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In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning

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To cope with his dread, John Kitzhaber opened his leather-bound journal and began to write.
It was a little past 9 on the morning of Nov. 22, 2011. Gary Haugen had dropped his appeals. A Marion County judge had signed the murderer's death warrant, leaving Kitzhaber, a former emergency room doctor, to decide Haugen's fate. The 49-year-old would soon die by lethal injection if the governor didn't intervene.
Kitzhaber was exhausted, having been unable to sleep the night before, but he needed to call the families of Haugen's victims.
"I know my decision will delay the closure they need and deserve," he wrote.
The son of University of Oregon English professors, Kitzhaber began writing each day in his journal in the early 1970s. The practice helped him organize his thoughts and, on that particular morning, gather his courage.
Kitzhaber first dialed the widow of David Polin, an inmate Haugen beat and stabbed to death in 2003 while already serving a life sentence fo…

Jokowi and the Death Penalty: Weighing the Costs and Benefits

Indonesian President Joko Widodo with Germany's Angela Merkel
Indonesian President Joko Widodo with Germany's Angela Merkel
Indonesia’s president continues to execute drug offenders, despite international pressure.

The third wave of executions announced by the Indonesian attorney general’s office has created an uproar and made headlines all around the world. Out of 14 slated to be executed, four — one Indonesian citizen and three Nigerians — were shot dead by a firing squad on early Friday.

Jakarta’s tough stance on the death penalty during the administration of President Joko Widodo, commonly known as Jokowi, has exposed Indonesia to a wave condemnation. However, despite heavy criticism from the international community, including human rights advocates and foreign governments, Jokowi is determined to continue the executions, based on the argument that Indonesia has an alarming level of drug crime that particularly affects young people. Under this narrative, drug-related crimes are portrayed as the main threat to national security, more serious than terrorism and corruption.

Thus far, Jokowi has not compromised on any drug convicts on death row, including foreign nationals, in order to carry out his “war on drugs” policy. In particular, the executions of Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran of the Bali Nine in 2015 triggered a lot of debate on Indonesia’s tough stance on the death penalty.

In its position as a retentionist state, Indonesia considers the death penalty as necessary in deterring crime, maintaining the law and order of the society, and safeguarding the interest of their people.

The debates in this furor, however, are not just about the death penalty being exercised by Indonesia. It involves a bigger question — that is, the legal process in Indonesia. Under Indonesian law, death row prisoners cannot be executed unless all legal avenues, including clemency appeals, have been fully exhausted.

At the international level, Indonesia is a signatory of the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in which it has clearly stated that every prisoner facing a death sentence has the right to fair trial and the right to go through consideration for clemency before the sentence can be enacted.

When the legal process is not fully respected and followed, this raises the question of the Jokowi government’s commitment to the rule of law and human rights.

Furthermore, the death penalty in Indonesia is also highly dependent on political factors, public pressure, and religious beliefs. While there are many local and international non-governmental organizations that advocate for the abolition of the death penalty in Indonesia, there is also strong support for the death penalty from the local community, especially among anti-drug organizations and religious groups.


Source: The Diplomat, Khoo Ying Hooi and Huong Yu Sin, July 30, 2016. Dr. Khoo Ying Hooi is Senior Lecturer at the Department of International and Strategic Studies, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Malaya. Huong Yu Sin is a postgraduate student at the Department of International and Strategic Studies, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Malaya.

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