Indonesian rights activists suggest President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo should take cues from more sources than only the country's all-powerful National Narcotics Agency (BNN) to formulate a more humane drug policy. (Antara Photo/Widodo S. Jusuf)

More Humane Drug Policy Should Put Public Health First, Punitive Actions Second: NGO


JULY 27, 2017

Jakarta.  President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's instruction last week to law enforcers to shoot drug traffickers to combat what he called a narcotics emergency facing the nation, has drawn sharp criticism from rights activists.

Some have suggested that the president should take his cues from more sources than only the country's all-powerful National Narcotics Agency (BNN) to formulate a more humane drug policy.

Usman Hamid, Indonesia country director for the United Kingdom-based rights group Amnesty International, likened Jokowi's "shoot-on-sight" order to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's alleged tactic in his war on drugs. "Duterte's war on drugs is the wrong kind of approach for a democratic country. Indonesia must look for a better approach or best practices from other countries," Usman told the Jakarta Globe on July 23.

National Police Chief Gen. Tito Karnavian promised last year that Indonesia would not adopt Duterte's shoot-on-sight policy in dealing with drug offenders.

The policy is believed to have resulted in the extrajudicial killings of nearly 2,000 alleged drug dealers in the Philippines since Duterte took office on June 30 last year.

The Indonesian Drug Users Network (PKNI), a nongovernmental organization that fights the stigma and discrimination faced by victims of drug policies, said the government relies almost entirely on the views of whoever happens to be the BNN chief to formulate its drug policy, with mixed results.

"When the BNN was led by Comr. Gen. Anang Iskandar [from 2012 to 2015], he urged a massive national rehabilitation program for drug users," PKNI national coordinator Edo Nasution told the Jakarta Globe by email on Tuesday (25/07).

He said the rehabilitation-centered solution was implemented to reduce the health and social consequences of drug abuse. At least 100,000 users of illicit drugs were enrolled in the government's rehabilitation program between 2012 and 2016.

In late 2015, Chief Comr. Gen. Budi Waseso, a former chief of the National Police's detective division, took over as BNN chief. Since then Jokowi has preferred a drug policy that deals out repressive and punitive actions, Edo said.

Jokowi's shoot-on-sight order was the latest salvo in his "war on drugs," which includes the much-criticized executions of drug convicts – including foreign nationals.

Jokowi's order came after police seized a ton of crystal methamphetamine – the largest ever in the country's history – worth Rp 1.5 trillion ($112 million) in Serang, Banten, on July 13. The narcotic, known in Indonesia as sabu, was smuggled from China.

Police arrested four Taiwanese men who allegedly intended to distribute the drug in the greater Jakarta area. One of the suspects was shot dead while resisting arrest.

More Harm Than Good

Claudia Stoicescu, a doctoral researcher at the University of Oxford's Center for Evidence-Based Intervention, said crackdowns and executions of convicts for drug-related offenses have not provided Indonesians with any real benefits.

"In fact, more harm has been caused by Indonesia's severe drug policies than the drugs themselves," Claudia said in an article published by Al Jazeera on Wednesday.

She pointed out the number of drug-related offenses in Indonesia actually increased in the months after the executions in January and April 2015 of 18 people, including Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, Dutch citizen Ang Kim Soei, Brazilian Marco Archer Cardoso Mareira and Indonesian Andriani, a.k.a. Melisa Aprilia, for drug trafficking, despite international protest.

Stoicescu said advocates and researchers have documented an increase in the use of "coercive measures, prison overcrowding, including raids by forced drug testing, law enforcement and compulsory detention."

"There was widespread extortion and breaches of confidentiality. Health facilities were compelled to disclose personal details and medical records of suspected drug users to the authorities, pushing drug users away from health services," she said.

"It also increased the price of heroin, driving users to unwittingly take tainted drugs, which increase the risk of overdose."

Public Health First

Edo of PKNI emphasized that a country's drug policy should be evidence-based and measurable, while adopting a public-health approach instead of a repressive and punitive approach.

It was civil society and the health sector that came up with the idea to set up an agency to solve Indonesia's drug problems in 1999, in response to the HIV epidemic.

Then-President B.J. Habibie responded by creating a national coordinating narcotics body.

But when Megawati Sukarnoputri became president in 2002, she transformed the body into an armed agency, which became what is now the BNN.

Activists withdrew their participation in the BNN and organized their own response. Since then, they have been rolling out harm-reduction programs aimed at reducing the health consequences of drug abuse.

"We should respect everyone's health and human rights, including drug users," Edo said.