Mass Executions of Drug Offenders Won’t Help Indonesia

Using the death penalty to solve a country’s drug problems is not a solution at all.

Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo was elected in July 2014. Hailed as a man of the people, his campaign was built on a platform of human rights. He updated Jakarta’s drainage system, kick-started health care reform, and built a reputation as a leader who implements policies based on pragmatism and common sense.

But on January 18, Jokowi placed himself in a category of his own: he became the first president of Indonesia to execute six people in one night since the country’s democratic reformation in 1998.

The people sentenced to death were people convicted of drug trafficking. Five of the six were foreigners, which prompted a swift and emphatic international outcry. Three of the countries whose citizens were among the executed recalled their ambassadors from Indonesia, and several advocacy groups condemned the executions in no uncertain terms.

The uproar is well founded—using the death penalty to solve a country’s drug problems is not a solution at all. The Community Legal Aid Institution in Jakarta, Lembaga Bantuam Hukum Masyarakat (LBHM), worked tirelessly to stop Sunday’s executions. On January 16, LBHM and the leaders of drug-user communities hand-delivered an open letter to the presidential palace.

In the letter they made it clear that Jokowi’s decision to employ the death penalty would not help alleviate Indonesia’s drug problems—in fact, it’s likely to make them worse. Since capital punishment for drug offenses was introduced in 1997, drug crimes have risen, not fallen. And those being executed aren’t the ones driving the illicit drug trade. Some of the traffickers who are sentenced to death are merely drug mules, many of them coerced into carrying the substances they were arrested with, or unaware that they were carrying them at all.

Furthermore, executing people used as drug mules only exacerbates the vulnerability of drug users, because when the state executes a drug mule, kingpins must find a new one. These new traffickers are consequently pulled further away from health services, harm reduction programs, and support—the very mechanisms that could help them reclaim their lives from addiction.

Despite all this evidence to the contrary, Jokowi has said that the executions represent his government’s firm commitment to the fight against drugs, and that more executions will follow. In addition, he’s vowed not to grant clemency to any of the 64 convicted traffickers on death row, even though a blanket rejection of clemency is a violation of Indonesia’s commitment under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. A blanket rejection of clemency also breaches the core principle of criminal law, which requires every case to be considered on its individual merits. 

Political observers have speculated that Jokowi’s hard line on executions—out of step with his relatively progressive agenda—is intended to satiate conservative elements of his government. If that’s truly the case, it represents a stunning display of opportunism, as people are literally sacrificed in the name of political maneuvering. 

LBHM’s campaign is aligned with the UN Human Rights Committee, UN Office on Drugs and Crime, and UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions. All have stated that executions for drug offences are in violation of international human rights law.

We at LBHM feel the weight of these threatened executions acutely. Since 2008, we have assisted Francis (not his real name), a Nigerian citizen sentenced to death for possession of heroin. Francis has exhausted all his legal avenues of appeal and is relying on presidential clemency for his life—a hope that appears dim for those convicted under the Jokowi administration.

9 Comments

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I totally agree with the point that death penalty to solve a country’s drug problems is not a solution at all.

I am glad that Soros supports this group.

Indonesia is not an Island existing on its own but as much as it cooperates with othe nations of the world and observes conventions it is part of, I swear I support its position to execute drug traffickers violating its national laws. Drugs related crimes and trafficking has spoilt the moral base of European, American and most African boys and girls leading to more crimes, redundancy and imorality. Do not allow its own youths to be spolit by drugs in the name of human rights. There is a clear line btw the two.

Tony Abbott has said that while he disagrees with the upcoming executions of the Andrew and Myuran (Bali Nine) he will not let it affect relations between the two countries. Is he SERIOUS? Threaten to pull out, Tony Abbott. Tell Jokowi that Indonesia will lose Australian Tourism. Do anything you can to STOP THIS. These young men are, by all accounts, rehabilitated. They are not asking for freedom, they just want to live. A dear friend says we are all better than our worst act. That is true of Andrew and Myuran, I am not sure it is true of you, Tony Abbott.

:-) Myanmar is doing her best to let #drug-money to be laundered "legally" through real estate sector; leaving her poor & middle class citizens a big issue to "own a house" as #property-prices in Myanmar is higher than New York and average salary is only around 30 US$/month !

Chan and Sukumaran were not importing drugs to Indonesia. They were taking drugs from Indonesia. Who asked them to smuggle the drugs? Where did they get them? Who was paying them? The answers do not seem to be in the public arena. Apart from the gross violation of human rights, shooting low level criminals leads to suspicion of cover ups and corruption.

If you ever set a foot in Singapore, there are HUGE warnings EVERYWHERE which reads "Drug traffic is punishable by death". I suppose that once caught, pretending you didn't know the local law, or that the law did not apply in your case doesn't fly.

You say:

"...using the death penalty (in Indonesia) to solve a country’s drug problems is not a solution at all..."

So, what actually IS the solution? Letting the Western drug dealers and terrorists (crying out peaceful slogans and silently doing their dirty business all around the world) - is this what you call a SOLUTION? Good for you and bad for the COUNTRIES you are working against and condemning now, like in the case of Indonesia.

If someone comes to Europe/USA and does something wrong, you immediately attack the entire community living there (a Muslim sells drugs - the entire Muslim streets are raided; an African kills a cop - all Africans are questioned by police and often beaten up to death).

So far as we, the CIVILIZED WORLD (a part of which you definitely are not) understand, what you would like to be is that you go wherever you want, do whatever you want to and... use impunity for your further criminal activities?!

I am sorry, but your dreams must have ruined since we've ON TIME realized the detrimental effects your notion comprises!

I hear your anger at how different communities are treated in the West. However your equation of this with the application of the death penalty to drug traffickers in malaysia is naive. these aren't equivalents. For many people the crimes committed by western nations against communities from Africa, South Asia etc have a far greater negative impact. However executing people - whether they be malay, thai, aussie, UK or american - for drug offences doesn't solve the drugs problem. It does make it worse. there are a number of solutions you could explore. Countries could apply lesser criminal justice penalties - imprisonment, asset seizure etc. They could decriminalise supply. They could legalise and regulate supply. But killing people doesn't work.

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