Philippine Standard Time
Monday, June 10, 2019, 2:18:54AM

In Defense of the Right to Life: International Law and Death Penalty in the Philippines

A study by the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines and Dr. Christopher Ward, SC, Australian Bar, Adjunct Professor, Australian National University


Zimbabwe Considers Abolishing Death Penalty
Human Rights Watch |, February 15, 2024
Death penalty incompatible with right to life
OHCHR |, January 31, 2024
Debunking narratives for a return of the death penalty
WCADP |, November 13, 2023
Jury in Pittsburgh synagogue trial to begin deliberating death penalty
The New York Times |, July 31, 2023
Singapore executes a woman for first time in almost two decades
The Guardian |, July 28, 2023
Ghana votes to remove death penalty, calling it sign of ‘inhumane’ society
The Washington Post |, July 26, 2023
Comment by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk after Ghana’s Parliament votes to abolish death penalty
UN OHCHR |, July 26, 2023
Parents in South Korea who kill newborns now face death penalty after law passed
The Straits Times |, July 19, 2023
Capitol Hill Democrats introduce bill to end federal death penalty
Catholic News Agency |, July 19, 2023
North Koreans risk death penalty for using South Korean language
Scottish Legal News |, June 30, 2023
Arizona Man Is Freed After 28 Years on Death Row
New York Times |, June 16, 2023
Two Australians facing death penalty in Vietnam granted clemency
Al Jazeera |, June 06, 2023
Japanese Supreme Court upholds mans death sentence for Manila murders
The Japan Times |, June 05, 2023
Zimbabwe’s new bill that imposes death penalty for ‘unpatriotic acts’
Africa Feeds |, June 01, 2023
Iran hangs three on drug charges amid criticism
Al Jazeera |, May 21, 2023
Singapore: OHCHR calls on authorities to halt imminent trafficking execution
United Nation News |, April 25, 2023
Washington state eliminates death penalty from law
CNN |, April 21, 2023
HC: Death penalty should be abolished in the 21st century
UN OHCHR |, April 03, 2023
HC: Death penalty should be abolished in the 21st century
UN OHCHR |, April 03, 2023
HC: Death penalty should be abolished in the 21st century
UN OHCHR |, April 03, 2023
HC: Death penalty should be abolished in the 21st century
UN OHCHR |, April 03, 2023
Malaysia ends mandatory death penalty for serious crimes
BBC News |, April 03, 2023
Surge in executions of drug offenders in 2022, more on death row
Al Jazeera |, March 16, 2023
Pope condemns Irans use of death penalty against protesters
Reuters |, January 09, 2023
Pope Francis’ prayer intention for September: ‘Abolition of the death penalty’
CBCP News |, September 01, 2022
Singapore executes two drug traffickers despite pleas for clemency
CNN |, July 07, 2022
Malaysia to abolish mandatory death penalty
Al Jazeera |, June 10, 2022
Missionary priest praises Central African Republic for abolishing death penalty
Crux |, June 02, 2022
Saudi Arabia: Release Abdullah al-Howaiti, revoke death sentence
Un News |, May 31, 2022
Rights office welcomes Zambia’s pledge to abolish the death penalty
UN News |, May 22, 2022
Kazakhstan Finalizes Commitment to Abolishing Death Penalty, Submits Ratification of Protocol to UN
The Astana Times |, March 28, 2022
Papua New Guinea abolishes death penalty
JURIST |, January 24, 2022
‘Just Mercy’ author urges Utah Legislature to abolish death penalty
Deseret News |, January 20, 2022
