SIDS Conference: Pacific island states’ impressive death penalty record under threat

The threat by some Pacific island states to resume executions would tarnish the reputation of a region that has a near perfect record on the death penalty, Amnesty International said on the end of the International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in Samoa.

“Moves by countries like Papua New Guinea and Kiribati to bring back the death penalty in law are deeply worrying in a region that had a near flawless record on the death penalty for a number of years, carrying out no executions and no new death sentences imposed over the past year,” said Kate Schuetze, Pacific Researcher at Amnesty International.

SIDS brought together 109 countries to discuss a range of sustainable development issues and provided an opportunity for engagement on the issue of the death penalty.

According to Amnesty International’s annual review of executions worldwide, the Pacific sub-region was almost completely death penalty free, with no executions carried out and only four countries maintaining the death penalty in law.

However, during the summit on 2 September 2014 the state of Kiribati announced plans to introduce the death penalty in the Penal Code. This followed the lead of Papua New Guinea’s government who implemented legislative changes in 2013 to allow for the resumption of executions through lethal injection. 

“Governments across the Pacific should be proud of their record on executions. The death penalty is a violation of the right to life, plain and simple. It is certainly not the answer to dealing with the horrific killings and violence against women that have shocked the region in recent years. There is absolutely no convincing evidence that the death penalty acts as a particular deterrent to any crime,” said Kate Schuetze.

“Instead of making moves to resume executions, authorities should focus on tackling the root causes of crime. Governments in the region must take a clear stance against the death penalty, and ensure that it is fully abolished in law in the few countries the still keep it on the books.”


Nauru, Papua New Guinea, and Tonga are abolitionist in practice, while Fiji has only retained the death penalty for military crimes. All ten other Pacific countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes.

The last known execution to take place in the Pacific region was in 1982 in Tonga. In recent years, with the exception of eight reported death sentences in Papua New Guinea since 2009, Amnesty International did not record executions or death sentences in the Pacific region. 

Despite retaining the death penalty in law, Papua New Guinea has not carried out executions since 1954. However, in 2013 the government made worrying moves aimed at resuming executions. 

Following highly publicized and brutal killings of women accused of “sorcery” last year, a new law was adopted on 28 May 2013 expanding the scope of the death penalty to include robbery and aggravated rape, even if the crime did not result in death. Legal execution methods were changed to include, in addition to hanging that was already on the books, lethal injection, electrocution, firing squad and asphyxiation.

Amnesty International urges all Small Islands Developing States members that still retain capital punishment to take immediate steps to establish a moratorium on executions and abolish the death penalty for all crimes. It also calls on the authorities of abolitionist countries not to reintroduce the death penalty and ratify international and regional treaties on its abolition, including the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.