Gunning down a nation’s reputation
There’s a popular anecdote in Indonesia about President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo. It was told to journalists by the man himself - perhaps it’s apocryphal.
Shortly after taking office in 2014 he was in Beijing for an APEC summit; at the official dinner he apparently insisted on sitting alongside leaders Obama, Putin and Xi because Indonesia is a negara besar (great power or major nation).
Measured by population the claim is correct – Indonesia ranks fourth in the world. Geographically it’s the largest archipelago. These attributes have been inherited, not earned.
Jokowi is also right if greatness is gauged by potential. His nation has huge deposits of natural resources, vast areas of fertile land and enterprising people. It’s been a democracy since the start of this century - the world’s largest Muslim country with a name for practising moderation – a fine accolade.
But in political management terms the situation is less than great. Indonesia’s nominal GNP ranks 16th, even behind Australia with one tenth of the population. For ease of doing business the Republic stands at 109 on the World Bank index. Just 30 minutes ferry ride distant is Singapore at number one.
In sports Indonesia is a non-starter having never won international titles beyond badminton. This year tiny New Zealand scored the Laureus Award – the Oscar of sporting achievement – after the All Blacks became global rugby champions. NZ has fewer people than Surabaya.
Jokowi says his homeland is a maritime nation. It has just two submarines built in 1981 and no aircraft carriers. Its military strength is less than Taiwan’s, and the US$6.9 billion defence budget one tenth of Russia’s.
Indonesia has more than 2,000 universities and tertiary institutions but none in the world’s top 500. Its scientists, creative artists and philosophers have rare talent long crushed by an authoritarian culture dominated by oligarchs and the military. No surprise that the nation has yet to claim a Nobel Prize.
However measured in terms of judicial graft, discrimination and brutality Indonesia is a negara besar. On Transparency International’s corruption perception scale it’s 88. For application of the rule of law it’s number 52 out of 102.
Justice can be bought. The Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi (KPK Corruption Eradication Commission) has successfully convicted many law officers including judges in courts established to counter corruption. Former Chief Justice Akil Mochtar is behind bars.
These successes have scratched, not wounded the system. It’s widely believed that those suffering the most severe sentences have empty wallets.
Fourteen real or perceived drug traffickers were executed in Indonesia at the Nusa Kambangan jail last year – most on 29 April. They included men from the Philippines, France, Ghana, Nigeria, Brazil, Indonesia and two Australians who had reformed during their decade in detention.
The Indonesian legal world is no repository of confidence. According to the Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR) Zainal Abidin, the sole Indonesian in the last batch to face the M16s, could not appeal because his file had disappeared.
The South American Rodrigo Gularte suffered from serious mental disorders and didn’t understand he was to die, according to his priest Father Charlie Burrows.
Filipino Mary Jane Veloso’s execution was stopped in the final hours when another trafficker suddenly confessed to police.
The men’s deaths led to widespread international condemnation. Australia, Brazil and the Netherlands withdrew their ambassadors, inflicting significant damage to Indonesia’s international image.
Not all anger is expressed beyond Indonesia’s borders. Komnas HAM (the National Commission on Human Rights) is an advocate for reform, as are many NGOs.
Most countries have abandoned the death penalty. Eventually economic sanctions will be applied against nations that execute, and their overseas representatives will be treated as pariahs.
In Europe this month President Jokowi told German Chancellor Angela Merkel that the death penalty was necessary because between 40 and 50 citizens died every day from drug abuse.
These are the same figures he used to justify last year’s executions, which suggests capital punishment has had no impact.
The statistics come from a 2008 study organised by Universitas Indonesia and Badan Narkotika Nasional (BNN – the National Narcotics Agency). Australian and other academic researchers have labelled the findings ‘ambiguous’, inaccurate’ and ‘oversimplistic’.
Nonetheless they appeal to those who see solutions to complex problems in stark terms. The logic is false: If fear of death changes behaviour then millions would stub out when they read cancer statistics.
Sixteen times more Indonesians perish in pain every year from the cruel disease than Jokowi’s estimate of drug deaths; packs warn Merokok Membunuhmu (Smoking Kills You) before an image of a skull, but the rates still rise.
Then there’s the hypocrisy. Indonesia regularly pleads for the lives of its workers in Saudi Arabia; abused maids who lash back and kill their vile employers are frequently sentenced to beheading. Indonesians get outraged and diplomats protest, but the Saudis seldom listen.
Ironically Jokowi’s intransigence came when the UN opened its first major conference on prohibition policies, examining why the so-called ‘war on drugs’ has failed to stop manufacture, supply and use.
Countries, like Portugal, the Netherlands, Germany, Canada and some US States have either decriminalised the use of marihuana or reduced penalties. Others are taking a health approach rather than a punitive position.
However the Indonesian government is not in this group. Jokowi continues to repeat his determination to pursue a tough line, instructing law authorities and the army to crush drug use.
More offenders are scheduled to go before Indonesia’s firing squads this year. If the promises are carried out Indonesia will have abandoned its right to claim greatness, unless it wants to sit alongside China, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. According to Amnesty International estimates, these were the major executors in 2015.
Although there are no Australians on the current death list the Sydney Morning Herald recently editorialised on ‘barbarism in the cause of political expediency’ urging Australia to campaign for a global ban ‘for the common good of humanity’, whatever the victims’ nationality:
To many in the West, the need to punish for punishment's sake remains an Old Testament throwback to an-eye-for-an-eye. It has no place in any modern, civilised, democratic nation.
Indonesia's culpability in reviving executions for convicted drug criminals and denying the Australian pair clemency was no better or worse than the policies of China for killing political prisoners or indeed so many states in the US for killing murderers. It is simply wrong.
Australia’s fury at last year’s shootings was blunted by earlier comments from former Prime Minister John Howard. Although he claimed to be against capital punishment he supported the execution of the three Bali bombers who killed 202, including 88 Australians, in 2002.
In Norway mass killer Anders Breivik has no fear of state-sanctioned death, despite having bombed and shot 77 mainly young people. This year the right-wing extremist won some court victories against the state, which had allegedly failed to respect his civil rights on issues like contact with other prisoners.
The legal decision startled and distressed many. However it reinforced Norway’s position as a nation that holds high the rule of law and refuses to lower its principles by treating its most loathed and unreformed inmate in any illegal way.
It’s not just the condemned who die in countries that keep the death penalty. It degrades and often destroys all involved in the grisly procedures. None feel greatness. Every volley of the execution squads cuts down a nation’s reputation as a fair and just society which respects human rights, a good place to invest and holiday with the kids.
The first steps for Indonesia are to address the deficiencies listed earlier, restore the rule of law and make the legal system clean. That includes a moratorium as a prelude to abolishing capital punishment.
Then Jokowi won’t need to demand a place on the top table; it will be offered with respect and by right.(First published in Strategic Review 27 April 2016 - http://www.sr-indonesia.com/web-exclusives/view/gunning-down-a-nation-s-reputation