|Meth bust in Indonesia|
Jakarta. In 1971, US President Richard Nixon proclaimed that "America's public enemy number one" was substance abuse, and that America therefore needed to wage a "war on drugs."
More than 40 years later, the Indonesian government has declared its own war against drugs, but advocacy groups and rehabilitation service providers question the effectiveness of the policy, stressing the need for a health-based perspective instead of a punitive regime.
"This 'War on drugs' is like a poster that they carry around with a lack of understanding of even what a war on drugs is. It's just easy to sell to the parliament, easy to sell to the public," says Risa Alexander, a member of the board of the Karisma Recovery Society, a nongovernmental group.
"The challenge for people who work in this area, or for anyone else who is concerned, is to campaign for drug dependency to be seen as a public health issue," he told the Jakarta Globe during a recent visit to his office in Jakarta. "Somebody has to start a serious campaign to reframe the issue."
Public health approach
The Karisma foundation was established in 2001 as a treatment recovery center for people with drug dependencies. Karisma also runs outreach programs and family communication groups, besides providing case management for people who are infected with HIV.
It argues that the regime under which the current "war on drugs" is being waged — with a punitive approach — is failing. Instead, the activists suggest, a more compassionate approach to the problem is needed, an approach that highlights the drug problem as a health issue, not a criminal one.
"Basically we believe that drug dependency, or substance use dependency, is a public health issue," Risa says. "It doesn't mean someone is morally bad."
Back in 2010, Risa facilitated a trip to Australia for Indonesian government officials, where they learned about successful drug rehabilitation programs. He still believes the outcome of that visit was positive but says there is a long way to go.
"The challenge is to set up a drug court in Indonesia ... but to set up a drug court means they have to come up with a new law to run the courts. To have a separate drug court, that would be quite a challenge. It would be quite a long legislative process."
Indonesian officials were, according to Risa, impressed by the effectiveness of drug courts during their visit to Sydney, the capital of New South Wales.
New South Wales is home to three drug courts that commenced operations in 1999. They are specialized courts that divert offenders with drug dependency towards treatment rather than prison. These types of courts have operated in the United States since 1989 and have been trialed in the United Kingdom and Canada.
The drug court of NSW is the first of its kind in Australia and has been modeled on the US drug courts.
According to an Australian media report, a Sydney hospital has also adopted a model of treatment that mirrors work happening in Portugal, where drug-related harms, such as death and communicable diseases, have reduced since authorities started treating drug addiction as a health issue.
"Clearly what's happening in Australia [outside Sydney] and other countries isn't working. We spend a lot of our money and effort in policing individual users and it doesn't work as a deterrent," said Australian Greens Senator Richard Di Natale, as quoted on Australia's ABC online last year.
'Criminalization doesn't work'
Echoing the sentiments about addressing the drug issue from a health prospective, are members of the Brotherhood of Indonesian Drug Victims (PKNI).
"Stop criminalizing drug users, because you will get nothing from criminalizing them," Suhendro Sugiharto, a PKNI program manager, said at his office in South Jakarta.
"I think we should be really taking into the consideration the effectiveness of these deterrents [jail before rehabilitation and the death penalty for serious drug offenses]," he said. "Because there is no evidence from around the globe saying a drug war ever succeeded this way."
PKNI represents a network of drug user organizations. It has 23 member organizations from 19 provinces and was established to tackle the concerns of people they perceive to be victims of failing drug policies.
The brotherhood provides paralegal services and support to drug users, advocating for their right to access legal aid and appropriate health services, while raising awareness of issues faced by these people, such as enduring stigma, violence and discrimination.
PKNI's goal is to decriminalize drug users at the level of law enforcement agencies, especially the police and the National Narcotics Agency (BNN),
"This isn't a war against drugs," said Suhendro, "this is a war against people and in any war there are casualties."
Indonesia's struggle to curb drug abuse and trafficking was pushed into the international spotlight in recent years with the executions of convicted drug offenders, including two allegedly reformed Australian nationals.
More recently, Comr. Gen. Budi Waseso, the new BNN chief, has made a name for himself making statements surrounding his plan of attack for Indonesia's "War against drugs" that are widely seen as outlandish.
From his dream to set up a remote prison-island for drug offenders, surrounded by ferocious crocodiles, to more extreme suggestions, such as forcing drug dealers to consume all of their confiscated merchandise, Indonesians, as well as news audiences around the world, have reacted in seemingly equal measure of amusement and horror.
But Risa says there remains wide support in Indonesia for such hard-line approaches.
"Most people in Indonesia would agree that a serious crime should be punished really hard ... and often times it bothers me that we have to set really harsh ineffectual laws, to deter people from doing that again."
Karisma stays in touch with other NGOs and networks of drug users and rehabilitation facilities, as well as the local police and relevant ministries.
"It's important to maintain relationships with basically anyone, at any level," he said. And it is from these relationships that Risa's confidence stems, as well as his hope that BNN is moving toward positive outcomes.
"When BNN officials come to people like us and many other NGOs and say: 'this is what we're doing and would you be willing to contribute?', that gives a sense of relief," he said, hinting that people should look beyond the headlines when it comes to BNN and its recent initiatives.
"As much as I hate it [the current situation for drug users in Indonesia] , I do still have confidence that we'll get there."
On the right track?
Established in 2002, BNN took on the job of coordinating relevant government agencies to formulate a national policy of drug prevention, as well as coordinate the implementation of that policy. Formulating and implementing this policy was the agency's number one task.
Fourteen years later, the struggle to deliver what was promised continues. But Diah Setia Utami, BNN's deputy of rehabilitation, says it's only a matter of time.
"I have a plan to coordinate [the work of ministries and institutions] to provide the grand design of the rehabilitation program in Indonesia. Hopefully next year, 2017, this grand design, or this national system, will be ready," she told the Globe in an interview this week.
Diah, a psychiatrist who has worked with drug users, their families and their communities for 18 years, says the new national program will be rooted in empathy for drug users and include programs that are tailored to the needs of individuals. It will also try to change the mindset of law enforcers.
"We have to make a rehabilitation model, a plan for individuals, not generalized treatment plans. It's all dependent on the needs of the clients," she said. "We need a national program, a national guideline, every institution, every ministry, will contribute ... especially for law enforcement, they still have the mindset that drug users are criminal."
But she warned that implementing these grand plans will take time.
Risa from Karisma, meanwhile, suggested that a lack of unified understanding of the issue of drug use and dependency at relevant ministries, combined with manpower issues, was the biggest hurdle for implementing any decent drug policy in Indonesia.
"The policies are good enough, the progress is good enough, but the manpower is not fully ready and sadly enough the Indonesian criminal justice system is as bad as it gets," he said. "So if you can read between the lines, it’s the whole package ... it will take a lot of work."
Source: Jakarta Globe, Kelly Conway, Feb. 3 2016