Standing Up for Justice
Retta Oktaviani Suparli talks to Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna H. Laoly about the state of human rights in the country
ndonesia, known for its extremely strict drug laws, has been at the centre of global attention since President Joko Widodo rejected a number of appeals for clemency by drug convicts who have been sentenced to death. With international death-penalty trends leaning toward abolition, our country has been facing criticism for its adamantine stance with regard to retaining capital punishment. Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna H. Laoly shares his insights into this issue, saying he’s personally against it. “But I respect the sentences that have been meted out by the court to the drug convicts,” the minister added. January 18 saw Indonesia’s first death-penalty execution this year: Brazilian drug trafficker Marco Archer Cardoso Moreira was put in front of a firing squad just minutes after the clock hit midnight. But unfortunately, he wouldn’t be the only one, as dozens of inmates are slated to face the firing squad in the next round of executions.
With many death-row drug convicts facing imminent executions, it’s important to highlight the toll of Indonesia’s drug war on human life. There are around 40 to 50 people who die from drug overdoses every day, and as a consequence of this situation, the government has declared a state of emergency over narcotics. “Again, I’d like to emphasise that we have zero tolerance on drug syndicates.” Indeed, Indonesia’s war on drugs is a never-ending battle against smugglers, and those who are on the list of death row are notorious drug lords, Laoly explained. “They pose a fatal threat to our next generation. Capital punishment is intended as shock therapy to other smugglers.”
When asked how the government responded to the harsh criticism from global communities with regards to its death-penalty policy, he answered, “We respect their legal system, and we expect that they respect ours, too.” Capital punishment is part of the bigger human rights issues that Indonesia must promptly address to advance as a nation in the international political arena. Another of the issues is solving past human rights cases. And one way to speed up the solution is by passing the draft Truth and Reconciliation bill, which has been included on the Prolegnas list, the minister explained.
On a more personal note, Laoly said openmindedness is essential to building a successful, professional legal career. He takes criticism positively and believes that the quality is key to self-development. Last year, human rights activists slammed the minister for his leniency—releasing Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto on parole. Pollycarpus is a former Garuda Indonesia pilot who was sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment for poisoning human rights activist Munir in a 2004 Garuda Indonesia flight to Amsterdam. He had served six years of his jail time before enjoying the parole. “He fulfilled all the requirements for receiving parole, and note that every inmate has a right to be considered for parole.”
Laoly agrees that there is still a lot of work to be done in the human rights department. “Freedom of religion is one major issue we’re striving to ensure. Members of the Indonesian Christian Church GKI Yasmin in Bogor, for instance, have remained without a place to worship after the then Bogor mayor Diani Budiarto issued a decree to freeze the church’s building permit in 2008, following protests from Muslim hardliners opposing its presence in their neighbourhood. However, I am glad that the current mayor has opened a new dialogue with the two conflicting groups. In this case, though, we need to return to Pancasila as our founding principles.”
“As a country with the largest Muslim population in the world, Indonesia proves that democracy and Islam can coexist, and the government will never stop fighting to solve its human rights problems,” he concluded.