All citizens in a democracy have the right to expect that their elected leader can summon courage in response to challenge — to be above the mob, take the high road, raise the collective spirit and illustrate wisdom.
A mature leader adapts his thinking when the situation calls for it. A confident leader makes changes when needed, can see the long road ahead better than the rest. He must be a diplomatic expert and have a broad perspective, no matter what he would prefer to do in private.
A courageous leader is not afraid to lose face if it is for the betterment of humanity — is there no better reason in the world? A strategic leader looks for win-win scenarios to build positive global relationships at home and abroad. And a savvy leader knows that his country does not operate in a vacuum.
We are at a crossroads and the decision to go down the dark alleyway with a dead end seems to have been chosen. The decision of one leader to kill will forever bind Indonesia with a further human rights assault, ignoring obligations under the ICCPR and recommendations of the Constitutional Court regarding the death penalty. This reform implied that there are some nebulous good behavior standards that can be achieved and therefore inmates might qualify for mercy.
Helpless and powerless death row prisoners with the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads are left to guess what those standards might be, like some kind of Russian Roulette. With the recent decision at hand to continue to execute people, what possible chance does anyone have at guessing what those standards are to earn a reprieve?
The definition of good behavior and its application are random to say the least. This is tantamount to psychological torture, to move the goal posts as judges and politicians check the periodic wind of public opinion while they consider mercy, however briefly or not at all. This is reminiscent of the Roman colosseum days, when the emperor looked to the crowd for a thumbs up or thumbs down as victims were thrown to the lions.
In actuality, President Joko Widodo has, in fact, been very successful at turning convicted criminals serving time for their crime into victims that the world has rallied to support. That includes Indonesian murderers and drug traffickers in Saudi Arabia, causing a public outcry as they are beheaded.
That is not an easy thing to do, which anti-death penalty advocates would readily testify. As we are at the tipping point regarding the death penalty now, millions around the world seem to have caught up with what the ICCPR and Second Optional Protocol are all about, thanks to Joko’s dismissal of life and human rights according to international standards. In our darkest hour we might be grateful to him for bringing it to the global collective attention.
People are now speculating that Joko may all of a sudden get rid of the death penalty, but not until he has his way and dispatched the current line up to their deaths. The very idea that such a spontaneous generosity will descend on the president out of nowhere is abhorrent to all who are watching the current state-sanctioned murders unfolding. But the anti-death penalty advocates will have to take whatever progress can be made while the rest of us remember the journey.
We, too, as the public at large have been asleep on our watch, too busy to notice the executions that have been going on for awhile and now we are late to the table. But we do have a role, of course, and it’s the same role that we have had since time immemorial. The global power of public opinion is the strongest of all advocates and knows no boundaries. From this point forward, anyone who is executed becomes a martyr for human rights.
Their name will go on the wall of collective memory, a right to life tribute encased in the power of compassion and wisdom. That power sits with the people who drive humanitarian change as it has always done.
Alliances will undoubtedly rise and fall with monotonous regularity and all foes eventually patch it up as Anzac Day illustrates. Our friendship with Indonesian citizens who also reject the death penalty will endure, bonded in camaraderie, the arts, education and fellowship because it is not based on the whims of the political.
However, there will be a dark legacy from the decision of one man who had the opportunity to lead with confidence, mercy, diplomacy, strategy and humanity, but chose a lesser path while he had the world’s attention. Opportunity is patient to a point and often lost when judgement is impaired and doubt hovers like an ominous storm.
We can go no lower from this point in our region in regards to the death penalty and the climb starts now. We need to pay attention to everything that assaults a humanitarian approach, at home or abroad.
Countries that execute, you have our attention now. The business world has already begun to see effects of emerging stockholders and boardrooms who are making ethical decisions about human rights and the death penalty, based on who is living up to their obligations and who has cast them aside. These decisions are way out of the hands of temporary politicians.
Treatment regimes for crime that use a bullet, noose, drug, sword or stone will not be inspiring methods that draw positive investment as stockholders begin to shift their preferences. These are political and economic decisions that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will find the courage to address led by such visionaries as the Philippines who have signed the SOP.
We can herald this tipping point of 2015 as the “Mandela Moment” with every death now viewed as a dark heritage with a “humanitarian tax” on those who continue to murder just because they can. But we all know that “nothing is impossible.”
No matter what happens now, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran are forever known as those who held up the scales of restorative justice, with only a paintbrush and a prayer book in their hand. They held the scales high for the others to gain some last gasp of legal challenge.
Those who have “fallen” will become monumental heroes of mythological proportions, much bigger than in life, never, ever to be forgotten. The question in the end will be who has risen to inspirational heights and who has fallen to the bottom of the human spectrum.
Mary Farrow is an American writer and human rights activist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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