Papua New Guinea abolishes death penalty

Papua New Guinea abolished the death penalty on Friday.

Capital punishment had originally been abolished by the Australian administration in 1970. However, it was reinstated by the government in 1991 under the leadership of Prime Minister Rabbi Namaliu for willful murder, in relation to treason and privacy.

The country has not executed anyone since 1954. However, in 2013, the Papua New Guinea Criminal Code was amended to extend capital punishment to willful murder on account of sorcery, aggravated rape and robbery. The amendment also mentioned the means of executing the death sentence as hanging, lethal injection, medical death by deprivation of oxygen, firing squad or electrocution.

In 2015, when 13 death row convicts had exhausted all their appeals, the cabinet endorsed new guidelines for the implementation of death penalty and expressed intent to execute the said convicts in the duration of the year. Most recently, in July 2020, the apex court of the country delivered a judgment in the case of Independent State of Papua New Guinea v. Tamate wherein the court reversed the stay on execution of all death row convicts granted by the National Court. At the time, there were around 15 individuals on death row.

The current Prime Minister James Marape abolished capital punishment on Friday. He noted that the punishment does not have the necessary deterrent effect. The decision was welcomed by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet. Marape also cited as reason for the repeal the fact that being a Christian nation, the country ought to follow the notion of “thou shall not kill.”

Justice Minister Bryan Kramer, on the other hand, noted that abolition was due to the absence of the necessary infrastructure to carry out the death penalty in a humane manner. It was clarified that present death row convicts will either serve life imprisonment without parole or parole after 30 years. This comes as a relief for death row convicts, many of whom were on death row for years at length.