So-called national ’emergencies’ give Indonesia President Joko Widodo no right to breach human rights.
In late July, Indonesia executed four prisoners on Nusa Kambangan Island. Minutes before ten others were set to face the firing squad the Attorney General suddenly canceled their executions.
All 14, the majority foreigners, were convicted of drugs crimes, which according to Indonesian criminal law are serious enough to warrant the death penalty.
Ever since President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo assumed office in 2014, he has clearly stated that he rejects any clemency for drug criminals and that he approves of capital punishment without the slightest hesitation.
Moreover, Jokowi has declared ‘an emergency against drug-related crimes’ since, according to research by Indonesia’s National Narcotics Board, every day 50 people die from drug and narcotics abuse. This figure is based on a flawed foundation and is questionable.
During Jokowi’s presidency 18 people have now been executed for drug-related crimes’s presidency, 15 of them foreigners. Under the previous administration of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, there were 21 executions between 2005 and 2013.
Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the rape of a female child in Bengkulu in April, Jokowi condemned the perpetrators, saying they should be severely punished. This statement prompted the release of a government regulation in lieu of law (peraturan pengganti undang-undang, or perpu) to amend the 2002 Law on Children Protection, which threatens child rapists with castration.
According to Indonesian law, when a president releases a government regulation, or perpu, it is a sign that the country is under threat, in this case presumably by child rapists. At the same time, the regulation has been condemned by human rights defenders and doctors from the Indonesian Medical Association.
These facts paint a clear picture of how Indonesia exploits emergencies to push harsh policies. Such a stance sacrifices fundamental freedoms like the right to life at the altar of emergency, and there is no scope to correct any error. In an unfair legal system, how do you compensate a person who is wrongfully executed, let alone wrongfully convicted?
Instead of protecting and respecting human rights in Indonesia, the ‘emergency situation’ is a time where the state imposes excessive policies. Suspects are denied their rights, and the presumption of innocence is easily breached. Under the cloak of an emergency, crimes should also be eliminated immediately, and perpetrators should be punished severely and without mercy.
In fact, what we can learn from Indonesian history is that this approach is a ghost from the past. For example, during the early 1980s under Suharto’s New Order regime, crime rates were high and difficult to resolve. Faced with this dilemma, Suharto found a shortcut — to eliminate criminals by arbitrary or extrajudicial killing. These killings were carried out by what was notoriously known as a mysterious death squad (penembak misterius) or ‘Petrus’ and led by the Command Operation for Restoration of Security and Order (Kopkamtib). Without an official emergency declaration by the government, people learned of the policy from the corpses piled in public spaces, which also served as a warning to all.
Indonesia has two obligations when it comes to respecting human rights. Firstly, a national commitment, with rights enshrined in the country’s constitution. Secondly, an international obligation, as Indonesia has agreed to bind itself under international law, notably the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. As such Indonesia must better navigate the balance between liberty and security.
During a genuine emergency, the State has the right during to declare limitations on the rights of a citizen. But this does not include the abrogation of the right to life, the right to be treated equally before the law, freedom from torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, or punishment.
Sadly, at the moment this spirit and perspective are not adopted by government policy, especially when it comes to crime. In the case of the most recent executions, when Jokowi pulled the emergency trigger to send inmates to their death, it was not based on considerations of legal justice, but populism. In other words, like previous presidents who rejected clemency, Jokowi is playing God.
The fact remains that the death penalty is a part of a regime’s politics that emerge when the state cannot solve the real problem. Despite three waves of executions (the first two were in January and April 2015), there is no sign that the narcotics problem is plummeting. There is no proof that of deterrence.
On the contrary, the last execution exposed the involvement of officials in the narcotics business as revealed by Haris Azhar, the chairperson of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (KontraS), who used social media to broadcast the confession of Freddy Budiman, one of four killed in last month’s executions.
According to Budiman, for years he received help from top officials in the National Narcotics Board, National Police, and Indonesian National Defense Forces.
The sense of emergency used by Jokowi to eliminate narcotics or child rapists once again demonstrates a pattern of revenge by the State and by the law itself. It is produced by rage, rather than a respect for humanity.
By canceling the other 10 inmates from a harrowing execution, it is time for Jokowi to review his policy on the death penalty, and other severe punishments under the guise of a so-called emergency.
Bhatara Ibnu Reza is a PhD Candidate in Faculty of Law of the University of New South Wales, where he is researching civilian involvement in state defence. He is also a senior researcher for IMPARSIAL, the Indonesian Human Rights Monitor.