25 Nov 2005

Govt preparing Nguyen case for ICJ

ABC Online
AM - Govt preparing Nguyen case for ICJ
AM - Friday, 25 November , 2005 08:05:24
Reporter: Alison Caldwell


This is a transcript from AM. The program is broadcast around Australia at 08:00 on ABC Local Radio.

You can also listen to the story in REAL AUDIO and WINDOWS MEDIA and MP3 formats.

TONY EASTLEY: The Federal Government is trying desperately to find a way to mount a case before the International Court of Justice on behalf of convicted heroin trafficker Van Nguyen, who has only seven days to live.

Nguyen is scheduled to be executed this time next week, and so far all of the diplomatic pleas for clemency have failed.

The only hope now for Van Nguyen is a legal argument based on a series of conventions signed by both Australia and Singapore which contain clauses allowing recourse to the International Court.

The case though would have to be lodged in The Hague by Monday, as Alison Caldwell reports.

ALISON CALDWELL: On the diplomatic front, there's now very little if anything Australia can do to save Van Nguyen.

The Prime Minister John Howard has ruled out lobbying other countries to put pressure on Singapore at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Malta.

The Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon is even refusing to buy into the subject of capital punishment.

DON MCKINNON: I'm not going to say whether it should or should not be raised, but I certainly know that any leader has the opportunity to raise anything they wish on the issue of capital punishment.

Yes, there are a number of Commonwealth countries that still do have capital punishment.

ALISON CALDWELL: The best hope is here in Australia, where the Federal Government is trying to find a way to mount a case in the International Court of Justice.

The Government is examining a legal opinion put forward by barrister, Dr Christopher Ward, which focuses on narcotics conventions agreed to by Australia and Singapore.

The conventions contain clauses permitting recourse to the ICJ.

Challis Professor of International Law at the University of Sydney, Don Rothwell, has been involved in the discussions with the Federal Government.

DON ROTHWELL: We were impressed by the sincerity with which the Government was coming to the table on this matter and it was quite clear to us that they were very seriously looking at the legal options we'd put on the table to take this matter to the International Court of Justice.

ALISON CALDWELL: The stumbling point all along seems to have been jurisdiction, that Singapore just wouldn't agree to going to the ICJ. Has that somewhat been overcome now?

DON ROTHWELL: Yes, I think we've fairly conclusively resolved the issue of jurisdiction, because the treaties that were considering ones in which Singapore has already consented to the court's jurisdiction.

So, what we now have been investigating is finding a dispute under those relevant treaties which could be taken to the court.

ALISON CALDWELL: Is it fair to say that lawyers who are acting for the Government are actually sort of finding ways of bolstering the case?

DON ROTHWELL: Yes, look, I think it's clear from our discussions that Government lawyers have looked seriously at the options we've raised, they've done some further investigations, they've bolstered certain aspects of the argument.

So, to that end, it's very clear that Government lawyers are very much engaged in exploring ways to put forward a credible case.

And I think as Mr Downer says, the last thing the Government wants to do, and I think quite understandably, is to put up a stunt before the International Court of Justice.

And so any case that Australia takes forward clearly has to be credible, not only in terms of initially convincing the court to issue provisional measures some time next week, but further on down the track in terms of actually winning the final legal argument before the court.

ALISON CALDWELL: Let's look at the deadline. Initially we thought it would be by the close of business today, but you think that deadline can be pushed out into early next week, do you?

DON ROTHWELL: Yes, look I think the deadline has been extended, but it is possible that if the Government does make a decision over the next few days, the legal documentation and the application to take the matter to the court can be drawn up in Canberra on Monday, it can be lodged by the Australian Ambassador in The Hague on Monday, Netherlands time, and that would still permit time for a hearing before the court on Thursday of next week.

TONY EASTLEY: Professor Don Rothwell, the Challis Professor of International Law at the University of Sydney speaking there with Alison Caldwell.

© 2005 Australian Broadcasting Corporation

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