Amid international calls for mercy, the Indonesian government has executed eight people, including Bali Nine Australian duo Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. This is the second round of executions under President Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi. He justified the killings as a “shock therapy” to solve Indonesia’s drug crisis.
The Indonesian government is wrong for arguing that upholding the death penalty is a matter of “law enforcement”. The death penalty actually derails efforts to reform the country’s legal system.
Law enforcement institutions in Indonesia are tainted by a corrupt bureaucracy and dirty legal apparatus. Cases of torture are not hard to find. Under these circumstances, it is possible that the death penalty is imposed as a result of a mistaken legal process.
Death penalty sentencing is also laden with discrimination. It is used disproportionately for certain groups of people. The death penalty never touches perpetrators from the elite, rich and powerful.
The use of the death penalty derails legal reform objectives. One of the goals in criminal law reform is to change perspectives on punishment. The purpose of punishment is not only deterrence or condemnation, but also restorative justice.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and UNAIDS have said:
States should review and reform criminal laws and correctional systems to ensure that they are consistent with international human rights obligations and are not misused in the context of HIV or targeted against vulnerable groups.
The issues of drugs are mostly not only related to the user or seller, but most of the time it deals with the range of people who help or merely associate with those who sell drugs.
All crimes should be viewed in a legal context as a social, cultural and economic problem. To carry out the death penalty by claiming it deters drug crimes without addressing the three issues is a misguided policy.
The death penalty has become one of the biggest obstacles in applying international human rights principles in Indonesia’s legal reforms. Indonesia ratified the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 2005. Article 6 of the ICCPR stipulates that defendants should be guaranteed fair trials that are non-discriminatory and free from torture and degrading punishment. In Indonesia, these guarantees have been violated as shown in the examples above.
Finally, there is no significant proof that the death penalty deters crime. Death sentences for drug traffickers have not stopped illegal sales of narcotics.
The increase in drug trafficking, terrorism or other crimes should not be seen as a result of weak implementation of the death penalty. We must look at the issue as a structural problem. Misconduct by law enforcers, a corrupt bureaucracy, poverty and the government’s inability to provide a solution is evidence of a structural problem that needs to be tackled without reverting to the death penalty as an answer.