to be executed by firing squad in Indonesia on 28 April 2015 (the execution was subsequently postponed).

In a statement, Ms Rosales described the impending execution as a "punitive form of justice" and that "the death penalty in any form … is a direct violation of a human's right to life".

In its latest Annual Report, released in April 2015, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) also urged its government to abolish the death penalty.

SUHAKAM Chairperson, Tan Sri Hasmy Agan, called for the mandatory death sentence for drug offences to be amended to return the discretionary power to judges to decide the appropriate penalty for such crimes.

The work of civil society organisations and human rights defenders in countries that still practice the death penalty was also critical to driving long-term change, wrote Patrick Earle, Executive Director of the Diplomacy Training Program, in an opinion piece.

Date: 15 May 2015

Image credits

  1. Man sitting - APF, Michael Power