Quick Post: Why the ‘Asylum Seekers are subject to the Death Penalty’ story is also no big thing #auspol

The lefty echo chamber of Twitter has erupted into a cacophony of condemnation, this time in response to Papua New Guinea’s reintroduction of death penalty laws.

Papua New Guinea’s parliament on Tuesday passed laws allowing execution by a range of methods, including hanging, electrocution, lethal injection, and firing squad, while repealing its contested sorcery act. [Source: ‘PNG move on death penalty raises concerns for asylum seekers’, Sydney Morning Herald, 29 May 2013]

Wait…  What’s the title of the article?  ‘PNG move on death penalty raises concerns for asylum seekers’?

In a further demonstration of Corby’s Law — Australians are only interested in international affairs when it has something to do with Australia — Twitter isn’t outraged about the reintroduction of the death penalty.  Twitter is only upset that asylum seekers moved to PNG under regional processing arrangements might be affected by the new laws.

Because who cares about the local PNG people, yeah?

The applicability of the death penalty is a result of asylum seekers being subject to PNG law while in PNG.  The PNG government has not targeted asylum seekers from Australia, nor is it a result of asylum seekers fitting into an unusual area of the PNG justice system.  This does create an interesting philosophical question: if I choose to travel to a country, I agree to abide by its rules no matter how barbaric I might think that they are.  In this instance, the asylum seekers are not choosing to travel to PNG and are therefore forced to agree to laws which they might find barbaric.  On the other hand, part of the asylum process is about being subject to laws with which you might not personally agree, and thus it’s difficult to frame the problem.

In a bafflingly twisty piece of pretzel logic, Twitter appears to think that this is somehow a further indictment of the Gillard Government’s regional processing arrangement.  Similar to Julian Burnside’s argument that Australia should dictate asylum seeker policy to Indonesia, Twitter seems to think that Australia should tell PNG that the death penalty should never be applied to asylum seekers.

It’s no secret that I am in favour of the death penalty.  If I weren’t, I think my moral outrage would be towards PNG enlivening its practice of the death penalty, rather than the fact that asylum seekers could be subject.  An asylum seeker found guilty of a crime in Indonesia, for example, has to face up to Indonesian justice.  We might have all kinds of opinions about the Indonesian justice system, but I don’t think that Australia is somehow responsible for the application of Indonesian law towards those asylum seekers who hope to reach Australia.

UNHCR has said that regional processing does not remove responsibility under international law for the treatment of asylum seekers from Australia.  In an instance where an asylum seeker were subject to the death penalty, they would have been accused of a crime significant enough to draw that punishment.  The argument would be that they would be no longer entitled to refugee status under article 1F of the Convention.

It’s for this last reason that people shouldn’t be too concerned about the asylum seeker element of the story.  If asylum seekers are all as lawful, peaceful, and not-at-all-a-threat to Australian society as the ASRC and advocates claim, then the death penalty provisions of PNG law wouldn’t apply.

The real discussion is about the death penalty simpliciter.  PNG’s move should motivate a conversation here in Australia about the death penalty and whether we still agree with the assumptions underpinning the debate: that letting a person die a long death as a result of indefinite detention is a morally acceptable act.

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