Countries have the right to decide on death penalty

Countries have the right to decide on death penalty


People in Indonesia march in support of the death penalty.
People in Indonesia march in support of the death penalty.
Photo: EPA

The Indonesian president,  Joko Widodo, recently insisted that using the death penalty is his nation’s right. It is in response to international criticism of the recent sentencing to death of two Australian drug traffickers. Many disagree. I agree.

The death penalty is always controversial. It is the number one enemy of human rights activists, many lawyers and the public and governments of many developed, democratic Western nations. Yet it is still used in 58 nations across the world, notably in the United States, Singapore and India.

Leaving the capital punishment debate aside for a moment, we must agree that the current international rule-of-law is that no power is above that of a country. This is why on the international stage, Australia cannot force Indonesia to do anything it doesn’t want to.

We must remember that Indonesia has full right to decide what to do with criminals it arrests within its borders. Australia has to respect this. Before you cry out passionately about the right to life, I would kindly remind you that I am not necessarily supporting the death penalty – maybe I do, maybe I don’t. I am simply stating the fact of the matter, which is that Indonesia’s president believes the death penalty is acceptable as punishment.

The death penalty is not even against international law. The UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights allows capital punishment for the most serious crimes, as a final judgment by a fair court. The method of punishment is relatively humane, too, compared with death sentences in the past.

It is reasonable to consider drug smuggling a serious crime. The two Australian prisoners on death row, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, were part of the “Bali Nine”. They were caught red-handed on the Indonesian island of Bali planning to smuggle heroin into Australia. Only the two ring-leaders were sentenced to death; the rest received prison sentences.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s plea to spare them is very appealing to me. And the 62 per cent of Australians who oppose the death penalty probably also want to see a lesser sentence. But they must respect the right of Indonesia to carry out capital punishment, in accordance with international law.

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Death penalty is country's right


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