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Evil of capital punishment: Bishops pronounce on death penalty

Orowae_Bishop Arnold (Wabag)BISHOP ARNOLD OROWAE | Catholic Bishops Conference

IN 1991 the Papua New Guinea Parliament reintroduced the death penalty.  Direct killing by the State became an authorized way to punish a criminal. 

In 2013 the Criminal Code was changed to set out the acceptable ways to do it: to hang, suffocate, electrocute, shoot or poison someone with a deadly injection.  The government argued that this is the best way to protect society from the repetition of terrible crimes.

When Malipu Balakau, a politician, was murdered in 1989 and when Kepari Leniata was burned to death in 2013, people reacted by saying that the killer deserved to be killed. 

It is in response to this political legislation and this popular reaction that we, the bishops of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, are addressing this letter in defence of life to the leaders of our nations but also to all those who want to do what God wants of us and to promote a genuine peace and order in our communities.

The death penalty does not stop serious crime

One reason given for punishing people is to help them change their behaviour, to rehabilitate them, to restore a just relationship with the others so that they can return to the community.  The death penalty clearly does not do this. It kills them.

Another reason given is to stop them and others from engaging in criminal activity in the future, to deter them from committing crimes.  Killing someone certainly stops that person from committing a future crime because he or she is dead.  But it does not stop others from continuing their criminal activity.

For example in Nigeria, after the death penalty was introduced for aggravated robbery, the number of robberies increased.  When people commit a crime they think about the benefit they hope to get from doing it, not about what would happen if they get caught. 

Especially in Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, they reason that they will not get caught or charged in court. 

Amnesty International has defined the death penalty as “premeditated and cold-blooded killing of a person by the State when that person is helpless and harmless after being arrested and convicted.”   

Pope Francis has recently pointed out the difference between defending yourself against an attack and killing someone who has been rendered harmless and is incapable of attacking you. 

The death penalty violates the sanctity of human life

The dignity of every human person and the sanctity of every human life are at the centre of Gospel teaching.  God created human beings in his image (Gen 1:27).  St John wrote that God is love (1 Jn 4:26).  We are made in the image of a loving God and so are called to follow the example of Jesus who laid down his life for us as a perfect sign of his love (1 Jn 4:20). 

St Pope John XXIII said that God’s creative hand is especially revealed at the moment of conception, at the beginning of a new human life (Mater et Magistra).   The life of every person must be respected from conception to natural death.  

Killing a killer violates the sanctity of every human life.   One wrong does not make it right to do another one.   When the death penalty is carried out, the State, in the name of the people, imitates the criminal by itself committing a crime against life.

The death penalty distracts from seeking to solve the causes of crime

It is said that the death penalty will stop serious crime, but it does not even pretend to correct the injustices in society that lead people to commit crimes.   The Papua New Guinea Constitution defines one of the national goals as providing equal opportunity for all citizens to benefit from economic development and an equal distribution of resources especially in remote areas (PNG Constitution 2nd National Goal and Directive Principle). 

This is not happening.  There is not an equal distribution of opportunities. There are many marginalised people.  When young people see the exploitation of resources by foreign companies, when they see the misappropriation of public funds by politicians, when they are not able to enjoy the benefit of education and to find employment to be able to improve their lives – they can be tempted to turn to criminal activity as the only alternative. 

Imposing the death penalty can make people feel as if they are correcting the causes of crime when they are not.  It can keep them from putting energy and resources into addressing the social problems that lead people into crime.  There are causes of crime that need to be identified and resolved to create a just and safe community.    

The death penalty can lead to wrongful conviction and execution

There is a real possibility of making a mistake and convicting and executing someone who did not commit a crime and is innocent.    Research has shown that in the United States between 1900 and 1985, 140 people were executed who later were discovered to be innocent. 

In Papua New Guinea, two years after the first person to be given the death penalty as a punishment in court in 1991, that person was declared innocent by the Supreme Court and was released.  This is not possible with the death penalty.  The death penalty is final.  Once someone has been executed his or her life cannot be restored.  

It can be fair and just to impose a life imprisonment on someone for a very serious crime.  But if that person later is found to be innocent, his or her life can be restored. Again, this is not possible if he or she was killed. 

At the same time we encourage those in the criminal justice system to work more diligently to ensure that criminals be arrested, convicted and properly punished. We need to be sensitive to the family of the victim, who rightly call for justice, but a justice that is not revenge. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said that there is no mercy without justice.

The death penalty is payback killing

Payback killing in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands - the practice of killing someone, anyone, from an enemy clan because someone from that clan killed one of your people - is traditionally thought to be a fair way of paying back what was done. 

But it often leads to further killing to pay back a payback killing.  It does not restore a balance of justice. 

The purpose of punishment is not to take revenge, to hurt the person or clan that hurt you.  There are court cases in Papua New Guinea where it has been clearly stated that killing someone as a form of payback harms the common good and is contrary to Christian principles.  It violates the right to life of every person that is protected in the Constitution. 

And yet the death penalty can be described as a form of payback killing performed by the State in the name of the people, taking an eye for an eye and a life for a life.  What the State condemns in court, it would be carrying out in practice.    

With the many countries that have abolished the death penalty as an extreme act of violence performed in the name of the people and with the teaching of the Catholic Church, we the bishops of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands strongly oppose the use of the death penalty.

It has no place in a Christian country where true justice and mercy should prevail. Where executions are performed by the State, the people develop the attitude that it is acceptable to respond to violence with violence.

We pray that the rejection of this form of public violence will set an example and lead to a rejection of domestic violence and all other forms of violence in our society and open the way to a lasting peace. 


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Godfrey Yombon

What role has the church got to play in this death penalty issue? The laws of the land complement the laws of nature.

