(Jakarta) – President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo of Indonesia should urgently commute the death sentences of at least 14 people who face imminent execution for drug trafficking, Human Rights Watch said today. The Indonesian government has not announced a date for the executions, but has warned that “the time is approaching.” Jakarta-based diplomats have reported that the attorney general’s office informed them that the executions will take place on July 29, 2016.
“President Jokowi should acknowledge the death penalty’s barbarity and avoid a potential diplomatic firestorm by sparing the lives of the 14 or more people facing imminent execution,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director. “Jokowi should also ban the death penalty for drug crimes, which international law prohibits, rather than giving the go-ahead for more multiple executions.”
Authorities have already transferred several death row prisoners, including Indonesian national Merry Utami and Pakistani national Zulfiqar Ali, to Nusa Kambangan island, where the executions are slated to occur. Pakistan’s government is seeking to dissuade Indonesia from executing Ali, who has been on death row since 2005 for drug smuggling, alleging that Ali’s “trial was not fair.”
Foreign embassy personnel and media reports have confirmed that the death row prisoners also include four Nigerians, one Zimbabwean, and several Indonesian nationals. The Nigerians are Eugene Ape, Humphrey Jefferson Ejike Eleweke, Michael Titus Igweh, and Obinna Nwajagu, who were all arrested for drug trafficking in 2002 or 2003.
The government has not released an official list of prisoners facing the death penalty in the coming days. Indonesia’s security chief, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, told reporters on May 13 that he wants these executions to occur without a “soap opera,” a reference to Brazil’s and Australia’s highly publicized but unsuccessful efforts to prevent the execution of their citizens in Indonesia’s most recent mass executions in April 2015.
Indonesia ended a four-year unofficial moratorium on the death penalty in March 2013. President Widodo has sought to justify the use of the death penalty on the basis that drug traffickers on death row had “destroyed the future of the nation.” In December 2014 he told students that the death penalty for convicted drug traffickers was an “important shock therapy” for anyone who violates Indonesia’s drug laws.
The alleged deterrent effect of the death penalty has been repeatedly debunked. Most recently, on March 4, 2015, the United Nations assistant secretary-general for human rights, Ivan Šimonović, stated that there was “no evidence that the death penalty deters any crime.” Even with respect to murder, an Oxford University analysis concluded that capital punishment does not deter “murder to a marginally greater extent than does the threat and application of the supposedly lesser punishment of life imprisonment.”
According to the most recent statistics issued by the minister of law and human rights, Yasonna Laoly, 133 people were on death row in Indonesia as of January 2015. They included 57 convicted of drug trafficking, two for terrorist offenses, and the remaining 74 for murder or robbery.
Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances because of its inherent cruelty. Indonesia’s use of the death penalty is contrary to international human rights law, statements of UN human rights experts, and various UN bodies. Human rights law upholds every human being’s “inherent right to life” and limits the death penalty to “the most serious crimes,” typically crimes resulting in death or serious bodily harm. Indonesia should join the many countries already committed to the UN General Assembly’s December 18, 2007 resolution calling for a moratorium on executions, a move by UN member countries toward abolition of the death penalty.
In a March 2010 report, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime called for an end to the death penalty and specifically urged member countries to prohibit use of the death penalty for drug-related offenses, while urging countries to take an overall “human rights-based approach to drug and crime control.” In its 2014 annual report, the International Narcotics Control Board, the agency charged with monitoring compliance with UN drug control conventions, encouraged countries to abolish the death penalty for drug offenses. The UN Human Rights Committee and the special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions have concluded that the death penalty for drug offenses fails to meet the condition of “most serious crime.” In September 2015 the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reaffirmed that “persons convicted of drug-related offences … should not be subject to the death penalty.”
“President Jokowi should recognize the well-documented failure of the death penalty as a crime deterrent and allow Indonesia to join the growing number of countries that have abolished capital punishment,” Kine said. “Jokowi would demonstrate leadership and respect for human rights by granting clemency to convicted drug traffickers on death row and restoring Indonesia’s unofficial moratorium on the death penalty.”