By Stefan Armbruster
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has called on Papua New Guinea to tackle a long list of abuses in the country.
Praising PNG’s “welcomed openness” after inviting him for a one-day visit, the high commissioner issued a to-do list and emphasised the eyes of the world would be on the country during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in November.
After meeting with prime minister Peter O’Neill, Mr Zeid said PNG needed to tackle corruption, strengthen the rule of law and hold business accountable for human rights abuses. He also raised the issues of refugees on Manus, resource industry land leases, and associated police brutality, gender-based violence and sorcery.
“Papua New Guinea appears to be a country of contradictions. There are exemplary laws and policies in place to protect human rights, but they are reportedly often not enforced,” he said.
“It is a resource-rich country, but much of its population lives in abject poverty, with acute malnutrition rates in some areas comparable to Yemen and minimal access to quality healthcare and education.
“It has strong civil society activists but there is little room for them to influence Government policy.”
'Committed' to Human Rights Commission
In a statement issued before the High Commissioner’s visit, Mr O’Neill’s office thanked him for visiting PNG for the first time.
“The observations of the High Commissioner are comforting as this government has made a concerted effort to engage with all stakeholders, particularly civil society,” Mr O’Neill’s statement said.
“Our Government is committed to establishing a Human Rights Commission in our country. We are working through the details required to establish this important office and look to making an announcement soon before the matter is put to Parliament for discussion.
“As our country continues to advance, we will still experience the same human rights issues that are experienced by countries around the world.”
Reported actions 'shameful'
The creation of National Human Rights Track Court and a planned independent national human rights commission by the O’Neill government were praised by the UN commissioner.
“I was, however, troubled to hear about attacks against human rights defenders and journalists working on sensitive issues, particularly relating to land rights and corruption,” Mr Zeid said.
“I call on the government to protect the important watchdog function of civil society, and indeed treating them as partners in tackling difficult human rights challenges, including the endemic gender-based violence and horrific attacks against those accused of sorcery in Papua New Guinea.”
Mr Zeid condemned as “unacceptable” leases to the resource industry that trampled on the rights of landowners, especially the Special Agriculture Business Leases (SABL) and forced evictions.
“The reported actions of some major corporations engaged in the extractive industries in Papua New Guinea are shameful,” Mr Zeid said, citing also incidence of sexual violence with impunity in some cases.
“States have a responsibility to prevent, investigate, punish and redress human rights abuses within their territory, including abuses committed by private corporations. And business enterprises have an obligation to avoid infringing on the human rights of others and to address adverse human rights impacts of their activities.”
“States and businesses can flourish without trampling brutally on people’s human rights – but in Papua New Guinea, human rights advocates report that local communities rarely get any benefits from the extractive operations carried out by large corporations on their land,” he said.
Call to end death penalty
He also called for an end to the death penalty. There are currently eight men on death row, down from 12 after two were acquitted on appeal and another two died in prison.
PNG authorities have not carried out any executions due to lack of equipment and training.
During his visit the High Commissioner met with the prime minister, government officials, judiciary and civil society organisations.
PNG's nearest neighbour Australia is its largest aid donor and when elected to the UN Human Rights Council late last year said it would champion issues on behalf of the Pacific.
Published on SBS News on February 10, 2018
Alva Campbell was supposed to die on Nov. 15. That was the date chosen by the State of Ohio, which had convicted and condemned Mr. Campbell for murdering a teenager, Charles Dials, during a 1997 carjacking in Columbus.
Inside the death chamber that morning, prison officials spent more than an hour searching Mr. Campbell’s arms and legs for a vein into which they could inject the lethal drug cocktail. They comforted him as they prepared to kill him, providing the 69-year-old with a wedge pillow to help with breathing problems related to his years of heavy smoking.
After about 80 minutes, they gave up and returned Mr. Campbell to his cell, where he sits awaiting his next date with death, now set for June 5, 2019.
The pathetic scene was a fitting symbol of the state of capital punishment in America in 2017, a vile practice that descends further into macabre farce even as it declines in use. Mr. Campbell would have been the 24th person put to death last year. That’s less than a quarter of the 98 executions carried out in 1999.
The number should be zero. As the nation enters 2018, the Supreme Court is considering whether to hear at least one case asking it to strike down the death penalty, once and for all, for violating the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishments.
Whether the justices take that or another case, the facts they face will be the same: The death penalty is a savage, racially biased, arbitrary and pointless punishment that becomes rarer and more geographically isolated with every year. In 2017 the total number of people sitting on death rows across America fell for the 17th straight year. In Harris County, Tex., the nation’s undisputed leader in state-sanctioned killing, the year passed without a single execution or death sentence — the first time that’s happened in more than 40 years.
Still, Texas was one of just two states — Arkansas is the other — responsible for almost half of 2017’s executions. And nearly one in three of the nation’s 39 new death sentences last year were handed down in three counties: Riverside in California, Clark in Nevada and Maricopa in Arizona.
It would be tempting to conclude from this litany, which is drawn from an annual report by the Death Penalty Information Center, that capital punishment is being reserved for the most horrific crimes committed by the most incorrigible offenders. But it would be wrong.
The death penalty is not and has never been about the severity of any given crime. Mental illness, intellectual disability, brain damage, childhood abuse or neglect, abysmal lawyers, minimal judicial review, a white victim — these factors are far more closely associated with who ends up getting executed. Of the 23 people put to death in 2017, all but three had at least one of these factors, according to the report. Eight were younger than 21 at the time of their crime.
