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Australian pressure killed off PNG plans to reintroduce death penalty

Pressure from Australia led to Papua New Guinea shelving its plans to reintroduce the death penalty for serious crimes, the country's chief law reform bureaucrat has said

Dr Eric Kwa, the secretary-general of the Constitutional and Law Reform Commission, told a law reform conference in Melbourne that he had been tasked by the PNG government with investigating the most efficient ways to execute prisoners.

The National Executive Council last year agreed on three methods - hanging, firing squad, and lethal injection - on Dr Kwa's recommendations.

"I was asked to identify the best method to kill the prisoners," he told the audience, to nervous laughter.

However, he said, the PNG leadership had since accepted the death penalty would not stop violence against women.

"It doesn't work ... we know that."

The death penalty was last used in PNG in 1954 - when the country was under Australian administration - but in 2013, PNG parliament approved new guidelines for its use, identifying a broader range of crimes for which it could be imposed, including severe sexual violence.

It followed a wave of horrific crimes, including a young mother who was stripped and burnt alive in a marketplace after being accused of sorcery.

Dr Kwa told the conference that 50 per cent of Papua New Guinean girls aged 15 and younger can expect to be sexually abused in their lifetime, and 70 per cent will be physically abused.

PNG flagged the reintroduction of the death penalty three years ago after a wave of women's deaths, which were followed by widespread protests calling for harsher penalties against perpetrators of violence against women.

Last month, the ABC reported Prime Minister Peter O'Neill had quietly announced plans to shelve the plans.

"We gave our report to government and I can assure you this afternoon that because of pressure from Australia the government has decided to put it on hold for the time being," Dr Kwa said.

Australia had brought great pressure to bear on PNG to abandon its plans to reintroduce the death penalty, particularly in the wake of the execution of foreign drug traffickers, including Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, by Indonesia.

Dr Kwa said his team was now finalising a report for Mr O'Neill, recommending the death penalty be repealed from the country's statute books altogether.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald, March 4, 2016

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