28 Oct 2005

UN official criticises Aussie Govt over Nguyen case

Singapore however doesn't come off well in the issues outlined below either, but ABC News focuses on the criticism of Australia possibly in an attempt to shame them into greater action.

The argument that Singapore should be meeting the standards of international law was appealed to during the failed attempt to save the life of Shanmugum Murugesu but we know how that turned out.

From ABC News online.

UN official criticises Govt over Nguyen case

A senior United Nations human rights official says the Australian Government has mishandled the appeal for clemency for Van Nguyen, who is on death row in Singapore.

Twenty-five-year-old Nguyen was convicted for smuggling heroin into Singapore in December 2002.

Professor Philip Alston, the chief adviser on the death penalty to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, says Australia should be aggressively lobbying Asian countries that apply the death penalty in drug cases.

Professor Alston is a professor of law at New York University and the brother of the former Howard Government minister Richard Alston.

He has also been lobbying the Singaporean Government over the case of the Melbourne man on behalf of the UN.

He says that applying a mandatory element to the death penalty in drug cases is a contravention of international law.

Professor Alston is critical of the Australian Government's approach to the Nguyen case, saying it is not enough for the Government to seek clemency in an individual case.

"The appropriate approach which the Government should take, but has opted not to, is pressing not Singapore but a range of other countries in the region on the fact that they treat drug offences as being punishable by death, which is not appropriate under international law," he said.

"Secondly, they classify these cases as requiring a mandatory or compulsory death penalty. So it doesn't matter what the individual circumstances of the case are, the court has no option, no matter how mitigating factors might be brought into case, except to say 'you must die', and that's if there's no further appeal, there's no further consideration.

"That's not consistent with international law, there's a very strong body of that indicating that governments are not permitted to do that sort of thing.

"Now the Australian Government has not been pushing these arguments at all, as far as I've seen, and while it's encouraging that they express regret, I think there is another step they need to take, and it's not just in one of these individual cases but it's going to affect an increasing number of Australians."

Professor Alston says the Australian Government needs to raise the profile of its anti-death penalty argument in the Asian region.

He contrasts the situation to the Federal Government's stance on lobbying Asian Governments on terrorism laws.

"I've seen statements by the Prime Minister [John Howard] and others saying that these are sovereign decisions for other countries and we can't interfere," he said.

"That's not the line we take in relation to policing of terrorism or others instances, where it's clear that international standards are not being respected.

"We don't hesitate to speak out, we say, 'as a law-abiding nation, you should reconsider your laws, you should bring them into line within international standards'.

"There's no reason why we shouldn't be doing that now in relation to these drug offences, where the imposition of mandatory death penalty for a relatively minor drug offence is out of all proportion and it's just not consistent with international legal requirements.""

To read Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer's dismissal of Professor Alston's claims read on...

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