Last week, we learned that Lindsay Sandiford, a British citizen, was sentenced to death for drug trafficking charges by a Bali court. The prosecution asked for a 15-year sentence, but the judges decided instead to impose the maximum penalty: death.
In recent years, Indonesia had appeared to be shifting away from the death penalty, in line with the global trend toward abolition. No one has been executed here since 2008, and death sentences have dropped to just a handful annually.
This shift is visible in foreign diplomacy as well. For the first time last year, Indonesia changed its vote for a UN Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty from opposition to abstention. Indonesia’s delegate stated on the record that the public debate on capital punishment in Indonesia was “ongoing, including concerning a possible moratorium”.
The Denpasar District Court’s action this week stands in stark contrast to Indonesia’s stated and demonstrated policy to move away from the death penalty. This new death sentence should serve as the impetus for the complete abolition of the death penalty in Indonesia. More than two-thirds of the countries in the world have abolished the death penalty. The year 2013 should be the time for Indonesia to follow suit.
We should abolish the death penalty, first of all, because it is the right thing to do and would show the world that Indonesia is committed to the protection of human rights.
We should also abolish the death penalty so that we are no longer compared to other death penalty retainers, like the US, whose criminal justice systems are notoriously problematic and rife with errors.
The controversies surrounding death penalty cases in America are well-documented. In the US, two out of three death penalty cases are overturned on appeal for mistakes committed by lawyers, judges and investigating officials at the original trial.
Many Americans believe that innocent people have been executed in the US. The case of Carlos DeLuna, a man executed in Texas in 1989, has received a great deal of attention in the US because of a recent investigation that strongly indicated his innocence. A total of 142 prisoners have been exonerated from death row in the US since 1973.
Indonesia is not immune from these same concerns about executing the innocent. The case of Sengkon and Karta, who served six years in prison before they were declared innocent in 1980, is a bitter reminder that the law, as a man-made institution, is fallible.
Nations across the world are beginning to recognize that if they are to make a commitment to human rights, they must also make a commitment to the right to life by abolishing the death penalty.
Countries like the US may be willing to execute people who are innocent or who did not receive a fair trial. But Indonesia can and should do better. Indonesia should lead the way for Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states and emerging global powers by abolishing the death penalty once and for all.
Haris Azhar is coordinator of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) in Jakarta. Andrea Nieves is an American capital defense attorney and Henry Luce scholar at Kontras.