Indonesia’s Stop the Drugs Policy under Controversy
Though he has only been in office for a few months, Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo has already unveiled a policy that has been subject to considerable controversy and debate.
This is Widodo’s “Stop the Drugs” policy.
You may notice that this sounds awfully similar to the Australian government’s “Stop the Boats” policy, and in some ways they are similar.
While the two policies attempt to tackle two different issues, they are being pursued with roughly the same amount of irrational intensity. The refusal to grant clemency to convicted drug smugglers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran is a glaring example of such irrationality.
Capital Punishment: Is it right to be imposed on Drug Trafficking charges?
There is no denying that Indonesia faces serious issues with regards to drug trafficking. Indeed, one government estimate reveals that 50 Indonesian citizens die per day from drug related causes.
Accordingly, this ensures that there are approximately 18,000 deaths in Indonesia each year as a result of drug addiction. But in adopting an “ends justify the means” type of approach, President Widodo and his administration are becoming increasingly callous in addressing the issues posed by drug trafficking.
Capital punishment has long been reserved for the most heinous criminals, and in Indonesia drug traffickers are characteristically viewed as mass murderers given the rampant drug abuse they enable.
However, in this case it has been largely accepted that Chan and Sukumaran have been rehabilitated. This is an argument often raised by their lawyer, Julian McMahon, who emphasises that the pair are helping a lot of other prisoners get their lives in order.
Indeed, throughout the course of their incarceration the two have established a drug rehabilitation program, which is obviously useful in that it prevents former convicts falling back into drug abuse and committing more drug related crimes once they are released.
Additionally, they have been teaching art and computer classes, helping their fellow convicts further prepare for life outside of prison.
Despite this, the Indonesian government adheres to its policy that all convicted drug traffickers will face the death penalty.
The only Golden Rule is that there is no Golden Rule
There is no universally applicable principle of sentencing. Indeed, NSW courts recognised in R v Geddes (1936) that in matters of sentencing, ‘the only golden rule is that there is no golden rule’. As such, the application of the sentence must always be based on the facts of the case.
In considering these facts, it is often emphasised that judges must take account of the level of rehabilitation displayed by the offender. If it can be proven that an individual has been rehabilitated to the extent that he or she no longer poses a threat to the community, they should be released.
Though this approach places substantial emphasis on the rights of the offender, at its heart is the protection of the community overall. Accordingly, if the punishment imposed serves no societal purpose, the punishment is unjust.
It is highly likely that the Indonesian government believes that the deaths of Chan and Sukumaran will achieve such a purpose.
Aside from providing retribution to the multitude of victims of drug abuse, the government must also believe that the execution will deter people from smuggling drugs in and out of Indonesia in the future, thereby diminishing their drug problem.
Death Penalty Effects on Crime
However in the 21st century we are continuing to abandon the theoretical justifications for deterrence theory (as propounded by Jeremy Bentham, Cesare Becarria and the like) in light of empirical evidence which indicates the ineffectiveness of achieving deterrence through harsh sanctions.
For instance, Singapore introduced the death penalty in 1999, and yet between 1999 and 2005 the total level of drug abuse actually rose. Indeed, countries such as China and Iran still face rampant problems with drug trafficking despite the use of death penalties.
Scholars such as Raymond Paternoster have also emphasised that the evidence in favour of capital punishment and other harsh sanctions is “more than a little flimsy”.
The Challenge for a better approach
Moreover, Widodo’s war on drugs can be managed more effectively, and in a way that does not require the institution of capital punishment. For instance, it has been suggested that a better strategy would be to target high-level members of drug syndicates.
This is largely problematic given the influence of these individuals in the Indonesian government, military, and police force. Such corruption is not a well-kept secret, given that anti-narcotic agents arrested five police in possession of large quantities of drugs in early 2015.
As such, the best way for Indonesia to win its war on drugs is to look implement sweeping reforms to improve the effectiveness of its internal state mechanisms.
In addition, increased educational measures to warn children and young adults of the dangers of drug use would also have a positive effect in reducing Indonesia’s drug problem.
However given the comparatively difficult nature of such reforms, it is likely that Widodo and his administration will abide by their execution policy. Moreover, the administration is now placed in a situation where reneging on its commitment to using capital punishment to punish drug smugglers will appear to be an act of submission in the face of Western pressure.
In a sick and twisted way, the longevity of Widodo’s government now demands the death of Chan and Sukumaran.
The overarching point of this article is to emphasise that the imposition of a particular sentence must be based on the facts of the case. Whilst Chan and Sukumaran’s original crime was certainly harmful to Indonesian society, their prospects for reform render the use of the death penalty completely inappropriate in these circumstances.
Furthermore, as a means to deter future drug traffickers, the imposition of a mandatory death penalty will likely fails. The execution of the two will therefore be both inhumane and ineffective. Unfortunately it may be too late for Chan and Sukumaran, but we can only hope that this complete and utter debacle has the effect of uniting the international community in its condemnation of capital punishment.