15 December 2016

It shouldn’t end in death

ruddock By the Hon Philip Ruddock, Australia’s Special Envoy for Human Rights

Sadly, thousands of people were executed last year by the 56 countries that retain the death penalty. Worryingly, the number of executions carried out each year is increasing, even while the number of countries that impose the death penalty declines.

The deaths of Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran on a prison island in Indonesia in April 2015 were a harsh reminder to us all that the death penalty is very much a reality in our world.

I attended the 6th World Congress Against the Death Penalty in Oslo in June, along with the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs, and officials from DFAT.  This year, Australia was proud to co-sponsor the Congress for the first time.

Australians were prominent, with representatives from organisations such as Reprieve Australia and the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions.  It was encouraging to see so many representatives from countries that retain the death penalty, including from our region.

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The Hon Philip Ruddock in Oslo, at the 6th World Congress Against the Death Penalty

Amid the roundtables, workshops and debate, there were some small victories.  A number of retentionist countries made commitments to progress abolition.  Mongolia and Guinea committed to formally abolish the death penalty from their criminal codes this year.

There is a long way to go and the path to abolition is not always easy.  Australia carried out its last execution in 1967, but the death penalty existed in Australian legislation until 1985.  It was not until 2010 that Australia formally legislated to ensure the death penalty cannot be reintroduced.

As Australia’s experience shows, abolition requires dedicated leadership, often in the face of public support for the death penalty.  For some countries, the most effective way to see progress is through a staged approach – removing the death penalty’s mandatory application, or reducing the number of crimes that can attract a death sentence.  Australia encourages these small steps as a valuable start towards eventual abolition.

The Congress also gave me an opportunity to talk about the recent Parliamentary inquiry into Australia’s advocacy for the abolition of the death penalty, which I chaired. The inquiry recommended ways Australia could ensure its anti-death penalty advocacy is strong and consistent, particularly in our region and in the United States. Watch this space for further updates.

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The Hon Philip Ruddock presents at the 6th World Congress Against the Death Penalty

It is clear that the death penalty is cruel and inhumane. It does not allow for rehabilitation and cannot be reversed if there is a miscarriage of justice. There is no evidence that it has a deterrent effect.  It is disproportionately meted out to minorities and the poor. Some countries execute children, pregnant women and the mentally impaired. And the death penalty is still imposed for crimes which international law does not define as ‘most serious’, such as drug offences. Australia believes the death penalty really has no place in the modern world.

Philip Ruddock
Australia’s Special Envoy for Human Rights

The Hon Philip Ruddock was appointed Australia’s first Special Envoy for Human Rights in February 2016.  He served forty-three years as a member of the Australian Parliament – the second-longest serving parliamentarian in Australia’s history – and is a former Immigration Minister and Attorney-General.  You can hear Mr Ruddock discuss human rights and the death penalty in a conversation at the Wheeler Centre.

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Join the conversation! 1 Comment

  1. In some developing countries the death penalty policy is intended to give deterrent effect to the community. However, for reasons of economic or lifestyle factors cause a small percentage of people in the community there is still a desperate commit crimes with relatively heavy punishment such as the death penalty.
    I think all parties should sit together to find a solution to this problem. All parties should with humility and think the best with the interests of the public purpose.

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