Page 4201 - Week 13 - Wednesday, 16 November 2005

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human dignity and progressive development of human rights. It also states that signatory nations desire to undertake an international commitment to abolish the death penalty.

Even the Howard government has, in the past, consistently condemned the use of the death penalty. In August 2002, in response to Nigeria’s use of the death penalty, the Australian foreign minister, Mr Alexander Downer, issued a media release stating:

The Australian government is universally and consistently opposed to the use of capital punishment in any circumstances. The death penalty is an inhumane form of punishment which violates the most fundamental human right: the right to life.

This policy was restated in December 2002, when the death penalty was handed down to an Australian citizen convicted of drug trafficking in Vietnam. I believe the government has been using similar but softer lines in regard to the recently convicted Australian drug smuggler Van Nguyen.

But the Australian government and, it seems, the Australian people have not been strong in opposing the use of the death penalty in some other cases involving Australians. Since the Bali bombing in October 2002, Mr Howard’s position on the death penalty appears to have shifted. It would appear that, with respect to terrorism at least, he is willing to remain silent while another nation executes a fellow human being.

Similar sentiments appear to be expressed about the Australian Federal Police’s involvement in the recent arrest of the Bali nine. The AFP cooperated with foreign police forces in investigations that may lead to some of the Bali nine being sentenced to death. The AFP has not always been so thoughtless of human life, and I would like to see the AFP revert to its principled stance against the death penalty even if their actions are only indirectly connected to it.

The New South Wales Council of Civil Liberties foi-ed internal AFP guidelines and found that the AFP has an anything-goes policy during investigations and prior to charges being laid. The AFP practical guide on international police to police assistance in death penalty charge situations, a very explicit title, states that assistance can be provided irrespective of whether the investigation may later result in charges being laid which may attract the death penalty. So that is of concern.

In August 2005, a Senate committee recommended:

The Australian Government, in conjunction with the Australian Federal Police and other stakeholders, review its policy and procedures on international police to police assistance. In particular, the Australian Government should ensure appropriate ministerial supervision of assistance provided to overseas jurisdictions by Australian law enforcement agencies, where that assistance may expose Australians overseas to cruel, harsh or inhumane treatment or punishment, including the death penalty.

In 1996, Australia and Indonesia signed the bilateral treaty on mutual assistance in criminal matters. That treaty clearly states:

Assistance may be refused for offences in which the death penalty may be imposed or carried out.

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