Australia falls short on its aim to lead global abolition of the death penalty

Australia falls short on its aim to lead global abolition of the death penalty

The Human Rights Law Centre has welcomed the Australian government’s commitment to do more to abolish the death penalty worldwide, but says it has fallen short by failing to prohibit the Australian Federal Police from sharing information that could lead to imposition of the death penalty overseas.

Yesterday, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade published its response to the 13 recommendations made by the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade in its A world without the death penalty report. Those recommendations provided guidance on how Australia can play a leading role on the world stage in relation to abolishing the death penalty.

The Human Rights Law Centre’s Director of Advocacy and Research, Emily Howie, welcomed many of the government’s commitments, including that its advocacy will be guided by human rights principles.

“We strongly support Australia in its bid to be a global leader on abolition of the death penalty. As a country that hasn’t performed an execution for 50 years, we are exceptionally well placed to advocate against the cruel and torturous nature of the death penalty. The question is whether the whole of our government can truly speak with one voice in opposition to the death penalty,” said Ms Howie.  

Last year, the Parliamentary committee recommended that either the AFP obtain guarantees that partner countries will not apply the death penalty in a given case or that they withhold provision of information relevant to the case. Yesterday, the Government merely announced changes to the AFP Guidelines on information sharing in death penalty cases.

“Under current laws and guidelines, if the Bali 9 case happened again today, nothing would prevent the AFP from acting in the same way. Yesterday’s announcement of amending AFP guidelines does not change that. If the government were serious about prohibiting information sharing it would legislate to prevent it from happening. Instead it has left the difficult and painful decision about whether to share information in death penalty cases in the hands of police,” said Ms Howie.

“Australia cannot have it both ways. It can’t oppose the death penalty in some forums and support the investigation of death penalty cases in others. Australia’s global advocacy for abolition of the death penalty is seriously undermined by Australian police actively sharing information that leads directly to people being put to death,” added Ms Howie.

Australia has made global abolition of the death penalty a central part of its campaign for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council.

“As a candidate, Australia should put its best foot forward in terms of its human rights record at home and overseas. Yet in this case it is failing the true test of leadership and leaving itself wide open to criticisms that it will tell other states what to do but will not implement the same standards at home,” said Ms Howie.

For further comments or queries please contact:
Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519