Letter urging the Minister of Justice to abolish death penalty
July 10, 2009

Hon. Dr. Allan Marat

Minister of Justice

Department of Justice

Government of Papua New Guinea

Port Moresby

Dear Minister Marat:

We write to express concern over your recent statements in Parliament suggesting that the death penalty might be soon implemented for the first time since Papua New Guinea gained self-governance and independence and that your office may develop regulations to do so. Not only would this be a highly regressive measure for justice and human rights within Papua New Guinea, it would also be in stark contrast to the prevailing trend of world opinion and practice.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances as a violation of fundamental rights-the right to life and the right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are international, nongovernmental organizations that monitor the compliance of countries with their obligations under international human rights law. Both have Special Consultative Status at the United Nations, and regularly report on human rights conditions in countries around the world and actively promote legislative and policy reform worldwide to ensure compliance with international human rights standards and international humanitarian law.

We acknowledge that Papua New Guinea has not carried out an execution since 1954, despite Parliament's 1991 reintroduction of the death penalty for willful murder. We welcome Papua New Guinea's accession in 2008 to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), an important step towards guaranteeing respect for fundamental human rights in the country. We urge Papua New Guinea to continue in this direction by abolishing the death penalty and ratifying the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which abolishes the death penalty. Such a move would allow Papua New Guinea to join the community of 94 countries that have already legally abolished this cruel and inhuman practice.

We understand that cases such as the recent murder of four children by their mother have caused immense shock and sadness throughout the country. And we note that the pressure for the state to act decisively against such crimes is immense. However, simply because a person may have killed brutally does not mean that the state should do the same. It is the responsibility of the state to respect fundamental human rights in its delivery of justice.

There is no credible evidence that the death penalty deters serious crime more effectively than other punishments. The most recent surveys of research findings on the relation between the death penalty and homicide rates, conducted for the United Nations (UN) in 1988 and updated in 1996 and 2002, concluded: "research has failed to provide scientific proof that executions have a greater deterrent effect than life imprisonment. Such proof is unlikely to be forthcoming. The evidence as a whole gives no positive support to the deterrent hypothesis." On December 18, 2007, the UN General Assembly adopted by a wide margin a resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on the death penalty. The resolution states that "there is no conclusive evidence of the death penalty's deterrent value," and that the "use of the death penalty undermines human dignity."

The intrinsic fallibility of all criminal justice systems assures that even when full due process of law is respected, innocent persons are sometimes executed. The risk of error means that the death penalty inevitably claims the lives of those later found to be innocent, as has been persistently demonstrated. Executions are inevitably carried out in an arbitrary manner, inflicted primarily on the most vulnerable-the poor and the mentally ill.

We also note that as of late 2008, a boy under the age of 18 was imprisoned under a sentence of death. The prohibition on the death penalty for crimes committed by juvenile offenders is well established in international treaty and customary law. The overwhelming majority of states comply with this standard. Both the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights prohibit capital punishment for persons under the age of 18 at the time of the offense. In 1994 the UN Human Rights Committee stated that it considered the prohibition against capital punishment for children to be part of international customary law.

Currently, Papua New Guinea's criminal code prescribes hanging as the method of execution, and your recent statements in parliament also reference lethal injection as a possible alternative. The death penalty always constitutes cruel, inhumane and degrading punishment whatever the method of execution.

As Minister of Justice, you play a critical role in bringing justice for victims of crime as well as those accused of committing crimes. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International encourage you to use your position as Minister of Justice to strengthen the judicial system so that perpetrators of crimes face just penalties that are in compliance with international standards. In addition, we urge you to use your influence with the government to promote abolishment of the death penalty in Papua New Guinea and ratification of the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR.

Thank you for your attention to our concerns, and we look forward to receiving a response from you at your earliest convenience.  
 

Yours sincerely,

                                         

Zama Coursen-Neff                                                   

Deputy Director                                                         

Children's Rights Division                                          

Human Rights Watch     

Donna Guest

Deputy Programme Director

Asia Pacific Programme

Amnesty International

                                            

cc.        Hon. Sam Abal           

Minister for Foreign Affairs