The death penalty is justified as far a natural law is concerned. The roles of the churches are to visit the prisoners while they are behind bars and pray with and for them to go to to heaven.

The death penalty must be introduced for criminals or murderers who willfully take someone's life away.

Leonard Fong Roka

I feel it is a punishment to those heartless people without any respect for public order and individual lives.

Why do not the silly churches talk about West Papua? This is the worst genocide exercise by Indonesia on Melanesia.

Stop playing politics within whilst we face the worst by the lack of respect of each other's dignity of existence.

Peter Kranz

Sometimes the only response is poetry.

“No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.”

John Donne

The second last line is also the title of a pretty good book by Ernest Hemingway and it was turned into one of Gary Cooper's best films.

Corney Korokan Alone

Out of the 66 books in the Bible, there is only one book in the New Statement called the "Letter of James" - written approximately around A.D 48.

That James unfortunately is not that King James of England but he was Jesus' brother.

King James of England only provided the leadership for the "translation of the Bible into the English language".

The 66 Books were the works of many authors,over many years apart but were inspired by the Holy Spirit to write what they wrote.

The executions of the two Australians were done by an heartless Javanese government - not by a Melanesian government from West Papua.

Melanesians including Papua New Guinea are a separate crop, equally from a separate root.

There is no way the government of PNG will execute any of our convicts on the death row. We have the souls to forgive and let live.

The policy is only a deterrent to instill fear on would be offenders.

So, please don't tie unrelated events from completely different settings to air your grievance.

Peter Kranz

Anyone who has endured the media circus around the executions of Australian's Chan and Sukumaran cannot surely entertain any other opinion than that capital punishment is a sick, unnatural and evil thing. Along with six other convicted drug traffickers they were executed yesterday morning.

Indonesia's Attorney General stated "The result of the second execution was better, more orderly and more perfect than the last," he said, referring to executions carried out in January and noting the bodies were treated more "humanely" this time.

Well that's a relief. It was a perfect execution, unlike the less-than-perfect killings of thousands of West Papuans by the so-called civilised society of Indonesia.

And Papua New Guinea leaders want to start carrying out the death penalty in PNG? What does your King James' Bible say about that Mr. Zurenuoc? Perhaps it's too early an edition to include the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" or has that bit been conveniently edited out?

This is the same King James by the way that presided over witch trials, had an obsession with witchcraft and supervised the torture of accused women.

"James's visit to Denmark, a country familiar with witch-hunts, may have encouraged an interest in the study of witchcraft, which he considered a branch of theology.

After his return to Scotland, he attended the North Berwick witch trials, the first major persecution of witches in Scotland under the Witchcraft Act 1563. Several people, most notably Agnes Sampson, were convicted of using witchcraft to send storms against James's ship.

James became obsessed with the threat posed by witches and, inspired by his personal involvement, in 1597 wrote the Daemonologie, a tract which opposed the practice of witchcraft and which provided background material for Shakespeare's Tragedy of Macbeth.

James personally supervised the torture of women accused of being witches."

Seems appropriate for certain PNG leaders to venerate a book authorised by such a King.

Corney Korokan Alone

Twitter feed from "CatholicReporter PNG ‏@CathRepPNG at 11:01 PM - 25 Apr 2015 read " #PNG Catholic Bishops not ready for Statement on Peace for West Papua, need further consultation and understanding - CBC General Secretary".

Now, let us ask: Further consultation and understanding for how much longer?

Wait till one of the Bishops & Priests gets a Nobel Peace Prize?

53 Years of genocide is way too long.
Coupled with transmigration,it has the potential to wipe out the entire ethnic Melanesians of West Papua.

Why is there no such an outcry and urgency accorded to such, by especially the main Christian churches in PNG?

Their misplaced fear and complicity is a stain on the Ministry we're called to serve.

We need to and must take a leaf from Retired Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and be the voice of conscience and reason in our turf.

Nobody has ever died yet in PNG in the hands of the Government because of the Capital Punishment Law.

There is no urgency to waste conference time on a non-issue and disregard genuine cases affecting the Melanesian people when West Papua is applying for MSG membership this year and 500,000 Melanesians of West Papua are already dead?

Corney Korokan Alone

Excellent argument Bishop Arnold Orowae on behalf of the Catholic Church in PNG and Solomon Islands.

I look forward to reading your second argument to the International Community for self-determination and freedom for the people of West Papua.

The Melanesian people of West Papua have and are suffering atrocities and murder of more than 500,000 innocent people (since the 1960s) in their native land by the illegal occupier - Indonesia.

Fifty three (53 years) is too long a time.

One would hope, there is no need for further research and silence on this anymore.

On the 27th February 2015, Retired Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, of South Africa renewed his support for freedom and self-determination in West Papua.

He is not a Melanesian but a respected church leader and a Nobel Peace Prize Winner. In his views, genocide and torture anywhere on anyone and matters of peace deserve no territorial leadership to draw attention to.

The Yale Report, and many other reports like this are pointedly clear, that genocide is happening next door.

Are we still waiting for a Nobel Peace Prize to make a call to the leaders of the free world and the UN for self-determination and freedom in West Papua?

Do we still need another body of research and wait another decade to make a stand?

Have we read not read Dr.Rev Martin Luther King Jr's letter from Birmingham Jail?

The sin of silence in complicity in this decade and - fifteen years into the 21st century is as much a sin as it was in the 1960's in Dr King's time and all the way to the slave trade in the early centuries.

Death by torturous government sponsored military and police in West Papua is a major blot and shame to the free and peaceful Pacific/Melanesia.

We cannot and must not tolerate silence any more. It's madly repugnant to continue to do so.

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