Australia’s death penalty abolition strategy welcomed, but more action needed to address complicity in deaths

Australia’s death penalty abolition strategy welcomed, but more action needed to address complicity in deaths

The Human Rights Law Centre has welcomed the Australian Government’s new strategy for the abolition of the death penalty, but warned that further action is needed to avoid the risk of another tragedy like the deaths of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

The strategy, released this morning in Canberra, outlines Australia’s whole of government approach to abolishing the death penalty.

“We welcome the strategy’s unequivocal statement that Australia opposes the death penalty in all circumstances for all people. We are seeing around the world that in a time of populist politics established standards of basic decency can evaporate in an instant. It’s vital to entrench our opposition to the death penalty in our laws, in our political culture, in our foreign policy and in our international reputation and identity,” said Daniel Webb, director of legal advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre.

Disappointingly, the strategy excludes any consideration of Australia’s approach to police cooperation and information sharing in a death penalty context. Mr Webb said that omission meant that if the Bali Nine case happened again tomorrow, nothing would prevent the AFP from acting in exactly the same way and sharing information that ultimately facilitates executions.

“It was a tip off from the Australian Federal Police that ultimately led to Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran being arrested in Indonesia where they were sentenced to death. If the same set of circumstances were to exist tomorrow, there is nothing to stop the AFP doing exactly the same thing,” said Mr Webb.

“We must not facilitate what we abhor. We are not executing people, and we are telling other countries not to execute people, but our AFP is still sharing intelligence and information that can lead to executions – we are still a link in the causal chain in executions around the world,” said Mr Webb.

Figures obtained by Fairfax media under freedom of information laws in 2017 showed that Australian Federal Police assisted in nearly 130 foreign crime investigations, involving more than 400 people since 2015, where a successful prosecution could potentially lead to a death sentence.

In 2016, the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade recommended that the Australian Government seek assurances from foreign law enforcement agencies that the death penalty will not be sought before sharing information.

The Human Rights Law Centre’s submission to the inquiry is here.