Hikmahanto: Show Strength by Ignoring Death Penalty Outcry

APRIL 27, 2015

[Corrected at 5:45 p.m. on Monday, April 27, 2015, to reflect that Hikmahanto Juwana is a professor of international law, not international relations]

Jakarta. For the sake of proving that nobody can interfere with Indonesian sovereignty, the government should ignore the growing global outcry and push ahead with the execution of drug convicts on death row, an outspoken international law professor from the nation's top university said on Monday.

Hikmahanto Juwana said Indonesia is currently in the spotlight, after hosting the 60th commemoration of the Asian-African Conference, and has to show that it is not only willing to talk the talk, but also to walk the walk.

"The principle of non-intervention in Asian and African countries as outlined in the Dasa Sila [results of the first Bandung Conference in 1955] is still relevant today, including when Indonesia carries out the death penalty," Hikmahanto said in a press release, adding that if the government bows out now, the nation will become a global laughing stock.

Indonesia is set to execute nine people, possibly as soon as Tuesday, for drug offenses. Eight out of nine are foreign nationals. A tenth convict, Frenchman Serge Atlaoui, has been granted a temporary reprieve due to an outstanding legal matter.

Just for show

Besides opposition to the death penalty in principle, the international criticism generally centers on alleged irregularities in the Indonesian justice system.

France has been among the harshest critics of the pending killings, with its foreign minister speaking of "serious dysfunction" in the legal system.

The Australian government, too, has consistently raised its objection against the execution of two of its nationals, 'Bali Nine' ringleaders Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

Indonesian relations with Brazil are at a low, with the president of the Latin-American powerhouse refusing to accept the credentials of a new Indonesian ambassador. Brazilian national Marco Archer was executed for drug offenses in January and another Brazilian, Rodrigo Gularte — diagnosed with a mental illness — is set to face the firing squad this week.

But according to Hikmahanto, a professor at the University of Indonesia (UI), the governments of France and Australia are merely protesting because their voters expect them to, and that everything will be fine once the executions are over.

"No foreign government dares to put good and mutually profitable relations at stake to defend a national who committed a crime," Hikmahanto said.

He added that domestic political considerations also play a role in the stance of countries like Australia and France, and that the Australians were not nearly as outspoken against China as they have been against Indonesia.

"Late last May, China executed an Australian citizen, but Australia didn't exert pressure [on China] like it is on Indonesia," the professor said.

Ban Ki-moon gets an earful

Hikmahanto also criticized Ban Ki-moon, the secretary general of the United Nations, for calling on President Joko Widodo to cancel the pending executions.

According to Hikmahanto, the UN chief had no business giving orders like a head of state.

Ban's spokesman said in a statement on Saturday that "if the death penalty is to be used at all, it should only be imposed for the most serious crimes, namely those involving intentional killing, and only with appropriate safeguards.”

“Drug-related offenses generally are not considered to fall under the category of ‘most serious crimes’,” the spokesman added, as reported by Reuters.

But according to Hikmahanto the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights clearly allows states to decide what qualifies as a serious crime, and it doesn't exclude drug-related offenses.

"The Indonesian also have to right to ask why there was not statement from the UN secretary-general recently when two Indonesian domestic workers were executed in Saudi Arabia," Hikmahanto said.

Also, the international law expert said it was strange that Ban took issue with the death penalty in Indonesia while his own country, South Korea, continues to use it.

"When we look at Ban Ki-moon's statement, don't be surprised if President Jokowi says the UN doesn't reflect the interests of Asian and African nations," Hikmahanto said. "The interests and voices represented are those of the European nations, Australia and America. It's understandable if Jokowi questions the universality of the UN."

Joko called for reform in a speech at the Asian-African Conference in Jakarta last week, saying that the UN and the world's leading financial institutions were responsible for Western-leaning imbalance of global economic and political power.