Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Redirect the Rage

Supporters of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran gather for a vigil at Federation Square in Melbourne in February.
There's something incredibly moving about the sight of disparate individuals coming together for a cause, especially one that is literally life and death.

The executions of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran have focused the minds and energies of the Australian public in a manner usually reserved for sporting contests. Crowds gathered in public places, notable Australians have given speeches and performances against the state-sanctioned murder of two Australian citizens. This is something to be rightly proud of.

But what of everyone else on death row?

Unfortunately, it seems to take the impending execution of an Australian citizen to bring attention to the use of capital punishment around the world. In between Australians on death row, China executes as many as 4,000 people per year (exact figures are a closely-guarded 'state secret'). In our own backyard, the Asia-Pacific region, some 679 death sentences were imposed in 2012. But nary a whimper from our governments and diplomats.

This silence is deafening and does not do the Australians on death row any favour. The Indonesian authorities know that Australian outrage will probably be short lived, except by the victims' friends and families. It's only when there's an Aussie facing the firing squad that 'we' fire up.

Some have termed this attitude 'Australian Exceptionalism', where we are outraged by the impending executions of Australians, but don't care too much when local citizens are subject to the same fate. Take the example of Labor MP Robert McClelland. In 2006, the then-shadow minister for foreign affairs said Labor would campaign against the death pentalty for the Bali bombers. The result: Kevin Rudd demoted McClelland to shadow attorney-general.

This idea is much larger than the lives of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. It is the moral imperative that the state does not have the power to end the lives of individuals. The state-sanctioned murder by a Potemkin democracy deserves our anger. This is not an act of justice, it is an act vengeance. Cruel and pointless vengeance.

Hopefully Australians can direct this anger towards the fight against the death penalty all over the world. Joining an organisation such as Amnesty International would be a great start.

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