Macron calls for worldwide end to death penalty on 40th anniversary of French abolition
France 24 |, September 10, 2021
Virginia Becomes First Southern State to Abolish the Death Penalty
The New York Times |, March 24, 2021
Death penalty debate reemerges in Nevada after past stalls
Fox 5 (Las Vegas) |, March 24, 2021
Virginia becomes first state in US south to abolish death penalty
ALJAZEERA |, March 24, 2021
Abolish the federal death penalty
Chicago Sun-times |, March 01, 2021
Family members of murder victims speak out against the death penalty
KPVI News 6 |, March 01, 2021
Bill To Repeal Death Penalty Filed In Wyoming Legislature
Kgab |, March 01, 2021
State Senate Votes to Abolish Death Penalty
Newsradio 1140 WRVA |, February 04, 2021
Trump administration carries out 13th, final federal execution
Aljazeera |, January 16, 2021
A federal judge has granted a stay of execution for the only woman on federal death row pending a competency hearing
CNN |, January 12, 2021
Asian Nations Reject UN Vote Against Death Penalty
Human Rights Watch |, November 24, 2020
Holy See: ‘Death penalty the most shocking thing in the world
Vatican News |, October 10, 2020
Tunisia president calls for return of death penalty following brutal killing
The Guardian |, October 01, 2020
Kazakhstan takes important step towards abolishing death penalty
Amnesty Internatonal |, September 24, 2020
US Bishops stress opposition to death penalty
Independent Catholic News |, September 23, 2020
‘Travesty of justice’: Reaction to execution of Iranian wrestler
Aljazeera |, September 14, 2020
Unpacking public opinion on the death penalty
Asia Pacific Forum |, July 28, 2020
The Florida Supreme Court’s U-turn on the death penalty
Tampa Bay Times |, May 28, 2020
Man sentenced to death in Singapore via Zoom
BBC News |, May 20, 2020
Saudi Arabia ends death penalty for crimes committed by minors
The Guardian |, April 27, 2020
Catholic leaders praise abolition of death penalty in Colorado
CRUX |, March 25, 2020
Colorado Abolishes Death Penalty and Commutes Sentences of Death Row Inmates
The New York Times |, March 23, 2020
UK urged to act over men facing death in Egypt for alleged childhood crimes
The Guardian |, March 08, 2020
Berlin International Film Festival: Iranian film about executions wins top prize
BBC |, February 29, 2020
Trump condemned after claiming very powerful death penalty would reduce drug dealing
The Independent |, February 11, 2020
Outsourcing injustice: Guantanamo on the Euphrates
Al Jazeera News |, February 04, 2020
British Isis prisoners may end up in Iraq, where death sentences are handed down without due process
Independent |, February 02, 2020
Saudi Arabia executed record number of prisoners in 2019: Report
ABC News |, January 14, 2020
Death Sentence Overturned for Pervez Musharraf, Ex-Leader of Pakistan
The New York Times |, January 13, 2020
Japan executes foreigner for first time in a decade
Independent |, December 26, 2019
The Khashoggi verdict is exactly what impunity looks like. It must be denounced.
Agnes Callamard, Opinions, Washington Post |, December 24, 2019
5 foreigners in drug case could face death in Indonesia |, December 18, 2019
Pervez Musharraf: Pakistan ex-leader sentenced to death for treason
BBC News |, December 17, 2019
Botswana urged to abolish death penalty after latest execution
The Guardian |, December 09, 2019
I Oversaw Executions. We Cannot Resume the Federal Death Penalty
