government: costitutional parliamentary democracy
state of civil and political rights: Partly free
constitution: 16 September 1975
legal system: based on English common law
legislative system: Unicameral National Parliament
judicial system: Supreme Court
religion: 22% Catholic; 16% Lutheran; 34% indigenous beliefs; other
death row: 5 (up to September 2009, according to Amnesty International)
year of last executions: 0-0-1954
death sentences: 0
international treaties on human rights and the death penalty:
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
Convention on the Rights of the Child
Murder, treason and piracy are capital crimes.
The death penalty for wilful murder was abolished in 1970, but in August 1991 parliament re-introduced it through an amendment to the Criminal Code, in response to a worsening law and order situation, including a rising rate of violent crime, in particular rape and murder. The decision to amend the law stated that the death penalty for wilful murder should not be mandatory, but should be at the discretion of the judge. However, the death penalty is not mandatory for murder.
In the twenty years prior to 1991, the Criminal Code already provided for the death penalty for treason, piracy with violence and attempted piracy with personal violence. However, it was never imposed for these crimes, nor were there any executions for wilful murder after 1954.
In 1993, the public prosecutor issued guidelines to judges on the imposition of the death penalty in cases of willful murder, and in 1995, the courts imposed the first death sentence. However, PNG legislation does not set out detailed procedures for executions. The Criminal Code provides that the death penalty “shall be carried out by hanging the offender by his neck until he is dead”.
Individuals sentenced to death have the right of appeal. The first avenue of appeal is to the Supreme Court to which an application must be submitted within 40 days of sentencing.
If this application is unsuccessful, an appeal can be made to the Advisory Committee on the Power of Mercy. After considering such an application, the committee makes a recommendation to the National Executive Council (NEC) – PNG’s cabinet, chaired by the prime minister – as to whether or not mercy should be granted in a particular case.
The recommendation is then passed to the head of state, the governor-general, with whom the final decision rests. Should the death sentence be upheld, the head of state, acting on the advice of the NEC, will set the time and date of execution.
Exact figures on the number of people executed prior to 1954 are not available, although it is known that at least 67 people were executed by hanging under the Australian, British and German colonial administrations of PNG between the two world wars.
The Defence Forces Act also provides for the death penalty.
At the 59th Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights in 2003, Papua New Guinea became the first de facto abolitionist country to sponsor the resolution against the death penalty, that was approved for the 7th consecutive year. However, at the 2004 UNCHR it joined the statement of disassociation to the same resolution presented by retentionist countries. A March 29, 2004 report by the Pacific News Agency Service said that PNG was looking at the possibility of adopting death penalty laws used in Singapore. The agency reported that a delegation led by Justice Minister Mark Maipakai had visited Singapore “to study the necessary laws and their practical application”. However, on April 12, 2006, new Justice Minister Bire Kimisopa said during a press conference in Port Moresby that Papua New Guinea was not yet ready to impose the death penalty and that the move to abolish it was already before Cabinet.
According to the government, in November 2003 seven men were awaiting either executions or the outcome of appeals against a death sentence.
The last hanging in Papua New Guinea was in 1954.
On December 18, 2008 Papua New Guinea abstained on the Resolution on a Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty at the UN General Assembly.
On December 21st, 2010 Papua New Guinea voted against the Resolution on a Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty at the UN General Assembly.