australian foreign policy fails: melbourne man to hang in singapore

Saturday, 22 October 2005 NSWCCL media release: 9/2005


The imminent execution of a Melbourne man by Singapore is a failure of Australian foreign policy and human rights leadership in our region. Australian Foreign Minister, Mr Alexander Downer, announced yesterday (21 October 2005) that Melbourne man Mr Tuong Van Nguyenhas been refused clemency and will be executed by the Singaporean government in the near future. 

The imminent execution of this young man is tragic. The death penalty is never justified. The international trend is towards abolition of the death penalty, not retention. 

The Australian government continues to insist that the only thing it can do to save the lives of Australians sentenced to death is to ask for clemency once a death sentence has been handed down. Mr Nguyen's imminent execution demonstrates that that policy has failed. 

This failure does not bode well for Nguyen Van Chinh and Mai Cong Thanh, who have both been sentenced to death in Vietnam. And it does not bode well for the nine Australians currently on trial in Bali for allegedly trafficking drugs, all of whom will face the death penalty if convicted. 

The Australian government must do more to ensure that more people are not executed. Australia should be proactive, not reactive, when it comes to the death penalty in East and South-East Asia. Australia should be leading a diplomatic push in the region for moratoriums on capital punishment and the complete abolition of the death penalty in East and South-East Asia. 

The last Australian executed overseas was Queenslander Michael McAuliffe, who was hanged in Malaysia in June 1993. In 1986, also in Malaysia, Kevin Barlow and Brian Chambers were executed in an act described by then-Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke as barbaric. 

Decades of neglect on the part of Australia's foreign policy makers means that there has been little or no progress in abolishing the death penalty in East and South-East Asia. In our region, only East Timor and Cambodia have abolished the death penalty. The only other ray of hope isSouth Korea, where the National Assembly is expected to vote to abolish capital punishment in December 2005. 

Australia is a prominent international opponent of the death penalty. Australia cannot force other countries to abolish capital punishment, but we can use our influence to push for reform in the region. The NSW Council for Civil Liberties will be approaching the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade with a view to ensuring that Australia puts that opposition into practice and is working more effectively and vigorously towards the abolition of the death penalty in our region. 

Amnesty International Australia has issued an Urgent Action to save Mr Nguyen, which includes information on what you can do to send your message for clemency to Singaporean officials. Visit for more information. 

This release was amended on 29 October 2005 to fix a factual error and to include information of Amnesty International Australia's campaign.