Capital Punishment and its Impact on Foreign Policy

The diplomatic tie between Indonesia and Australia was under strain when the Indonesian government executed two Australian citizens, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, convicted of heroin trafficking from Indonesia’s island of Bali to Australia. Bilateral relation with Brazil was also in jeopardize when Indonesia executed capital punishment to Brazil’s national for marijuana smuggling through aero-sport equipment.

Amnesty International executions around the world
Capital Punishment in 2012

In fact, Indonesia is not a solely country that still implements capital punishment. For countries such as Singapore, China, and Vietnam, drug smuggling is considered as a horrendous crime. Indeed, Singapore has the strictest death penalty against those in the drug trade. A report published by the International Harm Reduction Association claims that between 2000-2014 Singapore executed 59 individuals involved in drug cases. Meanwhile, Indonesia implemented the death penalty in 27 drug cases between the years 2000 and 2013. But why do the wider public and international media put their fingers only to Indonesia? This country has been recognized by them as a barbaric nation because in its national law it still imposed capital punishment and it is not fair.

Debates on death penalty

So far, debates concerning the implementation of the death penalty over convicted individuals involved in drug cases in Indonesia have not reached a conclusion. According to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, execution can be applied in cases involving serious crimes. There seems to be no exact definition of what ‘serious crimes’ are. The majority of western countries believe that trafficking drugs is not something that falls into that category.

Social circumstances are different in each countries. It is understandable that a majority of Western countries do not implement the death penalty over drug cases, considering that drug problems have not reached the same scale as they have in Asian countries. In Indonesia, for instance, the issue of drugs is considered a major societal problem. According to Indonesia’s Narcotics Agency (BNN), there are currently 5.6 million drug users in Indonesia, and it is estimated that every day an average of 50 people die from drugs. The United Nations’ Office on Drugs (UNOD) recently declared Indonesia as one of the pathways in the global drug trafficking trade.

Moreover, it is important to note that the majority of drug users in Indonesia are students, with numbers reaching 75 per cent of total drug users. Every day 50 young Indonesians die and in one year that is 18,000 dead. This reality should be enough to be a catalyst for the Indonesian government to implement the death penalty as one of the ways to reduce drug trafficking in Indonesia. At the same time, the implementation of the death penalty against drug traffickers is not only meant to protect younger generations from the negative outcomes of drug use, but also to convey a strong message to global drug syndicates to cease drug-related activities in Indonesia.

It is therefore difficult to ignore that there is a difference in social circumstances between countries. With regards to the law, every country has their own interpretation of how the law can be implemented, based on their own specific circumstances. In this context, Indonesia as a country, has the right to formulate and implement laws according to the existing social problems, and to safeguard its citizens from the negative consequences of drugs. From the data, Indonesia rarely executes death penalties if compared to other countries in South East Asia. Countries such as Singapore, USA and China also practice capital punishment but less complaints about it. Indonesians still support the capital punishment because it works as an effective way to prevent crimes and to punish criminals. Thus, the government or the parliament never propose to abolish it.

Step Forward

Implementation of the national law is a manifestation of upholding sovereignty. Consequently, Indonesia should not be in doubt to apply its rule or procedure in law to manage social life relations in society. However, Indonesia may highly consider when the maximum punishment will be imposed to foreign nationals due to Indonesia still facing the same problems in which some Indonesian citizens face the capital punishment abroad. In this case, the Government should guarantee that the foreign convicts has taken all necessary steps in law to defend their rights, including their consular rights to contact their consulate or embassy office.

National law is a reflection of people attitude towards specific issues. In case the public do not agree on capital punishment, parliament as a people’s representative will take an action to change the law and abolish capital punishment. Until now, there is no sign from the parliament that they will change the consideration of capital punishment in Indonesian domestic law. Similar reasons to why USA, China, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and host of other countries don’t abolish death penalties because the abolishment doesn’t not enough support and pressure from the society as whole to abolish it.

Government  should internationally voice the policy that “the death penalty is our positive law” as was said by President Joko Widodo to the media. Countries should respect the Indonesian government’s decision to implement the death penalty over drug cases and ignore the philosophical and sociological differences regarding the punishment. Public in Indonesia still rely on this punishment as part of fair treatments to the victims.

Jakarta, 28 October 2016


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