Indonesian security forces stand guard during a prisoner transfer at the gate to a ferry port for boats heading to the prison island of Nusa Kambangan in Cilacap, Central Java March 4, 2015. Two convicted Australian drug smugglers were being transferred on Wednesday from a Bali prison to an island for execution along with other foreigners, underlining Indonesia's determination to use the death penalty despite international criticism.

© 2015 Reuters

Many Australians are sickened that Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, two Australians sentenced to death by Indonesia’s courts for drug smuggling, have been transferred to an Indonesian island in preparation for their imminent execution.

They are slated to be executed alongside three Nigerians, a Filipina, a Brazilian, a Frenchman, a Ghanian, and an Indonesian.

“I am sure that Indonesia understands it will have consequences,” Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop told journalists.

But the Indonesian-Australian relationship has been so fraught with tension lately it’s unlikely that unilateral measures Australia could take – like recalling the ambassador or suspending trade deals – will make any difference. 

Instead, Australia should jumpstart a campaign to reject the death penalty across the Asia-Pacific, educating the region’s populations in how the death penalty has failed to deter crime and been unjustly applied, and gradually building pressure against the practice.

These are universal values, not Australian values. The United Nations opposes the death penalty. The UN General Assembly has passed resolutions year after year calling on countries to suspend use of the death penalty with a view to its abolition. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said “the death penalty has no place in the 21st century” and urged Indonesia to reconsider these executions.

Australia should partner with the United Nations and anti-death penalty countries like the Philippines and Cambodia in this initiative, targeting countries that continue to execute people – China, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam – as well as Papua New Guinea and Brunei who are taking steps to bring the death penalty back.

For this to work, people across Asia need to be mobilized. It’s not only Australians who are disgusted by this inhumane practice. Reaching out to and building support among Asians and Pacific Islanders should help to end this cruel and inhumane punishment once and for all.