World news story

11th World Day Against the Death Penalty: Death has no appeal

Joint statement by the European Union, British High Commission Port Moresby and the France Embassy to mark the World Day Against the Death Penalty.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

FCO building

10 October marks the 11th World Day Against the Death Penalty.

Crime levels in Papua New Guinea are often described as unsustainably high and the discussion about how to address the situation has a long history. In particular, the headlines about atrocious crimes committed against women, including rape and sorcery related crimes, have fuelled the debate this year. The PNG Government acted and has adopted a package of measures to address the serious issues of violent crime. The European Union, the United Kingdom, France and all other Member States of the Union are following the debate with great interest.

The sorcery act is considered by many as having provided pretexts in the past to commit horrific crimes and its recent repeal can only be seen as a very positive step. Equally, the increase of penalties for certain crimes, including rape, have been welcomed.

However, for the EU, the most disturbing suggestion, discussed frequently as a measure to curb crime, is the proposal to resume implementation of the death penalty. The death penalty was last executed in Papua New Guinea in 1954. Since Papua New Guinea’s independence no execution has taken place.

The debate about the death penalty in Papua New Guinea reminds us of similar debates some time ago in Europe. From being the continent where the guillotine was invented and where death sentences were common under the dictatorships of the first half of the 20th century to today which sees Europe as the world’s largest death penalty free region. These days, the campaign for the abolition of the death penalty is a key international position of the European Union. Today as we mark World Day against the Death Penalty, Europe underlines its full commitment to the campaign in favour of the universal abolition of the Death Penalty.

Europe is not alone with its views on capital punishment. All over the world the trend is going in the same direction. Here in the Pacific only two countries still have the death penalty on their books, and in both cases it has not been implemented for decades. And in 2012, PNG voted to abstain on the debate to abolish the death penalty in the United Nations General Assembly.

The international trend to abolish the death penalty is based on a number of sound reasons. The death penalty is widely seen as an inhuman and archaic way of punishment. More and more countries believe that abolition contributes to the enhancement of human dignity and the progressive development of human rights; and many Faith based organisations see capital punishment as violating fundamental principles.

Death is irreversible. Even the best judge or court in the world can and does commit errors. Once executed, no worldly power can ever reverse the sentence when new evidence appears. This has been highlighted with the introduction of DNA testing and in a significant number of cases elsewhere, previously convicted murderers were found to be innocent.

In addition, it is arguable that the death penalty is an effective measure in curbing crime. Scientific studies have consistently failed to demonstrate that executions deter people from committing crime any more than long prison sentences. While the human impulse for revenge may be understandable, we believe that it is for the State to rise above the immediate emotions of humans shocked by the circumstances of a particular horrendous crime. There are no grounds to believe that capital punishment would help curbing particular types of heinous crime. Death has no appeal.

Here in Papua New Guinea, many observers have pointed to investing in the police force to enable more effective law and order enforcement. This would certainly contribute in the short term, in particular to fight street crime and increase security in public places. But from a more long term perspective, crime has many underlying reasons. Tackling these may appear less spectacular but we believe is the most effective way in the long term.

The PNG Government’s impressive initiatives to promote education, health, inclusive growth and job creation will boost the economy and the wellbeing of Papua New Guineans. In addition, these initiatives can be seen as essential building blocks for curbing crime in the medium to long term. Young people, working hard in fulfilling jobs, able to build stable family relations, will have less inclination to commit crime.

In Europe, education on violence starts at school. Teaching the citizens of tomorrow how to resolve conflicts peacefully, how to respect other fellow citizens, in particular women, is important for nation building, lasting peace and security throughout the country. The recent negative headlines in the international press clearly do not do justice to Papua New Guinea and its overwhelming majority of friendly, law abiding citizens. The European Union, the United Kingdom and France in Papua New Guinea will continue to support the PNG Government’s efforts to lay the foundations for long term peaceful, sustainable and inclusive growth; whether through our bilateral trade agreement and the many jobs it creates in the country, through our efforts to promote investment, or through our aid to develop agriculture and education. But we will also continue to lobby against the death penalty.

Further information

Foreign Office Minister Baroness Warsi highlights the UK’s longstanding opposition to the death penalty in all circumstances

Follow the Foreign Office human rights work on twitter @FCOhumanrights

Follow the British High Commission Port Moresby on facebook

Published 10 October 2013