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The Chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council, Bishop Christopher Saunders, has urged Australian politicians condoning the use of the death penalty in overseas jurisdictions to think again.

The Council reiterated the recent opposition of a Vatican official and the secretary-general of the United Nations to capital punishment regarding the future trial of former dictator Saddam Hussein.

Bishop Saunders said, ‘The news of Saddam Hussein’s capture offers the promise that he will be tried for horrific alleged crimes against the people of Iraq. However, the justice sought by Iraqis must not be demeaned by the spectre of capital punishment.

‘The death penalty is an offence against the dignity and sanctity of all human life which must be respected, even in those who have done great evil. Nothing is gained through capital punishment. Indeed, use of the death penalty undermines respect for life and contributes to a culture of revenge. Such thoughts of revenge exist in contradistinction to our belief in life as a gift from God which is celebrated so vividly at this time of Christmas,’ he said.

Bishop Saunders warned against the possible impact of statements by the leaders of both major parties condoning the use of the death penalty. ‘While not supporting the reintroduction of capital punishment in Australia, their statements have nevertheless led to debate in the community about applying the death penalty for acts of terrorism.

‘I am concerned that the abolition of the death penalty in Australia is not something we can take for granted. It is also of great concern that statements which cast the death penalty as a matter for the legal systems of other countries weaken Australia¡¯s ability to defend human rights and make representations against the death penalty in international circles. Would we now lose credibility in opposing capital punishment in cases like that of Australian citizen Nguyen Tuong Van who is facing charges of drug trafficking before a Singaporean court?’

Bishop Saunders concluded, ‘The sentiments of grief and outrage motivating acceptance of the death penalty for the likes of Amrozi, Samudra and Hussein are very real. However, it must be recognised that fundamental human rights are tested most when applied to those who are abhorred for the horrendous nature of their crimes. The values upon which capital punishment is to be opposed are such that no exceptions should be made at home or abroad. The fundamental human right to life is not a relative concept. All humans, not just Australians, are entitled to protection from the death penalty. Our opposition to capital punishment cannot end at our national borders.

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