New York Times |, December 04, 2019
Americans Now Support Life in Prison Over Death Penalty
Gallup News |, November 25, 2019
UN criticizes Irans use of death penalty against minors
DW |, October 24, 2019
The Death Penalty for Drugs: What Public Opinion Surveys in Asia Teach Us
Giada Girelli, Filter Mag |, October 17, 2019
Malaysia: Unfair trials, secretive hangings and petty drug convictions reveal ‘cruel injustice’ of the death penalty
Amnesty International |, October 10, 2019
Against the death penalty: barrister Julian McMahon
ABC Radio |, July 25, 2019
Malaysia’s repeal of death penalty opens deep wounds, including that of Mongolian model murder
The Independent|, July 09, 2019
Why is Sri Lanka reinstating death penalty?
DW|, July 07, 2019
Debate on death penalty not very vigorous 1 year after Aum executions
Japan Today|, July 06, 2019
Prosecutor won’t seek death penalty in death of grandmother
News 4 Tucson|, July 06, 2019
SC issues Interim Order against death penalty
Daily FT|, July 06, 2019
Latter-day Saint Church defends involvement in death penalty case
Fox13 Salt Lake City|, July 06, 2019
Death penalty debate remains muted in Japan 1 year after AUM executions
Kyodo News|, July 05, 2019
Source: Govt will not table Bill to abolish death penalty this Parliament meeting
The Star|, July 05, 2019
The murder was caught on surveillance video. The accused now faces death if convicted
Miami Herald|, July 05, 2019
Sri Lanka- Supreme Court issues interim order against death penalty
MenaFN|, July 05, 2019
Jury to consider death penalty in Chinese scholar killing
Federal News Network|, July 05, 2019
As Malaysia eyes death penalty repeal, Al Jazeera documentary explores dilemma of capital punishment
Malay Mail|, July 04, 2019
Kentucky judge declares death penalty protocol unconstitutional
Crux Now|, July 04, 2019
Jose Martinez, The Hit Man Who Confessed To Killing Three Dozen People, Avoids The Death Penalty
BuzzFeed News|, July 03, 2019
Merced County DA is seeking the death penalty. And it could get costly, experts say
The Merced Sunstar|, July 03, 2019
Activists Hold Annual Fast Outside Supreme Court to Protest Death Penalty
Spektrum News|, July 02, 2019
Kentucky judge declares states death penalty protocol unconstitutional
The Courier Journal|, July 02, 2019
Lawmakers vote to substantially limit Oregon’s death penalty
Oregon Live|, June 29, 2019
Abolish the Death Penalty?
New York Times|, June 22, 2019
The Intercept|, June 18, 2019
In Los Angeles, only people of color are sentenced to death
The Guardian|, June 18, 2019
Poll finds Californians support the death penalty — and Newsom’s moratorium on executions
The LA Times|, June 17, 2019
Debunking the Court’s Latest Death-Penalty Obsession
The Atlantic|, June 17, 2019
Using Saudi death penalty vs. children is barbaric
CNN|, June 17, 2019
Reader reluctantly accepts governor’s death penalty moratorium
The LA Times|, June 14, 2019
Saudi Teenager Faces Death Sentence for Acts When He Was 10
New York Times|, June 09, 2019
GOP Lawmakers Are Quietly Turning Against the Death Penalty
The Atlantic|, June 07, 2019
Death knell: taking a stand to abolish capital punishment
Monash University |, February 26, 2019
Germany abolishes death penalty in public vote
Independent |, November 21, 2018
Pope Francis: ‘death penalty inadmissable’
Vatican News |, August 02, 2018
One Test Could Exonerate Him. Why Wont California Do It?
The New York Times|, May 17, 2018

