Indonesia may have felt proud when its delegation was chosen to represent 16 like-minded countries at a UN General Assembly Special Session on the world drug problem at the UN headquarters in New York last April.
For Indonesia, its selection to read a joint statement on behalf of countries that maintain the death penalty showcased trust from others in its persistence to keep capital punishment intact. But Indonesian representatives to the UN forum received boos from many among the 193 delegations attending the session. The jeers sent a message of derision for defending the death penalty as "an important component of drug control policy".
While 140 states, or the majority of UN members, have applied a moratorium or abolished the death penalty altogether from their legal systems, Indonesia has preserved with pride its tough enforcement of the law, particularly against drug-related crimes.
Under the pretext of a "drug emergency" and based on figures that are subject to challenge, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has declared a war on drugs. Since Jokowi took office in October 2014, there have been 2 rounds of executions of death-row prisoners, mostly drug traffickers, with another round imminent. Executions seem like an annual ritual to save the younger generations from drugs.
On the 1st day after the Idul Fitri holiday, Attorney General Muhammad Prasetyo confirmed that a third round of executions before a firing squad was only a matter of time. Preparations have been underway over the past week for the execution of at least 13 death-row convicts from Indonesia and other countries, including China, which will take place somewhere on Nusakambangan, an island south of Central Java that houses maximum security prisons.
The executions, if they happen, will not be the last as another round could follow next year with more than 30 convicts having already exhausted their legal rights to escape capital punishment.
Regrets and condemnation poured in, including from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, when Indonesia executed 14 convicts last year despite numerous calls for a reprieve. The executions also strained diplomatic ties, with close neighbor Australia as well as the Netherlands and Brazil recalling their ambassadors after their nationals were executed.
International pressure for Indonesia to stop the death penalty has not subsided. Jokowi's recent visit to Europe was overshadowed by criticism of the practice. German Chancellor Angela Merkel openly asked Jokowi to end capital punishment, but he remained resolute that executions would solve drug problems.
Indonesia inherited the death penalty from the Dutch colonial period and has kept it intact, although the former ruler abolished the harsh penalty in 1870 and removed all references to capital punishment from its law in 1991.
For a popular leader like Jokowi, the death penalty matters as it is the wish of his people. A number of surveys have found that most Indonesians support capital punishment, which is perceived as a legitimate and effective method to cleanse the country of criminals.
As a champion of democracy and human rights, however, executions will not only taint Indonesia's reputation but also undermine its ambition to become a major player in Asia and the world.
Indonesia has been pursuing a role as a global player, being recognized as the 3rd-largest democracy in the world and the biggest predominantly Muslim nation, which has proved that democracy and Islam can live together. Indonesia, too, has engaged in numerous multilateral negotiations and bound itself to international norms to stake a claim as a global power.
Indonesia, for example, ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 2005, which signifies its commitment to respect for the civil and political rights of individuals, including the right to life. The adoption of such an important international instrument enables Indonesia to rank among other modern states but, rather than increasing its standards, the country preserves the cruel punishment that clearly violates human rights principles.
Currently, Indonesia holds a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, representing Asia Pacific until 2017. Citizens are proud of the honor, but ironically Indonesia ignores the very duty of a council member to uphold the highest standard of human rights promotion and protection both at home and around the world.
Executions clearly run counter to Indonesia's rise as an emerging power, a member of the prestigious Group of 20 ( G20 ), an East Asia Summit (EAS) member and the largest member of ASEAN. As a nation of critical importance given its size, growing economy and strategic relevance to regional security, Indonesia needs to show leadership and set a good example, including in the global campaign against the death penalty.
What a contradiction that we are working hard to gain global status but do not care about our own record at home.
Executions have also failed to curb the rate of drug crimes. After last year's executions, we have seen an intensification of arrests of people in possession of or trafficking drugs, some of them security officers. Suffice to say, executions have provided no deterrence.
We must also bear in mind that miscarriages of justice occur in many countries when it comes to the death penalty. Indonesia is not immune to that, especially with judicial corruption considered entrenched.
Whatever the reasons behind the executions, Indonesia lacks grounds to appeal to other countries to show compassion to 281 Indonesian migrant workers currently facing the death penalty overseas. Stop capital punishment now and President Jokowi will stand a greater chance of saving the lives of many of his people.
Source: The Jakarta Post, Yohanna Ririhena, July 26, 2016
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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde