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(Sydney) – Following the executions of Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran in Indonesia, the Australian government should redouble efforts to end the death penalty around the world, and overhaul the way it campaigns for global abolition, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances because of its inherent cruelty.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Human Rights Law Centre, Reprieve Australia, Australians Detained Abroad, NSW Council for Civil Liberties, Civil Liberties Australia, and Uniting Justice Australia have joined forces to launch a new Australian blueprint to end the death penalty.

The Australian government has condemned executions in Indonesia, but it could play a larger role opposing the death penalty globally. Australia abolished the death penalty in 2010, although the last execution took place in 1967.

“The time is ripe for Australia’s foreign ministry to make public a new comprehensive policy to end the death penalty worldwide, with specific and achievable goals for individual countries,” said Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch. “The strategy should include consistent public and private diplomatic pressure to end this cruel practice, showing how the death penalty has failed to deter crime and been unjustly applied.”

The groups’ blueprint for change, “Australian Government and the Death Penalty: A Way Forward” details four steps the government should take to build on the current momentum to end the death penalty:

1.       Develop a new Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade public strategy document aimed at ending the death penalty, everywhere;

2.       Use Australia’s aid program to support civil society organizations campaigning for abolition in countries which retain the death penalty;

3.       Join forces with other nations to push for universal adoption of a global moratorium on the death penalty; and

4.       Put in place stronger legislation so the Australian Federal Police (AFP) is required by law not to share information with other law enforcement agencies that would potentially result in suspected perpetrators facing the death penalty.

The blueprint urges the Australian government to consult widely, including with the UK government, which already has a global strategy against the death penalty, as well as with advocacy groups in countries retaining the death penalty.

The organizations said if Australia wants its opposition to the death penalty globally to be credible, it is important that Australian laws consistently reflect that opposition. Following the arrests of the so-called Bali 9 in 2005, it emerged that the Australian Federal Police (AFP) passed on detailed information about the alleged plan to smuggle heroin from Bali, without seeking guarantees that the information would not be used by the authorities to eventually seek the death penalty against the perpetrators.

Emily Howie, director of advocacy and research at the Human Rights Law Centre, said: “If the Bali 9 case happened again tomorrow, nothing would prevent the AFP from acting in the same way. Parliament should amend the AFP Act to include sufficient safeguards to prevent police sharing information which could lead to the death penalty.”

“Momentum is building globally for the abolition of the death penalty. In recent months, Australian people and the government have spoken out powerfully against executions,” said Ursula Noye, vice president of Reprieve Australia. “The time is right for us to take a lead role, and build a regional coalition for abolition. We should make future generations proud.”

“The recent executions of eight men in Indonesia, including Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, was an inhuman and unjust punishment and represents exactly why the Australian government must continue to speak out against the death penalty whenever it occurs,” said Claire Mallinson, national director at Amnesty International Australia. “We must now ensure Australia’s stance against the recent executions is reflected in all government policy. We are asking for change across the Australian Government – through diplomacy, our aid program, our federal law enforcement agencies.” 

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