Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Diplomacy key to death penalty dilemma

Writing in the SMH, Lucy Robb says protecting Australians from execution demands more international co-operation.

"SINCE the arrest of the Bali nine last month, a fierce debate has raged over Australia's responsibility to protect its citizens from the death penalty for crimes committed overseas.

Two seemingly irreconcilable positions have emerged. Civil liberties groups have argued that Australians must be saved at all costs, that the Australian Federal Police should be required to make arrests in Australia and that no information should be given to a foreign police force if it will lead to the imposition of the death penalty...The solution is diplomatic, not domestic. The Australian Government must pursue another treaty with Indonesia to ensure that regional co-operation in law enforcement does not lead to the death penalty.

This solution is viable for a number of reasons. It would not affect the ability of the federal police to catch transnational criminals; it does not create a risk that more illegal drugs will enter Australia, nor does it interfere with the judicial independence of the Indonesian courts.

It would merely require an undertaking that prosecutors would not seek the death penalty.

A treaty may be a diplomatic challenge but it would also benefit the security of the entire region by facilitating co-operation between law enforcement agencies for all crimes.

Neither country would be disadvantaged by such an outcome. If Australia is serious about its stance on the death penalty, it will actively pursue such an agreement."

Lucy Robb is the assistant secretary-general, Australian section, International Commission of Jurists.

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