More troubling still are the wrongful convictions. In 2017, four more people who had been sentenced to death were exonerated, for a total of 160 since 1973 — a time during which 1,465 people were executed. In many of the exonerations, prosecutors won convictions and sentences despite questionable or nonexistent evidence, pervasive misconduct or a pattern of racial bias. A 2014 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences extrapolated from known cases of wrongful convictions to estimate that at least 4 percent of all death-row inmates are wrongfully convicted. Against this backdrop, it would take an enormous leap of faith to believe that no innocent person has ever been executed.
This page has long opposed the death penalty, and would continue to even if the penalty’s application were completely free of bias and error. That is an unattainable goal, as should be obvious by now. Perhaps this explains why Americans, whose support for capital punishment climbed as high as 80 percent in 1994, have increasingly lost their appetite for state-sanctioned killing. Support is down to around 55 percent, its lowest level in 45 years.
The rest of the developed world agreed to reject this cruel and pointless practice long ago. How can it be ended here, for good?
Leaving it up to individual states is not the solution. It’s true that 19 states and the District of Columbia have already banned capital punishment, four have suspended it and eight others haven’t executed anyone in more than a decade. Some particularly awful state policies have also been eliminated in the past couple of years, like a Florida law that permitted non-unanimous juries to impose death sentences, and an Alabama rule empowering judges to override a jury’s vote for life, even a unanimous one, and impose death.
And yet at the same time, states have passed laws intended to speed up the capital appeals process, despite the growing evidence of legal errors and prosecutorial misconduct that can be hidden for years or longer. Other states have gone to great lengths to hide their lethal-injection protocolsfrom public scrutiny, even as executions with untested drugs have gone awry and pharmaceutical companies have objected to the use of their products to kill people.
Last summer, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg suggested that the death penalty would eventually end with a whimper. “The incidence of capital punishment has gone down, down, down so that now, I think, there are only three states that actually administer the death penalty,” Justice Ginsburg said at a law school event. “We may see an end to capital punishment by attrition as there are fewer and fewer executions.”
That’s a dispiriting take. The death penalty holdouts may be few and far between, but they are fiercely committed, and they won’t stop killing people unless they’re forced to. Relying on the vague idea of attrition absolves the court of its responsibility to be the ultimate arbiter and guardian of the Constitution — and specifically of the Eighth Amendment. The court has already relied on that provision to ban the execution of juvenile offenders, the intellectually disabled and those convicted of crimes against people other than murder.
There’s no reason not to take the final step. The justices have all the information they need right now to bring America in line with most of the rest of the world and end the death penalty for good.
Published on The NY Times on December 31, 2017
Earlier this week Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud made a public vow to “modernize” Saudi Arabia signalling key reforms could be on the agenda in the Kingdom.
Since the Crown Prince was appointed as official heir to the throne in June 2017 he has launched a slick PR campaign to improve the country’s image on the world stage.
Just weeks ago the authorities announced that women in the country will finally be granted the right to drive a car. While this is undoubtedly a step forward for Saudi Arabian women, and a testament to the women’s rights activists who campaigned for the right for many years, it is extremely overdue and does not make up for the fact that they face widespread discrimination in other walks of life.
Commentators have hailed the Crown Prince’s promises of reform as signs that change is on the horizon for Saudi Arabia. But it’s important not to lose sight of the bigger picture: Saudi Arabia remains one of the world’s worst abusers when it comes to human rights. The months since the Crown Prince’s appointment, have seen no improvements, instead, its already dire rights record has continued to deteriorate.
Here are five crucial things Saudi Arabia’s authorities urgently need to do to prove they are truly committed to reform:
The Saudi Arabia-led coalition has killed and injured thousands of civilians during the Yemen conflict in recent years – many of them children. According to the UN Secretary General’s annual Children and Armed Conflict report 683 children were killed or injured by the Saudi-Arabia led coalition in 2016. The Saudi Arabia-led coalition has also used cluster munitions – lethal explosive weapons which are inherently indiscriminate and are widely banned under international law because of the horrific injuries they can cause to civilians.
Published on Amnesty International on October 27, 2017.
By Bassam Khawaja
Once again, political pressure is growing for Lebanon to resume executions.
Most recently, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk called last Friday for the application of the death penalty. Lebanon has an unofficial moratorium on the death penalty and has not carried out an execution since 2004, although courts continue to hand down death sentences. Any move to resume executions should be resisted.
Lebanon’s moratorium is a bright spot on its human rights record and is in line with a global trend to abolish the death penalty. Just 23 countries are known to have carried out executions in 2016. A resumption of executions would constitute a troubling setback for Lebanon, without making the country safer or deterring crime. Studies have consistently found there is no clear evidence that the death penalty deters crime. Lebanon in 2010 resisted similar calls from politicians to resume executions.
A resumption of executions would be particularly troubling given concerns about a lack of due process guarantees in Lebanese courts. Human Rights Watch found in 2017 that military courts, which have broad jurisdiction over civilians and retain the death penalty, do not guarantee due process rights. Those who have stood trial in military court describe the use of confessions extracted under torture, decisions issued without an explanation, seemingly arbitrary sentences, and a limited ability to appeal.
On October 10, 2008, Justice Minister Ibrahim Najjar submitted to the Council of Ministers a draft law abolishing the death penalty and replacing it with life imprisonment with hard labor.
Human Rights Watch opposes capital punishment in all countries and under all circumstances. Capital punishment is unique in its cruelty and finality, and is plagued with arbitrariness, prejudice, and error. Most countries have abolished the practice outright, while dozens have adopted a de facto moratorium. In 2012, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution calling on all countries to establish a moratorium on the death penalty, progressively restrict the practice, and reduce the offenses for which it might be imposed, all with the view toward its eventual abolition.
Ending its moratorium on executions would only serve to tarnish Lebanon’s human rights record. Instead, parliament should solidify Lebanon’s position as a leader on this issue in the Middle East, and abolish the death penalty outright.
Published on HRW on June 12, 2017.