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UN Rights Agency Urges Indonesian President to Suspend Executions of Drug Offenders

Objection to the country's latest round of planned killings has inspired a growing clamor of voices from around the world in an appeal to spare the lives of the condemned.
Photo via Reuters

Indonesia's determination to put drug offenders to death has lately inspired a chorus of opposition from the international community, and the United Nations' human rights agency on Friday threw its weight behind the effort to stop the executions of at least 9 people convicted of drug smuggling or possession.

Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), called on Indonesian President Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, to grant clemency to the drug convicts facing imminent death by firing squad. The inmates come from Australia, France, Nigeria, Ghana, the Philippines, Brazil, and Indonesia.


"International human rights jurisprudence requires that capital punishment may only be imposed for the 'most serious crimes' of murder or intentional killing," Colville argued. "Drug-related offences do not fall under this threshold of 'most serious crimes.' "

Though Indonesia has declared illegal drug use a national emergency, Colville noted that there was no evidence that capital punishment deters drug crimes, and said that Indonesia would weaken its ability to negotiate clemency for citizens of its own who might be sentenced to death abroad in the future.

His statement echoed a request last month from the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions that exhorted the country to suspend death sentences for drug offenders.

Indonesian protesters in the port town of Cilacap shout slogans during a demonstration supporting executions of drug offenders. (Photo by Achmad Ibrahim/AP)

Indonesia killed six people in January in the first round of executions under Jokowi, all of them for narcotics violations. The deaths included citizens from Brazil and the Netherlands, and led the governments of those countries to recall their ambassadors in Indonesia after their petitions for clemency were ignored.

Objection to the latest round of planned killings has inspired a growing clamor of voices from around the world in an appeal to Jokowi to spare the lives of the condemned. Political leaders, human rights activists, and even rockers such as Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi (Jokowi is a huge heavy metal fan), are among those who have entreated the leader — so far to no avail.


Related: Black Sabbath Guitarist Pleads with Indonesia to Have Mercy on Australian Drug Smugglers

Among the drug offenders on death row, the case of two Australian men convicted in 2009 for their role in a heroin smuggling ring dubbed the "Bali Nine" has drawn particular attention. The sentences have inflamed diplomatic tensions with Australia, where capital punishment was abolished, and elicited threats of strong repercussions and boycotts.

"We, frankly, are revolted by the prospect of these executions," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said earlier this month. "I think there are millions of Australians who feel sick to their stomachs about what's likely to happen to these two men who committed a terrible crime, a terrible crime. But the position of Australia is that we abhor drug crime but we abhor the death penalty as well, which we think is beneath a country like Indonesia."

Widodo has remained steadfast in his decision not to grant clemency to the smugglers, and has frequently invoked the suffering of drug addicts in his country as a raison d'être to push ahead with the executions.

"I guarantee that there will be no clemency for convicts who committed narcotics-related crimes," Jokowi has said. "There are between 40 to 50 drug addicts, mostly young people, who lose their lives every day here."

"We want to send a strong message to drug smugglers that Indonesia is firm and serious in tackling the drug problem, and one of the consequences is execution if the court sentences them to death," he told Al Jazeera this week.


The Indonesian leader added that 4.5 million Indonesians are currently in drug rehab, at least 1.5 million of whom "cannot be cured."

He also said that while he remained committed to his decision to execute drug smugglers, he is open to abolishing the death penalty if Indonesians push for legislative change.

Related: Australian Police Responsible for Imminent Executions of Two Australians on Indonesian Death Row, Says Lawyer

An Indonesian protester burns an effigy during a demonstration in Cilacap. (Photo by Achmad Ibrahim/AP)

Jokowi's hardline stance on narcotics is supported by pro-death penalty protesters who have been rallying outside of the Australian embassy in Indonesia's capital of Jakarta against Abbott's attempt to influence the country's judicial system and secure clemency for the Australian men.

On Thursday, protesters also descended on the southern port town of Cilacap, located near the penal island Nusakambangan, where the smugglers were transferred on Wednesday. Known as "Execution Island," death row inmates on Nusakambangan are reportedly usually taken to the woods under cover of darkness, where they are shot dead.

Members of an anti-drug non-government group burned a fake packet of drugs and set fire to a crude effigy of a drug smuggler during the demonstration, demanding that the authorities kill the convicts as soon as possible.

Indonesian officials said Thursday that the executions had temporarily been put on hold while legal processes were being cleared, but would be carried out soon. Lawyers for the Australian, French, and Brazilian nationals have filed challenges to court decisions, but previous appeals have all been denied.

The Indonesian government will provide the families and countries of the foreign nationals 72 hours notice before the inmates face the firing squad, which could come as early as next week.

Follow Liz Fields on Twitter: @lianzifields