Julie Bishop's opportunity to press PNG on death penalty


PNG Trek Attackers clip

Papua New Guinea's prime minister Peter O'Neill has declared his resolve to see the death penalty handed to the murderers of two porters killed during last Tuesday's attack on a group of Australian and New Zealand trekkers. 

'These are appalling crimes, and they attract the death penalty under laws passed by the parliament since the last election,' he said. 'At a time when we are seeking to increase tourism these crimes are an obvious setback — but we must not let them deter tourists visiting PNG, and our own people helping visitors in their travels.'

In May, PNG passed legislation to promote its use of the death penalty, following a number of high-profile and violent crimes such as rape, robbery and sorcery-related murder. Capital punishment had never been outlawed but there have been no executions since 1954, when PNG was administered by Australia.

Soon after the legislation went through parliament, then Australian foreign minister Bob Carr voiced our opposition to capital punishment during a visit to Port Moresby: 'I said to foreign minister Pato, Australia is opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances and we never cease to make that clear.'

In the wake of O'Neill's vow to make the attackers face the death penalty for their crimes against the trekking party that included Australian nationals, Australia's incoming foreign minister Julie Bishop needs to remind PNG that Australia remains opposed to the death penalty, and that PNG will curry no favour with Australia by executing criminals who harmed Australians. The involvement of the Australians as victims gives us the opportunity to make a representation without necessarily interfering in the sovereign affairs of another nation.

O'Neill is behaving brazenly when he makes it clear that, in seeking the death penalty, he is more driven by a desire to protect the country's tourism industry than seeing justice administered for its own sake. In a statement that eerily echoes the current state sponsored blood bath in Syria, PNG's Catholic bishops criticised the capital punishment legislation 'that draws Papua New Guinea closer to the point of legally killing its own citizens'.

In a statement released in May and signed by Archbishop Douglas Young of Mt Hagen, they were particularly worried that the enacting of the capital punishment legislation looked like a covert exercise of executive authority that lacked accountability:

It seems that the legislation was passed 'on the voices' thereby making it difficult for many voters to know the actual stand of their own members. The Attorney General noted that there had been widespread debate in the public forum but he did not indicate who had won the debate. Only the decision of the government.

The passing of legislation in such a dubious manner, and now the idea that humans can be executed in an effort to demonstrate to foreigners that PNG is a safe tourist destination, is a sign that PNG's law and order problem can be traced not just to an unruly criminal element, but to the country's rulers themselves. 

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.




Topic tags: Michael Mullins, Julie Bishop, Peter O'Neill, Papua New Guinea, law and order, justice



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Existing comments

You are kidding? We want PNG to torture and jail refugees for us until doomsday, we won't criticise them,

Marilyn | 13 September 2013  

Julie Bishop, in operating effectively as Foreign Minister, will need her famous steely gaze as well as well-honed diplomatic skills. Bishop can make clear to PNG Australia's opposition to the death penalty but it's never wise to enforce, in any way, our views on to another sovereign nation. Our financial, and other, aid should continue to flow, not to impress but to support.

Pam | 14 September 2013  

From what you write there seems to be strong local opposition in PNG to the death penalty, Michael. I think we should indicate our support for that. As the former colonial power in PNG we need to be careful we are not seen as talking down to PNG. Bob Carr always struck me as having an exaggerated sense of his own importance and a tendency to lecture. Ms Bishop can smile and I think she needs to be pleasant and not to talk down to people in the Pacific Islands where we are, as nowhere else, a major power. Pam is right, whilst making our moral stance clear, we cannot be seen to be attempting to directly interfere in the internal politics of a sovereign nation.

Edward F | 15 September 2013  

It is said that Australia opposes the death penalty: that is an anomaly which should read - Political Parties opposed the death penalty - and not for moral grounds other than they want to appear "humanitarian". If a vote was taken today, in view of the many vicious murders now occurring in Australia, political parties might be surprised to learn that a majority of people approve the death penalty for vicious murders. My beloved son was viciously murdered in a random attack while walking home from a party. His killers have been in and out of gaol ever since serving their sentences. Would that they were hanged and freed friends relatives and the public at large of their menacing presences.

Shirley McHugh | 16 September 2013  

The Australian government should strongly and publicly oppose the death penalty in all countries that still practise it, in all cases and under every circumstance, because it is an international human rights issue - it has nothing to do with trying to interfere in the internal politics of a sovereign nation. Human rights is universal - we all have a born right to speak out against human rights abuses. The death penalty is a violation of the most fundamental human rights law - the right to life. The death penalty cannot be separated from international human rights laws and standards. Governments do not give nor grant us human life and they should have no right to take away a human life. Human rights belong to everyone. Human rights is everybody's business! The death penalty is a barbaric, brutal, cruel, degrading, inhuman, uncivilised and vile act of state-sanctioned vengeance. It is a legalised 'hate crime'. The death penalty has been proven not to deter crime and actually has a brutalising effect on society by inspiring more acts of violence. We cannot pretend to be human and at the same time act out like animals.All countries should abolish this blood-thirsty ritual for 'revenge'.

Dorina Lisson (ACADP) | 19 September 2013  

Perfectly stated Dorina Lisson.

Bernadette | 20 September 2013  

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