Commentary: Executions Won’t Harm Indonesia’s International Relations
Indonesia’s relations with Australia and Brazil are at low points after Indonesia’s recent executions of drug convicts, which included nationals from the two countries.
Both countries have recalled their ambassadors. Indonesia also came under pressure from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who urged Indonesia to stop executing convicts on death row.
Despite international protestations, the executions will not harm Indonesia’s position in international bodies and its cooperation with other countries.
International opposition to Indonesia’s execution plans has grown since late last year when President Joko Widodo announced his decision to execute all drug traffickers on death row as a “shock therapy” to solve the country’s drug problems. The global pressure continued during and after Indonesia hosted the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Asian-African Conference in April.
Alliance of developing countries
Indonesia’s international position can be gauged by the Asian-African Conference. More than 20 heads of states from Asian and African countries came to Indonesia for the conference. It symbolized the strengthening of alliances between developing states of the “Global South” against the Northern alliances of developed and wealthy states.
The G-77, a group of developing nations, remains a powerful alliance in the United Nations. The economic and military rise of China, to which Indonesia is becoming closer, has weakened the hegemony of the North, namely the US and European countries. The world order is slowly shifting to a multi-polar system.
Indonesia will remain important as a partner in trade and security cooperation. It has a strategic location as it borders the Malacca Strait and South China Sea, a vital route for world trade.
As the most populous nation with a Muslim majority, Indonesia plays an important role in dealing with problems of terrorism and religious radicalism. Indonesia frequently is referred to as one of the “success stories” of a peaceful democratic transition in comparison with countries in the Middle East.
Indonesia is not the only country that executes people on death row. According to Amnesty International, as of December 2014, 58 countries retain the death penalty. These include the United States, China, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Saudi Arabia.
Some 98 countries have permanently abolished capital punishment. Another 35 countries have abolished it in practice.
The pressure on Indonesia shows a double standard on the issue of death penalty. Many might still remember the support from Australia for the execution of convicted terrorists in Indonesia following the 2002 Bali bombings.
Despite Ban’s statement on the death penalty in Indonesia, Indonesia’s position in the UN will not be affected much. Its position in the global body will depend on the issues and levels of Indonesia’s involvement.
The United Nations itself is not a single unified entity. The UN works on many issues using multi-layered coordination.
Finding a solution
The death penalty gives no space to correct possible human error in its implementation. Some would argue that imposing the death penalty is not a prerogative right of humans. Yet this argument is inconsistent with arguments regarding death in other circumstances, such as abortion or euthanasia.
In regard to executions as “shock therapy” for drug users, killing drug dealers would not automatically decrease the drug trade or use. Solutions for drug problems must involve many actors.
The problems of the illegal drug trade and abuse in Indonesia include a corrupt legal system, inadequate preventive and rehabilitation programs and poor quality of education.
To solve this complex web of problems, civil society must be included. Efforts to curb drug abuse should not lie solely in the hands of state authorities.
Shiskha Prabawaningtyas is a lecturer in international relations at Paramadina University.
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