30 January 2015


More than 100 nation states have now abolished the death penalty, whilst a further 57 have an established practice of not carrying out executions, or have placed its use under a moratorium. A total of 37 states maintain the death penalty in both law and practice. In 2013 (the most recent year for which figures are available) 778 executions were carried out in the world with most taking place in China, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, USA and Somalia.

International campaigns to abolish the death penalty continue and recommendations to legislate for the abolition of capital punishment and ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights are regularly made during the Universal Periodic Review of retentionist States at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Those arguing for its abolition argue that the death penalty
- is a barbaric and antiquated practice when more socially-effective and civilized techniques to punish (and rehabilitate) criminals are available,
- does not act as a deterrent,
- has too often resulted in the execution of the innocent,
- is a more expensive than other suitable alternatives and in practice
- discriminates against the poor and members of racial minorities.

The impending execution of two Australians in Indonesia following their convictions for drug trafficking has once again brought the issue to the fore in Australia. A final effort to prevent the execution of the two Australians can be found here.


Its ongoing harsh treatment of asylum seekers is one of several issues (along with its indigenous incarceration rate and new anti-terrorism laws) undermining Australia’s global reputation as a defender of human rights according to Human Rights Watch in its annual report.

The report noted that Australia’s current policy on asylum seekers fails to meet international standards and that Australia has muted its criticism of human rights abuses of authoritarian governments such as that of Sri Lanka - apparently in the hope of winning the support of such governments for its refugee policies.

The report quoted the UN Refugee Agencies criticism that asylum claims are “not processed in a fair, transparent, or expedient manner, with significant cost to detainees’ physical and mental health” and evidence from detention centre staff that “conditions were substandard, unsafe, and inappropriate”.

Due to restricted access to the immigration detention centres and government secrecy, together with the threatened consequences for anyone daring to speak out, information can be difficult to obtain.

That Australia’s ability to urge greater respect for human rights has been greatly diminished as a result of its asylum seeker policy has been highlighted in Indonesia recently where it was argued that the pleas for mercy by the Australian government for its citizens facing execution in Indonesia “reek of hypocrisy given that Australia is slowly disposing of “abject bodies” it does not want through inhumane detention camps or returning them to foreign regimes that will probably finish the job for them”.


The UN General Assembly proclaimed Feb 20th to be the World Day of Social Justice which aims at addressing poverty eradication, the promotion of full employment and decent work, gender equity and access to social well-being and justice for all.

The message of this day is more relevant than ever given the ever widening gap between the poorest and wealthiest in our world. As the recent Oxfam report indicates, if present trends continue 1% of the world’s population will own as much as the combined wealth of the other 99% by 2016!

Oxfam is calling on government to adopt a seven point plan to tackle inequality:
- Clamp down on tax dodging by corporations and rich individuals
- Invest in universal, free public services such as health and education
- Share the tax burden fairly, shifting taxation from labour and consumption towards    capital and wealth
- Introduce minimum wages and move towards a living wage for all workers
- Introduce equal pay legislation and promote economic policies to give women a fair deal
- Ensure adequate safety-nets for the poorest, including a minimum income guarantee
- Agree a global goal to tackle inequality.

Pope Francis has repeated the calls of his predecessors and regularly spoken of the need to address inequality.


Despite the ever mounting evidence of the need for decisive and urgent action to address climate change, governments continue to be slow to take action to confront the looming crisis. In significant measure this is due to the financial might of the fossil fuel industry.

To counter this, a global day of divestment action will take place on the 13th and 14th February in five continents with a range of activities to build the momentum of the divestment movement ahead of the UN Climate Talks in Paris 2015.

Divestment means getting rid of stocks, bonds or investment funds that are unethical or morally ambiguous. Since 2012, 181 institutions and local governments and 656 individuals representing over $50 billion in assets have pledged to divest from fossil fuels. The campaign is sparking international action in financial centres, parliaments, churches, universities, municipalities and investment banks around the world.

A total of 200 publicly-traded companies that hold the vast majority of listed coal, oil and gas reserves are being targeted and are being asked to:
- immediately to stop exploring for new hydrocarbons.
- cease lobbying in world capitals to preserve their special breaks.
- pledge to keep 80% of their current reserves underground forever.

The scope and urgency of the problem facing our planet was reinforced recently with the release of the most comprehensive report yet on observed and projected climate change in Australia.

The report was funded jointly by the Australian Government’s department of the Environment, the Bureau of meteorology and the Commonwealth Scientific and research organisation (CSIRO)

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