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Papua New Guinea: Cabinet Approves Guidelines for Implementation of the Death Penalty

(Feb. 11, 2015) On February 5, 2015, it was reported that the Papua New Guinea Cabinet had endorsed guidelines for the implementation of the death penalty. The Secretary of the Department of Justice and Attorney General, Lawrence Kalinoe, subsequently indicated that the 13 people currently on death row, who have all exhausted their appeals, will be executed this year. (PNG’s Government Adamant on Death Penalty Implementation, RADIO NEW ZEALAND (Feb. 6, 2015).) He also stated that the government had approved an interagency committee to oversee the implementation of the death penalty. (Church Leaders Condemn PNG Government’s Decision to Implement the Death Penalty, PAPUA NEW GUINEA TODAY (Feb. 5, 2015).)

According to the reports, the Cabinet guidelines include three modes of execution: hanging, lethal injection, and firing squad. Executions will be carried out at a facility built at Bomana Prison, in the capital Port Moresby. (PNG’s Government Adamant on Death Penalty Implementation, supra.)

In early 2014, it was reported that the country’s Constitutional Law Reform Commission had toured several countries, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and the United States, in order to provide advice to the government on what methods of execution should be adopted. (PNG Says Executions Will Go Ahead This Year (Transcript), RADIO NEW ZEALAND (Jan. 28, 2014).) The Commission also held a public forum to discuss the death penalty in November 2014. (Cedric Patjole, Forum to Discuss Death Penalty Today, PNG LOOP (Nov. 13, 2014).)

Background

The death penalty was abolished in Papua New Guinea in 1970 by the Australian administration that then governed the country, but was reintroduced by the Papua New Guinea government in 1991. The country had become independent in 1975. However, no executions have actually been carried out since 1957. (Rowan Callick, PNG to Enforce Death Penalty, THE AUSTRALIAN (May 29, 2013) (by subscription).)

In 2013, the Papua New Guinea government announced that it would reactivate the implementation of the death penalty in response to an increase in violent crimes. (Id.; see also Joint Statement by the European Union, British High Commission Port Moresby and the France [sic] Embassy to Mark the World Day Against the Death Penalty, GOV.UK (Oct. 10, 2013).) At that time, the Papua New Guinea Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill, stated:

The level of these serious crimes in our community, particularly crimes of [a] sexual nature and murder are unacceptable. The heinous behavior is perpetrated by a few, but the country at large is made to suffer. We must act now to protect the majority. The proposed laws are tough, but they are necessary. We have to address a situation that is destroying our country. (Palash Ghosh, Papua New Guinea Seeks to Resume Death Penalty in Wake of Horrific Crime Spree, but Activists Object, INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS TIMES (May 2, 2013).)

The Parliament subsequently passed the Criminal Code (Amendment) Act (No. 6) 2013, which expanded the types of crimes eligible for the death penalty to include sorcery-related murder, aggravated rape, and robbery and increased the penalties for several other crimes. (Criminal Code (Amendment) Act (No. 6) 2013, PACLII, amending Criminal Code Act 1974, PACLII; see also The Death Penalty in Papua New Guinea, Amnesty International, Aotearoa New Zealand website (last visited Feb. 6, 2015); PNG Repeals Sorcery Law and Expands Death Penalty, BBC NEWS (May 29, 2013).)

International Response

The United Nations and international human rights organizations have condemned the actions of the government in relation to resuming the use of the death penalty. (UN Human Rights Office Regrets Papua New Guinea’s Decision to Resume Death Penalty, UN NEWS CENTRE (May 31, 2013; Papua New Guinea Repeals Sorcery Act While Moving Closer to Executions, Amnesty International website (May 13, 2013).)

The government’s most recent decision on the implementation of the death penalty was condemned by church leaders in Papua New Guinea, who said in a media statement that “[a]s a Christian Nation, we can never allow our justice system to sink, to acts of revenge or payback. We must not take the attitude of ‘an eye for an eye’ but rather maintain penalties that are appropriate for all crimes but do not include the death penalty.” (Church Leaders Condemn PNG Government’s Decision to Implement the Death Penalty, supra.)