Death Penalty and Sovereignty

The sovereign decision of the Indonesian President to go ahead with the execution of the two Australian drug traffickers has created lot of bad blood between Indonesia and Australia. There has been big media coverage on this matter in Australia and South East Asia.

The world has yet to abolish the death penalty. Only some Western countries have completely eliminated the death penalty, and should they be forced to extradite a prisoner to his country of origin, they impose conditions similar to what exist in their own “advanced” countries – which means the prisoner cannot be executed for crimes which would demand that a death penalty be imposed on him.

One can argue for or against the death penalty as a principle or on philosophical grounds, but one cannot argue on the fact of sovereignty of a nation state.

Let us first look at death penalty as an imposition for crimes such as drug trafficking and first-degree murder. In the case of one particular person getting murdered, only one person dies; in the case of drug trafficking, many people are affected for the duration of their lives and some of them die. It is a heinous crime making a person addicted to a particular form of prohibited drug, because he or she can rarely ever get out of the grips of that drug. It leads to drug abuse and eventual death. It is destruction of a life which could have otherwise led a peaceful life and contributed to this planet. Let us not forget the huge damage that a drug causes to the drug addict’s parents, siblings, friends and relatives.

Unfortunately, the only punishment that a drug trafficker or a murderer will understand is the death penalty. There are countless instances of such folks getting released into society in advanced countries which leads to further crimes and damage to humanity.

Either the offenders are consigned for their lives to prison, or they have to be executed. Once their crimes are proven beyond doubt, we should let the country’s judiciary make a final decision. There is no point in questioning the integrity of judiciary, or trying to compare various countries’ judiciary – every country has its own system.

When the court decides, the only course of relief is a Presidential Mercy Application – if this too is rejected, then the law’s course will take effect. Questioning the President of a country on his judgement, questioning the judiciary, or inducing delays in decision-making, or trying to make a prisoner swap – all these tactics can amount to coercion, and should not be practiced in international diplomacy.

Australia should now let things take their due course over the next few weeks. If the judiciary system agrees that there is a possible scope for further investigation, then so be it. If all avenues are exhausted legally, and the mercy petition is rejected, then there is no scope. Australia has to accept that other countries have their own systems of justice and procedures which have been established over time.

Indonesia should make the final decision without fear or favour. More diplomatic pressures will be counter productive. Sovereignty of a nation should be respected.


Vijay Srinivasan

15th April 2015


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