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Australia: Bill to Prohibit Torture and Abolish the Death Penalty Introduced

(Nov. 23, 2009) On November 19, 2009, Australia’s Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, introduced the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Torture Prohibition and Death Penalty Abolition) Bill 2009 in the Parliament. The bill will create a specific federal offense of torture and ensure that the death penalty cannot be reintroduced in any of Australia’s states and territories in the future. (Press Release, Hon. Robert McClelland, Australia Takes Action Against Torture and the Death Penalty (Nov. 19, 2009).)

Federal law currently contains offenses relating to acts of torture committed outside Australia, and the criminal laws of each state and territory have various provisions relating to offenses against the person. However, in May 2008, the U.N. Committee Against Torture recommended that Australia introduce a specific offense of torture at the federal level. The new offense will criminalize acts of torture committed both within and outside Australia. (Hon. Robert McClelland, Second Reading, Crimes Legislation Amendment (Torture Prohibition and Death Penalty Abolition) Bill 2009, House of Representatives, Nov. 19, 2009.)

The death penalty was abolished for federal and territory offenses in 1973, and each state has independently abolished the death penalty. The bill will extend the current federal prohibition to state laws, with the result that any law that seeks to reintroduce the death penalty will be invalid. While no state or territory has proposed that the death penalty be reinstated, the bill is intended to ensure Australia’s ongoing compliance with the Second Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. (Id.) McClelland said:

[t]he purpose of these amendments is to ensure that Australia complies fully with its international obligations to combat torture and to demonstrate our commitment to the worldwide movement for the abolition of the death penalty. Taking these steps demonstrates our fundamental opposition to acts that are contrary to basic human values. (McClelland, supra.)