America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

Indonesia's president Joko Widodo says open to death penalty review

Police officers on Nusakambangan island, where executions are carried out.
Police officers on Nusakambangan island, where executions are carried out.
JAKARTA (AFP) - Indonesia's President Joko Widodo said he would restore a moratorium on the death penalty if he won the backing of the people, after a spate of executions that drew international condemnation.

Joko declared an anti-drugs campaign soon after coming to power in 2014 and refused all requests for pardons from death-row drug convicts, ending a four-year moratorium.

But in recent months he has softened his position.

Asked in an interview with AFP on Monday whether he would consider a moratorium, he said: "Why not? But I must ask my people.

"If my people say OK, they say yes, I will start to prepare," he said.

A moratorium could be the first step towards abolishing the death penalty, a move which needs approval in parliament which has been discussing the issue for the past year.

However, he said it would be difficult to secure parliamentary backing without clear public support in a conservative, Muslim-majority country where voters are deeply concerned about high levels of addiction.

He cited a 2015 survey by a private pollster that found 85 per cent of Indonesians support the death penalty for drug traffickers.

Jungle killings

Since Joko came to power, Indonesia has hauled 18 people - 15 of them foreigners - before the firing squad for drug trafficking.

They include a group of eight - two Australians, a Brazilian, an Indonesian and four Nigerians - who were put to death in a single night in April 2015 on the prison island of Nusakambangan.

The convicts were taken to a jungle clearing on the island, which houses several high-security prisons, and tied to stakes before being shot, in an move that triggered global revulsion.

The executions of Australian drug smugglers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran in particular caused tensions, with Indonesia's neighbour Australia temporarily recalling its ambassador from Jakarta.

Among the foreigners currently on death row are Frenchman Serge Atlaoui and Filipina Mary Jane Veloso, who were both pulled from the April 2015 round of executions.

A British grandmother, Lindsay Sandiford, is also on death row in Bali after she was caught smuggling a huge stash of cocaine into the resort island which attracts millions of visitors to its palm-fringed beaches every year.

Joko has insisted that the death penalty is part of Indonesia's law and serves as deterrent against drug trafficking.

However, last November he said he was "open for options" to abolish it. In another concession, only drug convicts from countries that implement the death penalty were executed last year.

Good sign

International and domestic rights groups have appealed to Indonesia to put a stop to capital punishment, arguing that miscarriages of justice are inevitable in a judicial system deeply compromised by corruption.

President François Hollande and president Joko "Jokowi" Widodo.
President François Hollande and president Joko "Jokowi" Widodo.
Ricky Gunawan from Community Legal Aid Foundation, a group calling for the abolition of the death penalty, said Joko's latest comments were "a good sign that he is shifting from his stubbornness".

"But the downside is he leaves it to the people to decide, and a good leader should make a stance instead of leaving to the people to decide," he told AFP.

Gunawan urged President Francois Hollande, who will visit Indonesia this week, to press the issue during their talks. France scrapped the death penalty at a time when public support for it was high.

Some analysts have said that since Joko is the first Indonesian president from outside the establishment - he was not in the military nor part of the elites - he needed to show a strong hand on law enforcement.

Halfway into his term, Joko is faced with rising religious intolerance in a country that has always prided itself as a moderate Muslim nation.

In a case seen as a major test for pluralism, the governor of Jakarta - an ethnic Chinese Christian - is currently on trial on allegations of blasphemy against Islam.

Joko said that extensive freedoms have opened the way for hate speech, but played down the extent of intolerance, saying that a "small" number of incidents was "normal" in a nation that embraces many religions and ethnicities.

"People must know the balance of rights and duty... if they are too free, it is not good for our country," he said. "Indonesia is one of the most tolerant countries in the world."

Source: Agence France-Presse, March 28, 2017

Indonesian Death Penalty Moratorium Needs Presidential Push

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo
Indonesia's President Joko Widodo
Jokowi Should Show Political Will, Not Just Rhetorical Support

Indonesia’s President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo dropped fresh hints this week that he supports reinstatement of the official moratorium on the death penalty, but only if the Indonesian public supports the move. “Why not? But I must ask my people. If my people say OK, they say yes, I will start to prepare [to reinstate a moratorium].”

We’ve been here before. In November 2016, Jokowi suggested the Indonesian government might emulate European governments by moving toward abolishing the death penalty. At that time, Jokowi said his government was “very open to options” on death penalty alternatives, without elaborating. But since then, neither he nor his government have taken any serious steps to change Indonesia’s policy. On the contrary, in recent weeks Indonesia seems poised to execute up to six convicted drug traffickers from foreign countries on the prison island of Nusa Kambangan.

The gap between Jokowi’s rights-respecting rhetoric and the absence of policy measures to back it up is unsurprising. Jokowi has a well-earned reputation for talking the talk on human rights policies, but consistently failing to deliver. He’s stalled on accountability plans for past gross human rights violations, such as the massacres of 1965-66; failed to abolish discriminatory laws fostering religious intolerance; and lacked follow-through on promises of accountability for abuses in Papua.

Indonesia ended a four-year unofficial moratorium on the death penalty in March 2013, and Jokowi has made the execution of convicted drug traffickers a signature issue of his presidency. Jokowi has justified using the death penalty by saying drug traffickers on death row have “destroyed the future of the nation.” In December 2014, he told students that the death penalty for convicted drug traffickers was an “important shock therapy” for anyone who violates Indonesia’s drug laws. Since taking office in 2014, his government has executed 18 convicted drug traffickers, though no executions have taken place this year. The majority of those executed have been citizens of other countries, and Jokowi rejected their government’s calls for clemency, citing national sovereignty.

Jokowi should not hinge his action on so fundamental an issue as capital punishment on the vagaries of popular support. Instead, he should take this opportunity to demonstrate leadership and bolster his rhetorical support for a death penalty moratorium with real action. Indecision is no reason to impose an inherently cruel punishment.

Source: Human Rights Watch, March 29, 2017

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