It is natural for countries that do not deploy the deterrent of a death sentence even for grave crimes to plead for the lives of their citizens facing execution abroad. However, different countries have different laws, which have to be respected internationally if the rule of law is to prevail within nations.
Thus, Indonesia's decision to stick to the death penalty for convicted foreign drug offenders is fully within its sovereign rights. Also, given that Indonesian citizens are subject to the law, it is inconceivable that an exception could be made for others merely because they are foreigners.
The administration of President Joko Widodo has done nothing more than uphold the integrity of the judicial process by refusing to accede to requests for clemency by Australia for two citizens who face the firing squad for drug smuggling. Jakarta's rejection of Canberra's extraordinary offer, to swop three Indonesian criminals in return for the two Australians, is a part of this insistence on sovereignty. Brazil and France, too, have piled pressure on Jakarta over the fate of their own citizens. The executions are on hold to clear legal processes, but Indonesia has registered its determination to use the full force of the law against drug trafficking, which, left unchecked, destroys the lives of addicts and their families.
A larger issue is looming in the background, even as the spat with Australia unfolds. Indonesia must now reciprocate in the same vein that it expects other countries to abide by the sovereignty underpinning its judicial process. In this area, commentators cited in a Jakarta Post article noted Indonesia's vigorous defence of 229 Indonesian citizens facing execution overseas, 57 per cent of whom were drug convicts. Here, again, is revealed the reflexive action of a state doing all that it can diplomatically on behalf of its citizens. However, it would be difficult for Jakarta to sustain the momentum of its defence against foreign criticism were it to argue for exceptions when its own citizens are involved.
Although from a different time, when Indonesia was under a different regime, a case that is remembered well is the MacDonald House bombing here in 1965. The hanging of two duly-convicted Indonesians who were responsible for the deaths caused led to violence that included the sacking of the Singapore Embassy. The same principle applied: Those who wilfully commit grave crimes in a foreign country must face the laws of the land.
Ultimately, what would serve the interests of all states would be support for the right to carry out their legal processes without exception or favour. No government can afford to apply its laws selectively in the the face of foreign pressure.
This article was first published on March 9, 2015.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.