Patron: Her Excellency The Right Honourable Dame Patsy Reddy, GNZM, QSO, Governor-General of New Zealand

Capital Punishment: Indonesia’s View

By Jose Tavares

Ambassador of Indonesia to New Zealand, Samoa and Tonga

It is deeply regrettable that certain individuals must face the death penalty in Indonesia as a result of drug trafficking crimes. We understand the impact and deeply sympathize with the families and friends of those who have departed under the death penalty, both of foreign nationals and Indonesians alike. We also understand, and would like people to be aware of the impacts and sympathize with the victims, and their families and friends, of drug abuse.

Indonesia is facing a crisis situation of drug abuse on a massive scale. Currently an alarming number of 4.5 million people in Indonesia are suffering from drug-related problems. A large portion of these people find their homes in rehabilitation centres, despite limited capacity, to   try to restore their “normal lives”. Among those, 1.2 million people cannot be cured. Every day there are 33 to 50 people who die from drug-related causes, amounting to around 18.000 people every year. It would be most welcome for anyone who wishes to visit and see for themselves the misery and the sad situation of the drug victims in these rehabilitation centres. Drug use is spreading at a shocking rate to all parts of the society including to children as young as primary school students. Indonesia is profoundly grieved by the severe consequences that result from this massive drug-abuse.

Faced with this harrowing circumstance, Indonesia is resolutely determined to continue to combat drug-trafficking, a crime punishable by death and only limited to drug producers, syndicates and drug-dealers. Until August 2014 there were 67.786 convicted drug-offenders in Indonesian custody who are not under the death penalty. It is important to stress that the death penalty is carried out only after all legal defences provided by law are exhausted, and only after a verdict has a permanent legal force and clemency is denied. We do not deny that the death penalty is a harsh form of punishment, but the grave consequences of drug-related crimes are far reaching and harsher. The sad reality is that serious drug offences have called for an equally serious measure of penalty.

Like most of New Zealanders, millions of Indonesians are against the death penalty. Opinion polls by Media Indonesia in 2006 shows that, 78% of Indonesians are in favour of the death penalty for drugs traffickers and 22% are against it. Another poll by Kompasiana in December 2014 shows that 83% are in favour while 17% are against. Polling by Forum in January 2015 resulted in 87% in support and 13% against. Although these opinion polls may not be entirely accurate in representing the views of the 250 million people of Indonesia, they nonetheless reflect the on-going debate in the country on the issue of the death penalty. It would merit to add that the death penalty is not something that Indonesians take lightly, it is extreme and unfortunate. However, it needs to be addressed in light of the on-going crisis. A crisis that Indonesians are experiencing and dealing with, a crisis with severe and long-term effects on our young generation and the future of the nation. Unfortunately the severity of this crisis is all too familiar and real.

The heated debate between the abolitionists and the retentionists of the death penalty is unprecedented in Indonesia. Where this would lead to is up to the nation to decide. Indonesia is open to any views or concerns that have been expressed on the matter as it gives us perspective on the pros and cons of our law, but in the end only Indonesia can decide whether to retain or abolish its death penalty law in accordance to what is acceptable to its people and the durability of its application. Presently, there is no legal process envisaged to change the law, and there is evidently increasingly stronger support for the death penalty from the public as one can observe from the opinion polls.

Indonesia’s Criminal Justice System, like that of a number of other big democracies, recognizes the death penalty for cases of ‘most serious crimes’. Until today there is no authoritative intergovernmental agreement in the United Nations on what constitutes a ‘most serious crime’. It therefore falls within the sovereignty of each country to determine what it considers a ‘most serious crime’ and whether the death penalty is applicable in response to such crime.

Indonesia believes that the application of capital punishment in the country is within the scope and consistent with article 6(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and that this issue is an inalienable component of legal sovereignty of a country. It serves as a strong deterrent against what the country regards as one of the most serious crimes. In light of this, the concerns or objections that have been voiced against Indonesia’s death penalty law may be more helpful if conveyed in the context of capital punishment in general, regardless of where it is practiced or what crimes it is applicable to.