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: 12, as of end 2017
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
In May 2013, Papua New Guinea’s Parliament amended section 597 of the Criminal Code Act, allowing for a number of modes of execution: hanging, lethal injection, “medical death by deprivation of oxygen”, firing squad and electrocution. Previously, members of the Constitutional Law Reform Commission had travelled abroad including to the United States, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia to try and decide which one of those options was the best.
On 5 February 2015, Secretary for the Department of Justice and Attorney-General Lawrence Kalinoe said the 13 people on death row in Papua would be executed in 2015. However, on 10 March 2015, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said Papua was reviewing plans to begin executing death row prisoners after the international outrage over executions of eight people, including two Australians, in Indonesia. He called for a review of the law, saying the matter would be debated in parliament, which could result in the law being repealed. “We’ve had no representations from anyone. It is our own initiative because Papua New Guinea is a very religious and very Christian country, so it is based principally on those foundations,” he said. “We certainly do not want to be seen as a country that is actively promoting the death penalty as a means of enforcing law and order in the country,” O’Neill told The Wall Street Journal in an interview. O’Neill said his government believed Papua New Guinea’s existing law-and-order measures had proven effective and there was now an opportunity to review the death penalty. “There has been a huge drop, almost 50 %, in major crimes and of course there has been a substantial fall in petty crimes as well,” he said. “So as a result of these declines in crime in the country, I think we are able to continue on that program (without the death penalty).”
No execution has been carried out since 1954. As of 2016, there were 12 death row inmates who had exhausted all appeal and constitutional review processes, as well as the plea for clemency.
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. Some analysts said part of the reason that the country has not executed prisoners is the tribal culture of payback. An executioner, or even lawmakers who enabled the execution, could be subjected to violent retribution from members of the executed prisoner’s clan.
On 12 October 2017, the National Court of Papua New Guinea stated that all executions be stayed indefinitely to allow for the establishment of a mercy committee and the review of individual clemency applications. The conclusion that all prisoners sentenced to death had been denied the full protection of the law, came after the Court conducted a judicial inquiry into the protection of human rights of prisoners under sentence of death, assisted by the Principal Legal Adviser and Attorney-General and other authorities representing the judiciary, prosecution and the Correctional Service. The Court identified various concerns including: no mechanism for prisoners to exercise their right to apply for pardons as guaranteed under the Constitution and international law; and the prolonged periods of time spent by many prisoners on death row – which could make the implementation of the death sentence amount to cruel or inhuman punishment.
In 2017, no new death sentences were recorded in Papua New Guinea, where no execution has been carried out since 1954.
As of 2017, there were 12 death row inmates who had exhausted all appeal and constitutional review processes, as well as the plea for clemency.
The ‘Humane’ Lethal Injection
On 7 March 2014, the Constitutional Law Reform Commission had recommended that lethal injections be the method of executing prisoners sentenced to death, and on 9 April the National Executive Council gave the green light for work to proceed in establishing necessary policies to enable the implementation of the death penalty through lethal injection.
On 11 October 2014, however, PNG’s government ruled out lethal injection as an option because of restrictions placed on accessing the drugs needed by the manufacturer. The Secretary of the Department of Justice, Lawrence Kalinoe, told a gathering in Southern Highlands that a comprehensive report had been submitted to cabinet for it to choose from the remaining options: hanging, electrocution, deprivation of oxygen or firing squad.
On 6 May 2016, Papua New Guinea was revised under the Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Council of the United Nations. The delegation noted but did not accept reccomendations for a legal moratoium on executions, the abolition of the death penalty and ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR aiming at the abolition. Papua said that the death penalty is part of the internal legislation also if the actual policy of the Government is not to apply it.
On 17 December 2018, Papua New Guinea voted again against the Resolution on a Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty at the UN General Assembly; it had abstained in December 2012.