Death penalty 2013: Pacific maintains clean death penalty record

The Pacific maintained a clean record on capital punishment last year and remained the only region in the world that is virtually death penalty-free, Amnesty International said today as it issued its report on the global use of the death penalty in 2013. 

“The Pacific is the only region in the world that can claim to have had a spotless record on the death penalty in 2013. Last year, however, saw worrying threats of a resumption of executions in Papua New Guinea that cast a dark shadow on the region.”, said Audrey Gaughran, Director of Global Issues at Amnesty International. 

No executions and no new death sentences were recorded in the Pacific region last year. It was also one of the only two regions in the world that did not carry out any executions in 2013, the other one being Europe and Central Asia.

“Although no executions took place, there is still work to be done to bring about full abolition of the death penalty. Four Pacific countries retain the death penalty in law, meaning executions are still a threat. We are calling on all of them to take it off their books completely and consign this ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment to history,” Audrey Gaughran said.

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.

“While our deepest sympathies go to the victims of the attacks, the death penalty is not the solution.  There is no evidence that the death penalty acts as a particular deterrent to crime – executions are a false promise when it comes to addressing crime.  We encourage the authorities of Papua New Guinea to take seriously their duty to protect and promote human rights and focus their attention on the underlying issues behind the violence,” Audrey Gaughran said.