The only Pacific nations that still have the death penalty enshrined in law, are Tonga and Papua New Guinea, although it has been decades since either country has carried out an execution.
But as Tonga’s parliament considers a proposal law to introduce capital punishment for serious drug offences, the issue is back in the spotlight in Papua New Guinea too.
A recent court decision has cleared the way for what would be the first executions in PNG in 70 years, but many in the community, including the influential Churches, don’t support the death sentence.
The PNG Supreme Court ruling quashed a temporary stay order on executions that had been in place.
PNG’s churches have long lobbied against capital punished and they aren’t happy now.
Reverend Jack Urame is the Lutheran Church’s head bishop and has researched sorcery customs in PNG
“The government says that that death penalty is legal and right but we churches don’t support it. Instead we want the government to make sure these types of people know about another road in life,” he told ABC Radio Australia’s Wantok programme, in tok pisin.
He said life sentences are appropriate punishment for those people accused of horrible crimes.
“Within the church, we don’t support people being killed. We talk about love, we believe in peace, and that people must respect each other. This talk of death penalty, we don’t support it,” Reverend Urame said.
Those who support the death penalty argue it can act as a deterrent but experts in the field say there there is no scientific evidence to prove that.
Kerenga Kua was Attorney General when PNG’s parliament changed its criminal code in 2013, so that offences like aggravated rape, robberies and sorcery-related murders could also attract the death penalty.
“The parliament made the law, the national MPs felt it was necessary for certain serious offences,” Kua told ABC Radio Australia’s Wantok programme, in tok pisin.
“Judges can apply when they want to, they have discretion to give out the sentences as they see fit…. they are all qualified to decide when the death penalty is necessary”.
The PNG government promised nationwide consultation on the controversial issue last year, but it also voted against a resolution passed by the UN General Assembly that called for a global moratorium on the death penalty.
PNG’s current stance on capital punishment is set to be scrutinised on the international stage when the country’s human rights record comes under UN scrutiny with a Universal Periodic Review due in October.