UN support sought to end death penalty in Indonesia

Indonesia’s human rights groups are bringing the country’s controversial capital punishment into the global spotlight after demands to abolish it back home had fallen on deaf ears.

Several civil society organisations are set to present the problems revolving around the practice of the death penalty in the country when Indonesia’s human rights records are reviewed during the upcoming United Nations Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva in May.

UPR is the UN’s quadrennial assembly, which aims to examine the performance of all members in protecting and upholding human rights in their respective countries. The UNHRC will gather governments and rights groups of all member countries in order to collect comprehensive information for review. The upcoming meeting is the third cycle of meetings, which will result in recommendations to each country.

Civil society groups, such as the Institute for Criminal Justice (ICJR), the Community Legal Aid Institute (LBH Masyarakat), Human Rights Working Group (HRWG), Imparsial, the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM), the Association for International Human Rights Reporting Standards (FIHRRST) and the IndonesianLegalResourcesCenter (ILRC) have prepared a joint report that was submitted recently to the UNHRC.

The report by the rights groups lambasted the government, as well as the House of Representatives for maintaining the death penalty in the Criminal Code (KUHP) that is currently under ongoing processes of amendments at the House.

The revision bill actually softens the government’s stance on the death penalty, stipulating that it serves as a special and alternative punishment. Articles 89 through 91 of the draft regulate the conditions and procedures for death row convicts to have punishments reduced to life imprisonment. Article 89, for example, states that the “death penalty should be the last option taken to protect the public.” Article 91 further elaborates that convicts may have their sentence reduced if they behave well during their imprisonment. The bill however has yet to define the guidelines of assessment and the determining authority.

The joint report highlights one core problem: on government’s persistence in implementing capital punishment when the country’s judicial system is still marred with rampant corruption.

The groups also cite lack of access to legal aid, interpreters and consular representatives on top of unfair and improper legal procedures faced by inmates. One of the groups, the legal think tank ICJR mentioned that it found at least 11 out of 47 death row convicts who were not accompanied during preliminary examinations. This includes, among oth- ers, Indonesian Merri Utami and Pakistani Zulfikar Ali, who are on death row for drug trafficking allegations.

Ricky Gunawan, the director of LBH Masyarakat, said the aforementioned concerns included foreign nationals Zulfikar and the Philippine’s Mary Jane Veloso.

Veloso was sentenced to death in 2010 for smuggling 2.6 kilograms of heroin in a suitcase to Indonesia. She was spared from execution in 2015 in the 11th hour after a woman came forward in her home country to admit that she had duped Veloso into smuggling drugs into Indonesia. Meanwhile, Zulfikar escaped last year’s execution. He was sentenced to death in 2005 for possessing 350 grams of heroin.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s administration had so far executed 18 death row drug convicts.

The inclusion of the death penalty in the KUHP is not yet final as lawmakers and the government are still discussing the matter. The deliberation has taken place for 572 days.

So far, the majority of political factions at the House have agreed to maintain capital punishment, excluding the Democratic Party.

“Making it an alternative punishment is a compromise to accommodate different opinions and values regarding the death penalty,” lawmaker Arsul Sani, a member of a working committee assigned to deliberate the bill, said.

The Human Rights and Humanity director at the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Dicky Komar. said the government had engaged all relevant parties including civil society in preparing the report set to be presented in the UPR’s session.

 

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