30/05/2013 17:27

Death penalty to defeat its purpose?

30 May 2013. The Catholic Church in Papua New Guinea is only half happy with the Parliament amendment of the Criminal Code Act on 28th May. Legislation has been unnecessarily rushed to expand the application of the death penalty when the country was still debating the issue and a common consensus had not been reached yet. The warning bell has rung on what a Government with virtually no political opposition in Parliament can do!

By Fr. Giorgio Licini PIME

Catholic Reporter

The people of Papua New Guinea and expatriates living in the country have recently rebelled against the increasing level of crime. High profile cases of murder, rape, sorcery killing, government corruption, police brutality, jail break, mismanagement of educational institutions, child sexual abuse by family members have caused shock and disbelief. Women and students have taken to the streets and told the country that enough is enough!

The suffering and loss of victims of these crimes will remain untold and not measurable. Loved ones will never have their dead relatives back. Abused children will never recover their peace of mind, let alone their physical integrity. People bashed up by fellow citizens or men in uniform will forever contemplate their scars and feel bad. Money stolen from health, education and infrastructure projects has already tragically deprived individuals and communities of their future.

It is commendable that on the 28th of May the government with overwhelming support of parliament has repelled the Sorcery Act of 1971, which was somehow condoning crimes against so-called witches. Now any killing will be called murder as it should have been ever since. It is also good that the parliament as amended the Criminal Code Act to approve longer jail term sentences for any form of stealing; should just try now to make the effects of the amendment retroactive; we will see how many Members of the House find themselves sleeping at the new high security prison also being planned for hard criminals at Manus Island or other remote place of the country.

Yes! The problem so far has not been the lack of laws, though it is good news that they have been toughened, but the poor implementation of the laws, and the systematic breaking of them by the post-colonial political and administrative leadership. As a suspicious proof of it, people and media frequently mention huge real estate properties in Cairns and elsewhere in Australia by PNG citizens who never had other business in life than politics. How do they explain it? They never do.

It has made some noise the fact that, along with tougher penalties, on 28th May the PNG Parliament has also expanded the application of the death penalty to most of the crimes mentioned above and vowed to actually carry it out again (the last time was in 1954) by all means, including hanging or firing squad.

The decision has come without that general public consultation that many sectors of society were asking for. Beside all the moral, religious and social considerations the move actually has the power to defeat its purpose. It will give the government an opportunity “to do something” and achieve nothing. By the implementation of the death penalty, the citizens will have the superficial impressions that the government is serious about fighting crime; but by achieving that goal, the government will no more feel under pressure to tackle the root causes of it.

The implementation of death penalty, however, will have at least one advantage: attract external attention. Amnesty International has already condemned the move. When the first convict will be brought for execution in this so-called “Christian country” the world eyes will all be on PNG for the first time in history. The Pope and other world religious leaders will appeal for clemency; the United Nations too; then the Red Cross and Red Crescent; Australia and the other countries in the Pacific…

The advantage is that other things will also come under scrutiny: police brutality, corruption, sorcery believes and practices, neglect of the rural areas and the urban poor… It will be at the benefit of the people of PNG, for sure! But does the country need to be shamed in front of the world in order to move forward?

If the answer is “Yes”, then implement the death penalty!