A little over a year into President Joko Widodo’s tenure, the situational irony in Indonesia cannot be any more pronounced. Widodo, whose pre-election campaign pledged to champion human rights and focus,inter alia, on addressing past instances of human rights abuse and reforming the police has gained greater publicity for an unprecedented rise in executions for drug-related crimes.
Prior to Widodo, Indonesia had been gradually shifting towards curbing the use of death penalty. Executions had been put on hold; interventions resulted in 240 commutations between 2011 and 2014; and in 2012, Indonesia changed its position from 'against' to 'abstention' during voting on UN General Assembly resolutions supporting a moratorium on the use of the death penalty.In stark contrast to this, the fourteen executions in 2015 alone represent a regressive step completely nullifying all progress made towards abolition thus far.
The credibility of such government data based on BNN studies from 2008 and 2011 has however has become an increasingly murky affair.Recently,researchers have noted that such estimates of drug-use prevalencein the general population and deaths per day from drug-related causes are not an estimation of the actual number of people in Indonesia who are in need of support to manage their drug addiction but is a mere projection cited in a 2008 study by the BNN of all drug users, including those who have used drugs no more than once in their life.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Indonesia acceded in 2006, allows for the use of capital punishment in the case of 'most serious crimes'. The UN Human Rights Committee has noted that this must be read to mean that the death penalty should be a quite exceptional measure. In this regard the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions has also clarified that "the death penalty may not be imposed for drug-related offences unless" they may be classified as "crimes that involve intentional killing". The Indonesian laws make almost no distinction between drug dealers and drug users thus grossly diluting the import of 'most serious' crimes. Although, Indonesia is not alone in the contravention of this requirement (China, Iran, Kuwait, Malaysia are amongst countries that have also sentenced people to death for drug-related crimes in 2015), what sets Indonesia apart is the flagrant violation of international law in this regard.
Although Indonesian authorities have repeatedly maintained that death penalty has been applied with strict adherence to international law and standards, a 2015 Amnesty International report highlights cases of violations of international law regarding death penalty and the trial process.Standards for fair trial as provided under the ICCPRencompasses the right of the convicted to be promptly informed of their right to communicate with their embassy or consular post and to have the assistance of an independent interpreter as soon as they are arrested. The protection of these rights is particularly relevant in the Indonesian context, as a significant number of death row prisoners convicted on drug-related offences are foreign nationals.12 out of the 14 executed in 2015 alone were foreigners.Investigations however found that defendants did not have access to legal counsel from the time of arrest and at different stages of their trial and appeals; in some cases, defendants did not even submit an appeal application because they were not informed by their lawyers of their right to do so. While in police custody, they were also subjected to ill-treatment to the point of causing serious internal injury aimed at making them “confess” to their alleged crimes or sign police investigation in clear disregard of the ICCPR provisionswhich protect against the arbitrary deprivation of life, torture and other ill-treatment and punishment. The report also noted claims that petitions in relation to juvenility and mental illness of the prisoners were not adequately investigated by the authorities despite clear ICCPR and Convention on the Rights of the Child prohibition on imposition ofdeath penalty against these categories.
Despite international dismay at the conduct of the Indonesian authorities and urges to establish a moratorium on the death penalty in order to comply with the international move towards the abolition of the death penalty, Widodo has repeatedly stated that the government will deny any application for clemency made by those sentenced to death for drug-related crimes and continue to use death penalty as a 'positive law'.Considering that Indonesian law denies foreign nationals the possibility to challenge any of its provisions before the Constitutional Court, it is highly probable that challenges to the country’s death penalty policy shall remain a distant reality for some time to come.
Possibly the greatest chance at effective change comes from plugging the gaping holes in the legal system itself as opposed to tackling the policy itself. Independent and unbiased bodies to review all pending cases on death sentence for drug offences, provision of resources to the Legal Aid Council for the appointment of competent pro bono lawyers in all regions of the country and measures to ensure that all such convicted persons are given regular and proper medical assessments with results fully documented and available to the convicted and their lawyers are some methods of ameliorating current standards of administering law and justice in order to achieve this goal.
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Supra, note 2.
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 Supra, note 2.
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Supra, note 2.
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Supra, note 2.
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