Death penalty a FLAWED tool to tackle crime

    Last November, shortly after taking office, Indonesia President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo announced the resumption of executions – mainly of drug traffickers – to tackle soaring crime rates linked to a “national drugs emergency”.

    ASIA NEWS NETWORK April 7, 2015 1:00 am

    Last November, shortly after taking office, Indonesia President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo announced the resumption of executions – mainly of drug traffickers – to tackle soaring crime rates linked to a “national drugs emergency”.

    The many of us who had hoped his presidency would mean a new era for human rights were deeply disappointed.

    The news of six executions this year – and dozens more lives apparently at imminent risk – has confirmed our worst fears.

    A dark trend was starkly evident last year – governments using the death penalty in a misguided, and often cynical, attempt to tackle crime and terrorism.

    Amnesty International has released its annual review of the death penalty worldwide, and much of it makes for grim reading.

    In Pakistan, the government lifted a six-year moratorium on the execution of civilians in the wake of the horrific Taleban attack on a school in Peshawar last December.

    More than 50 people have been put to death since, and the government has threatened to send thousands more death row prisoners to the gallows.

    Iran and Iraq were among other countries to execute people for “terrorism” last year, while other states made moves in that direction by expanding the scope of capital crimes in their penal codes.

    In a year when abhorrent summary executions by armed groups were branded on the global consciousness like never before, it is appalling that governments are themselves resorting to more executions in a knee-jerk reaction to terrorism.

    Like Indonesia, other states made use of executions in similarly flawed attempts to address – or appear to address – crime rates.

    Jordan ended an eight-year moratorium in December, putting 11 murder convicts to death, with the government saying it was a move to end a surge in violent crime.

    Governments using the death penalty to tackle crime and security threats are either deceiving themselves and the public or, in some cases, cynically attempting to look effective by executing people.

    But there is no evidence that the threat of execution is more of a deterrent to crime than a prison sentence.

    This fact has been confirmed in multiple studies in many regions around the world, including by the UN.

    While the death penalty is always a human rights violation, there are many issues in Indonesia – in particular around fair trial concerns – that make its use especially troubling.

    Investigations by human rights groups have found that individuals sentenced to death have been tortured and forced to sign police investigation reports.

    Many are not provided with lawyers, in particular after arrest and during interrogation.

    Widespread reports of corruption in the police and judiciary and Indonesia’s decades-old penal code – which does not provide adequate protection from torture, for example – compound these issues.

    One recently uncovered case involved Yusman Telaumbanua, from Nias island, who was only 16 when he was arrested and sentenced to death for murder, despite both international and national law banning the imposition of the death penalty against juveniles.

    A local human rights group exposed how Yusman had been tortured into a “confession” by police, who also allegedly fabricated his age.

    With so many questions around the fairness of trials in Indonesia, how can the government be sure that innocent people will not be put to death?

    It is high time that world leaders, including Jokowi, stop using the death penalty as a response when times get tough.

    The death penalty is not the solution to crime and terrorism. Its use does not make us safer.

    Thankfully, most of the world appears to have come around to this fact.

    In 1945, when the UN was founded, only eight countries had abolished the death penalty; today 140 states are abolitionist in law or practice.

    Last year, Amnesty International recorded executions in 22 countries around the world – almost half the number or 41 just 20 years ago.

    Despite the troubling developments we recorded in 2014, there was still much good news.

    The number of executions dropped significantly compared to 2013, from 778 to 607.

    However, this number does not include China, where more people are put to death than the rest of the world put together, but with death penalty statistics treated as a state secret, the true figure is impossible to determine.

    Those governments that still execute need to realise that they are on the wrong side of history, and join the vast majority of countries who have dropped the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.

    Campaigning for an end to the death penalty remains an uphill task, but Amnesty International and many others are determined to make the world free of this punishment.

    By this time next year, we hope we will have even more good news to report, and that no more people will have been put before the firing squad in Indonesia.

    JOSEF BENEDICT is Amnesty International’s Indonesia campaigner.