World News

Death knell: taking a stand to abolish capital punishment

February 26, 2019, Monash University

International condemnation couldn’t save Myuran Sukumaran or Andrew Chan.

Early on the morning of 29 April, 2015, the Bali Nine ringleaders were executed by firing squad in Indonesia for their part in a 2005 drug trafficking plot to smuggle more than eight kilograms of heroin out of Bali and into Australia.

The pair met their end dressed in white t-shirts while singing – alongside four Nigerians, a Brazilian and an Indonesian national – after their appeals for clemency were repeatedly denied.

Before the firing squad ended his life, Sukumaran reportedly asked a favour of his spiritual adviser, Reverend Christie Buckingham.

“Ask the question in a year’s time: has this made any difference? Has it made any difference in Indonesia? Has it made any difference to the way Australians feel about the death penalty? Ask this question in one year, in five years, and in 10 years. Ask it to yourself, ask it to those around you, and ask it to anyone who will listen. Has this made a difference either way? Has this made a difference?”

They’re death penalty questions still worth asking, not only as they relate to the drug trade in Indonesia, but philosophically, and on a global scale, says Bryan Horrigan, dean of Monash University’s Faculty of Law.

What difference does the death penalty make?

Not much is the short answer, he says, with no reliable evidence that demonstrates it achieves its objectives, which ostensibly are often said to be deterrence, justice and to increase safety in the community.

“Capital punishment across the globe is administered in discriminatory ways,” Professor Horrigan says. “It’s a faulty way of dispensing justice. No legal system is immune from error and someone pays the ultimate price for those flaws.

"Reliable evidence-based studies of public attitudes in countries with the death penalty show a growing popular appreciation of the diplomatic and trade downsides of a country retaining the death penalty.

“Furthermore, the death penalty disproportionately harms the marginalised – the poor, minority groups, including people who belong to racial and ethnic minorities, those who are psychologically unwell, and those whose political view, sexual orientation or gender identity does not conform to social norms in executing countries. In short, capital punishment is neither effective nor just.”

Unclear global execution total

In 2017, 993 executions were carried out, according to Amnesty International, down four per cent on the previous year, and 39 per cent on 2015.

“These totals do not include the thousands of executions carried out in China, where data on the use of the death penalty remained a classified state secret,” the organisation states in its global report, Death Sentences and Executions, 2017.

The methods used included beheading, hanging, lethal injection and shooting.

Amnesty International recorded executions in 23 countries in 2017, the same as 2016. More than 50 countries retain a willingness to execute.

Many of these countries are in the Asia-Pacific region, including China, Pakistan, Japan, Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia.

“It’s a faulty way of dispensing justice. No legal system is immune from error and someone pays the ultimate price for those flaws."

Death sentences are also trending downwards, the report says, as the world aligns to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal No.16, which focuses on the promotion of just, peaceful and inclusive societies, with one of its specific targets being to “promote the rule of law at national and international levels, and to ensure equal access to justice for all”.

Professor Horrigan says that while execution and death sentence numbers are falling, progress towards the worldwide abolition of the death penalty is slow; however, "the progress made in recent decades means that capital punishment has gone from majority to minority status worldwide".

In 1977, when Amnesty started campaigning against the death penalty, 16 countries had abolished it. Today, 142 countries have abolished the death penalty in law and practice.

A strong advocate for human rights 

Monash University has always been a prominent academic and social advocate for human rights. In 2000, its law faculty established the Castan Centre for Human Rights, which is an acknowledged world-leading centre for human rights scholarship and advocacy.

Then, in July last year, about the same time as the federal government was releasing Australia’s Strategy for the Abolition of the Death Penalty, the University was collaborating with Reprieve Australia to establish the Anti-Death Penalty Clinic as part of the Faculty of Law’s clinical program, under its new Clinical Guarantee for students.

Students who took part were linked with legal and NGO partner bodies in Asia to undertake research and analysis of current death penalty cases, and to assist legal teams and human rights advocates in numerous jurisdictions.

"The Anti-Death Penalty Clinic pilot has been a tremendous success," Professor Horrigan says. "We've already taken steps to increase the number of students, partner organisations and countries of operation involved in the next phase."  

Based upon this platform, and strong alumni links in anti-death penalty advocacy and social justice more generally, the Faculty of Law is partnering with The Capital Punishment Justice Project (formerly Reprieve Australia) to establish a region-first Anti-Death Penalty institute, as a hub for a global network, focused on policy, research, advocacy and casework devoted to the abolition of the death penalty in Asia and beyond.

Monash University, The Capital Punishment Justice Project and the Australian government's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade jointly hosted an event at the five-yearly World Congress Against the Death penalty in February to discuss abolishing the death penalty in Asia, and to tell the world about the planned institute.

The institute will draw on the expertise of the Castan Centre and other Monash faculties, reach out to alumni who are committed to its objectives, and aim to partner with government and associated NGOs and organisations, such as the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty (WCADP) and the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN).

“To amplify and accelerate the work already being undertaken, we need to engage government and philanthropic partners to ensure we achieve long-term success and reach our ambitious and worthy  goals,” Professor Horrigan says.

