Press briefing notes on Papua New Guinea, Brazil and United States

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva
Date: 27 April 2012

(1) Papua New Guinea

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay is today expressing concern about the situation in Papua New Guinea, where the Government has taken a number of measures in recent months that undermine the rule of law, breach international human rights standards, impinge on the independence of the judiciary – and could lead to serious instability in the country.

Since the August 2011 change of Government in Papua New Guinea, and the subsequent dispute over who is the legitimate Prime Minister, the Executive and Parliament have taken steps which seriously affect the ability of the judiciary to operate independently.

The enactment of a new Judicial Conduct Act in March 2012 is of particular concern, as it establishes a new parallel system to deal with misconduct of judges, contrary to constitutional provisions on the issue. Parliament immediately implemented the new Act by referring Chief Justice Salamo Injia and Justice Kirriwom to the Governor-General for further investigation, during which time they would not have been able to hear cases.

The Supreme Court ruled on 11 April that the referral of Chief Justice Injia was unconstitutional. On 17 April, the Government then introduced a new bill into Parliament to impose criminal sanctions – up to seven years’ imprisonment – on judges who do not comply with the Act.

It appears that the Judicial Conduct Act is being used to interfere in particular with the legal proceedings to determine the legality of the current administration, related to a Supreme Court ruling on 12 December 2011 that the Government of Prime Minister Peter O’Neil was unconstitutional.

The judiciary must be allowed to operate free from external pressures, threats or executive or legislative interference – international law is clear on this matter.
There are more details, including the High Commissioner’s concern at the Government’s indication that it may now seek to delay national elections beyond the five-year term fixed by the Constitution, and her concern about attacks on journalists, contained in a press release which we have just sent out.

(2) Brazil

We are alarmed that yet another journalist has been killed in Brazil, bringing to at least four the number of journalists murdered in the country so far this year. Décio Sá, an investigative journalist reporting on local politics, corruption and organized crime, was gunned down in a bar on Monday, 23 April. We condemn his murder and are concerned at what appears to be a disturbing trend of killing journalists that is damaging the exercise of freedom of expression in Brazil. We have long been concerned about the need for Brazilian human rights defenders, including journalists, to be able to conduct their work without fear of intimidation or worse.

We welcome the fact that state authorities have committed to conducting a thorough investigation and call for this and other similar cases to be treated as a major priority so that perpetrators are not emboldened by the prevailing lack of accountability for such crimes. At the same time, we urge the Government to immediately implement protection measures to prevent any more such incidents.

A bill introduced into Congress in 2011, ordering police investigations into crimes against journalists to be conducted at a Federal level, would be a step in the right direction. We hope this and other measures to protect journalists will be adopted as a matter of some urgency.

(3) United States

We welcome the signing of a law in the State of Connecticut, in the United States on Wednesday that abolishes the death penalty. Including Connecticut, 17 states in the US have now formally repealed capital punishment.

California will consider a similar measure in November, and we urge the State authorities there to follow the Connecticut example. We would also like to take this opportunity to encourage other states, as well as the Federal authorities, to move towards the abolition of capital punishment altogether.

Even though the imposition of the death penalty fell by around half between 2001 and 2011, the United States was still ranked by human rights NGOs among the top five countries carrying out executions last year. The other four are China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

ENDS
For more information or media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org) or Ravina Shamdasani (+ 41 22 917 9310 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org)

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