Australia continues to assist in international prosecutions where the death penalty is an option, while underpinning its bid for a seat on the United Nation's Human Rights Council with a call to abolish capital punishment worldwide.
Newly released figures, obtained through freedom of information laws, show the Australian Federal Police have assisted in nearly 130 foreign investigations involving more than 400 people since 2015, where a successful prosecution could potentially lead to a death sentence.
Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop lobbied for Australia's election to the Human Rights Council for the 2018-20 term in New York this week, and has stated the worldwide abolition of the death penalty is one of Australia's goals.
But the AFP continues to assist foreign investigations where the death penalty could be handed down, refusing to co-operate in only nine of 129 cases it has been asked for information.
AFP approval rates for international assistance, mostly involving drug crime, have been steady since 2010. In 2015, 92 per cent of requests were, rising to 96 per cent in 2016. No other information, such as the countries requesting the information, or the cases involved, was given.
Australia has used its opposition to the death penalty – and a call for a global abolition of the punitive measure used in nearly 60 countries – as a key argument for its inclusion on the UN Human Rights Council.
But this year, the government quietly rejected recommendations from a parliamentary committee which would have banned the AFP from sharing drug crime information with other countries unless provided with assurances the death penalty would not be applied, prompting fears of a repeat of the Bali nine heroin plot which saw Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran executed after tip-offs to Indonesian authorities.
The committee recommended ministerial approval be required for "high-risk" cases and the AFP refuse co-operation on drug trafficking cases unless assurances that the death penalty would not be sought, both of which were rejected by the government.
A spokeswoman for the Attorney-General's department said the government "has and will continue to seek suitable assurances in appropriate cases where it is clear that the death penalty is likely to be imposed".
But Emily Howie of the Human Rights Law Centre said Australia was sending mixed messages.
"Global abolition of the death penalty is meant to be a core objective of Australia's Human Rights Council bid," she said.
"But whilst the Foreign Minister spouts the right language to delegates in New York, the reality is that every week the AFP continues to share information that puts peoples' lives at risk. If Australia really opposes the death penalty, it must do so not just through the speeches of our ministers but through the actions of all Australian departments and agencies.
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Source: The Sydney Morning Herald, Amy Remeikis, Tom McIlroy, May 21, 2017
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