Barrister Julian McMahon is The Capital Punishment Justice Project’s president, a Monash alumnus, and was the longest-serving member of the team of lawyers representing Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan in Bali.

A passionate advocate for the abolition of the death penalty, and the 2016 Victorian Australian of the Year for his work towards this, he says the execution of Sukumaran and Chan in 2015 galvanised Australia and Australians.

“If you look at Australia in 2015, there was a groundswell of opposition to the death penalty because of the executions. Since then, Australia has strongly worked against the death penalty. So that was our moment in time when everything clicked,” he says.

“Firstly, the case brought home the reality of an impending execution into the lounge-rooms of Australia.

“Secondly, Myuran and Andrew were clearly rehabilitated in a good way [and] thirdly, we had both a foreign minister and shadow foreign minister who were able to work closely and coherently together on this issue, so Australia presented a unified voice against a particular set of executions.”

A critical time to abolish the death penalty

McMahon says the fight to abolish the death penalty globally has entered a third and critical phase.

The first major phase began after World War II, with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), a historic document that was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December, 1948, and later the adoption of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) by the United Nations General Assembly in 1966.

The covenant commits its parties to respect the civil and political rights of individuals, including “the right to life, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, electoral rights and rights to due process and a fair trial”,

The death penalty isn’t prohibited by the ICCPR, but a second optional protocol to that document was adopted in 1989, aimed at bringing an end to the death penalty worldwide.

McMahon traces the second phase of the fight to the expansion of the European Union in the 1990s.

“This brought countries that would once have freely executed people in Eastern Europe into the EU, and you cannot be a member of the EU if you’re an executing country,” he says.

“The momentum of this period, and the influence of the EU, added energy to the debate around the world as more and more countries abolished the practice.”

The third phase, McMahon says, is to persuade the remaining executing countries to follow by providing more high-quality, in-depth social research that challenges both indifferent politicians to pursue the end of the death penalty, and the political operators who insist on the death penalty for political ends despite its lack of utility.

In 2012, leading anti-death penalty advocates, the London-based Death Penalty Project, commissioned Oxford University’s Professor Roger Hood to design and conduct a public opinion survey in Malaysia on its citizens’ views on the then-mandatory death penalty laws.

The results showed that, while the politicians deferred to “public opinion” in support of the death penalty as their reason not to change, empirical research suggested that once citizens were made aware of the intricacies involved in capital punishment, their support for the practice actually diminished.

Read more: The question of retaliation: is it still an eye for an eye?

This, McMahon says, was undoubtedly one of the factors that led to Malaysian lawmakers in 2017 voting to remove the mandatory death penalty requirement for drug offences.

Then, on 10 October, 2018 – World Day Against Death Penalty – Malaysia’s Minister for Law in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Liew Vui Keong, reinforced this commitment when he announced the government’s intention that “all death penalty will be abolished. Full Stop.”

More to be done

Sara Kowal is The Capital Punishment Justice Project’s vice-president, the clinical supervisor of Monash University’s Anti-Death Penalty Clinic, and a criminal lawyer with law firm Galbally Rolfe.

While she applauds the moves by Malaysia to abolish the death penalty, she warns there remains a lot of work to do in the Asia-Pacific region.

“We understand that it’s likely that the bill will be presented to Malaysia’s cabinet in March this year,” she says.

“If the bill is successfully passed, Malaysia will join the powerful international momentum that’s emerged over the past few decades, where we no longer tolerate the notion that the state should be empowered to kill its citizens.

“But we’re very concerned by the efforts of the Philippines government to reinstate the death penalty, despite having abolished it twice previously and having ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which commits the Philippines to the permanent abolition of the death penalty,” she adds.

“Likewise, recent reports from Sri Lanka suggest they will end their 43-year moratorium on the death penalty next month, to execute those convicted of drug-related offences, so we cannot afford to be complacent on this issue.”

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