Death Penalty and Indonesian Sovereignty

While various answers have been put forward to the question of death penalty in Indonesia, sovereignty is frequently chosen as the final word.  As a political choice the concept of sovereignty might serve as an effective strategy. It creates a sense of collectiveness in the domestic politics and Indonesian society, and perhaps can deliver results in international community. Yet, it does not mean that it is unproblematic.

Observably, the debates on death penalty in the country can be deducted into several narratives.

Those who are against death penalty base their disputing statements on the reasons of justice and humanity. On justice, temporal arguments apply. It is impossible to know all truth and nothing but the truth for any judiciary system presently exists in this world to decide in ending someone’s life, regardless the crime he or she is committed for. Attention is also made toward the integrity of the Indonesian legal system, which in its current state and flaws are incongruous for delivering impartiality and justice, especially on moral related decisions such as death penalty. As to humanity, circulated opinions are rather imprecise, although their substance is clear. To end someone’s life is an act that is not our nature as being human, or our objective as a civilized society.

Aware that death is the only penalty that cannot be reviewed nor appealed, the advocating arguments center on deterrence effects, even-handedness, and national sovereignty.  Statistics on negative effects of drugs are employed to support arguments related to deterrence.  However, such opinions are varied. Also that they are rather weak in their ways of providing meaningful evidences. To strengthen, these arguments are simultaneously submitted with illustrations pertaining to emotional and social effects and burdens experienced by victims, their families, and hence the nation, which can only be addressed by a single act of even-handedness. As a level of solidarity becomes the following sentiment, arguments for death penalty are further reinforced by official statements on Indonesian sovereignty.

One paradox is that the premise of Indonesian sovereignty attached to enforcing death penalty is placed within a wider idea of vulnerability of a nation in the globalised world. The argument reflects the need to continuously assert the legal and political prerogatives of Indonesia to protect its borders, its citizens and to enforce its law. It reimagines the importance of, or rather the benefits from being a strong state, and of what state sovereignty does mean.

While no one doubts Indonesian state sovereignty. Or rather, it is debatable that a question of Indonesian state sovereignty exists in the intricacies of the Indonesian drugs problem and its corresponding consequences to the youth. Furthermore, Indonesia has been playing an important global and regional role and as a sovereign state occupies several prominent positions in international and regional fora.

As a clear answer is provided to an undefined question, one may argue, the repetition of the state sovereignty argument also reveals the status of death penalty in international community. Countries only formally express their disapprovals to death penalty after it places their citizens at stake. While diplomatic notes and visits from foreign missions requesting, relaying, and negotiating clemency have become the Foreign Ministry’s day-to-day business, these take place at bilateral corridors and are only being disclosed once they are considered unsuccessful. Collective actions manifested in joint regional or international endeavors amongst countries to pressure, in this regard, the government of Indonesia, are significantly scarce. Indeed, demands for clemency do come from international offices, such as the United Nations or European Union. However they can be considered ineffectual since they are mostly conveyed in clemency pleas or requests, which represent how the discourse on death penalty is framed.

This brings us to our second paradox. These diplomatic logics not only extend the deficits pertaining to the necessary concerted efforts at regional and international levels, they also maintain the position of state sovereignty as an effective strategy, externally and internally. It is strategic because it follows the accepted code of conducts for governing peaceful relationship among nations. It is strategic because it serves to control dissenting opinions particularly those related to universal human rights. It is particularly strategic for domestic politics as it places the state at the center. In result, countering voices coming from, for example civil society organizations, can be marked as irrelevant.

In such a context, building arguments against death penalty upon the concerns of justice and humanity faces serious challenges. In relation to the above-mentioned strategic thinking this would lead to questioning should justice and humanity remain as the underlying fundamentals for constructing the society’s stand on dead penalty, and whether ending someone’s life can be considered constitutional. One normative answer is naturally that they should. Also because it is what the Indonesian nation is aspired to be, as stated in the principle of justice and civilized humanity of the state’s ideology.

However, the workability of such fundamentals amidst the overarching influence of state sovereignty also leads to a third paradox. There are inherent differences underlying considerations of justice and humanity on the one hand and state sovereignty on the other hand. Because of their allegedly juxtaposing essences and, more importantly, functions, they have their own particular playing grounds. In Indonesia, justice and humanity are values that are frequently perceived as incompatible in the discussion on state sovereignty. Furthermore they are fragmented, have different rank and occupy certain domains. While these domains are not being limited as such, the discourse of state sovereignty reigns as it supposedly inhabits a more significant domain, which concerns national interests, and therefore public interests.

It does not mean that these fragmentations are impossible to bridge. Actions toward establishing concerted efforts at various levels, particularly regional and international, should be of the interest of death penalty opponents. Stronger framing with regard to requests and pleas for clemency is therefore of priority. Devising strategies that can match the political influence of the state sovereignty discourse at national and international levels is certainly not an easy task. Yet it is also not an unreasonable struggle.

It took a long journey of what Risse and Sikkink coined as spiraling efforts, at the various levels of civil society organizations, the national government, international community, for universal human rights to be part of the Indonesian legal system. It is, obviously, a never ending journey.

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