US, China execution records questioned

Australia needs to campaign for worldwide abolition of the death penalty, including in its biggest trading partners such as the US, activists say.

Australia must join with the EU to end the death penalty worldwide, even if it makes for uncomfortable conversation with the nation's biggest trading partners, Human Rights Watch says.

The group says Prime Minister Tony Abbott must harness the outrage generated by Indonesia's execution of eight drug offenders, including Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

But it insists that outrage should also be directed at Australia's three biggest trading partners - the US, China and Japan - who all retain the death penalty in some form.

"I think these are not going to be easy conversations, they're going to be difficult conversations, but I don't think that means that Australia should shy away from doing so," Human Rights Watch Australia Director Elaine Pearson told AAP.

"Our advocacy is less meaningful when we're only advocating, for instance, for Australians on death row and not equally raising those issues when it comes to the US, China and Japan."

Ms Pearson said there needed to be different goals for targeting different countries, modelled on the UK's death penalty policy, which highlights a strategy for worldwide abolition.

At least 778 people were executed worldwide in 2013, excluding China, who keeps its executions secret.

The US executed 39 people in 2013 and, as of August 2014, there were 126 inmates on death row in Japan.

Two Australian citizens are currently on death row - heroin trafficker Pham Trung Dung in Vietnam and methamphetamine trafficker Henry Chin in China.

Human Rights Watch's Asia division deputy director Phil Robertson said the Bali Nine duo's deaths should serve as a "real awakening point".

"There has to be a grand coalition, with Australia and the EU at its heart, to push for the abolition of the death penalty worldwide," he said.

The United Nations meanwhile said Indonesia's decision was "extremely regrettable, extremely sad".

Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the UN Human Rights High Commissioner, said drug crimes were not serious enough to warrant the death penalty, if it was to be used at all.

"Indonesia appeals for clemency when its own nationals face execution in other countries, so it is incomprehensible why it absolutely refuses to grant clemency for lesser crimes on its own territory," Mr Colville said.

Anti-death penalty advocate Justice Lex Lasry said Australia should establish an eminent persons group to press other nations to abolish the death penalty.

Justice Lasry, who represented the last Australian executed, Van Nguyen in Singapore in 2005, said the group could make direct representations to governments in countries such as Indonesia and the US to persuade them to end their use of the death penalty.

"It needs to be a discussion that's intellectual rather than emotional so that people can be made to understand and be persuaded to the view that capital punishment is something that we should leave to history," he told ABC television.

Source AAP

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