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"You don't reject the death penalty because the criminals are decent people. You reject the death penalty because you are decent people.” – Andrew Stroehlein
The execution by firing squad of two of our Australian cousins last month gave cause for New Zealanders to reflect on the barbarism that is still practised by a handful of countries and to consider what we must do to stop the executions of two New Zealanders awaiting a similar fate. New Zealand sometimes misses the mark on questions of human rights.
We’ve led efforts at the United Nations on a global moratorium on the use of the death penalty, yet we’re too wimpish to confront our trading partners’ appalling use of the ultimate punishment. This includes Saudi Arabia, which recently advertised for eight new executioners to keep up with an increasing number of public beheadings, half of which are for drug trafficking.
So far, our Indonesian partners have killed 14 people this year, all for drug offences, and all done in an appallingly cynical attempt to boost the domestic popularity of a weak president. Don’t be fooled by arguments that the death penalty reflects the unique values and traditions of this region – Indonesia has only practised executions since 1995.
We boast of our Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China, the first FTA China signed with any developed country – but we are silent on China’s fondness for its thousands of executions each year, many of which are for drug offences and some of which are carried out on 26 June in support of the UN International Day Against Drug Abuse.
We urgently need a backbone on this issue – not only to stand morally with the majority of the international community in opposition to the death penalty (the most recent UN General Assembly death penalty moratorium resolution had 117 votes in favour, 37 opposed), but because two of our own citizens risk being sentenced to death on drug charges.
Tony de Malmanche, 52, is accused of trafficking 1.7 kilograms of methamphetamine into Indonesia.
Peter Gardner, 25, is accused of attempting to smuggle 30 kilograms of methamphetamine out of China. Our government and its diplomats need to act carefully to not aggravate. As we witnessed with Australian diplomacy for Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, clumsy and bullying interventions don’t help.
We should learn something else from the Bali 9 case. Questions remain about the role of the Australian Federal Police in helping Indonesia secure the arrests. As part of the China FTA, New Zealand Police now cooperate with Chinese counterparts on methamphetamine law enforcement. We are yet to receive a guarantee that this cooperation isn’t complicit in people being sentenced to death.