The world has forgotten the right to live

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Joko Widodo, Indonesia’s newest prime minister, was hailed into office as someone who would make real and positive change. The short time he has served in government has seen him execute 14 people. Now, he is being branded a murderer.

Indonesia has long had a problem with drug trafficking, and the penalties are severe to promote a form of national shock therapy which will hopefully lead to a decrease in drug use amongst the people. For this reason, Indonesia executed two Australian men who were convicted leaders of a heroin smuggling operation. Along with seven other men (making up the “Bali Nine”), they faced a firing squad. This horrific violation of human rights sent shockwaves through the global community.

Despite protests and diplomatic efforts from Australia and the UK, among others, Widodo refused to stay the executions. However, he granted Mary Jane Veloso a last minute reprieve. This may seem like a small ray of hope coming from a dismal situation, but it really isn’t. Veloso was a victim of human trafficking, forced into drug smuggling whilst in the Philippines, and should never have been handed this sentence in the first place. She was punished for being exploited. Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, the former drug leaders, were not so lucky. Alongside them, the Indonesian government executed a mentally ill man who was so confused that he did not know he was going to his death. This is a clear and unforgivable violation of the Human Rights Act. Everyone has the right to life, but where the death penalty is handed out, the accused must be in a fit state of mind to receive the punishment.

Before this callous sentence was completed, the Bali Nine were imprisoned for 10 years. In that time, Chan and Sukumaran drastically reformed themselves. They renounced the previous life of crime they had undertaken and dedicated themselves to helping inmates. Chan’s mother wrote a heart breaking open letter to the Indonesian prime minister, detailing her son’s efforts to rehabilitate drug addicted prisoners and educate them in a new way of life. But this rehabilitation didn’t even seem to register with the government officials, and so the execution went ahead.

This debacle calls into question not just Indonesia, but all of the countries who still practice the death penalty. The US, India, parts of Africa, and China still have executions as a recognized method of punishment. China executes more people every year than any other country, with its true figures estimated to be a lot higher than those officially released. And this denial of life is not just reserved for crimes as severe as murder, but can be handed out for anything from armed robbery to aggravated kidnap. Controversial as this opinion may be, I don’t believe that anyone deserves to die, regardless of their crime. We have a universal declaration of human rights which states that everybody has the right to life. In the words of Amnesty International: “The death penalty is the ultimate cruel and degrading punishment.”

Particularly in cases such as the Bali Nine, we must call into question the effectiveness of such a punishment. Both Chan and Sukumaran reformed themselves in huge ways, dedicating themselves to helping other people. Their lives were then wasted by the bullets of the firing squad which killed them. Surely, they would have been more use to society by spreading their message of reformation and progress?

It is no secret that the death penalty doesn’t act as a deterrent. It seems more to act as an exercise of power, for those lucky enough to wield it. Countries with the death penalty still face significantly high rates of serious crime. All this cruel punishment does is perpetuate an environment of anger, fear and contention. After the devastatingly sad outcome in Indonesia, I think it’s time that the global community reconsiders the effectiveness, and apparent “justice”, of the death penalty. Until we reach a day where this basic human right to life is no longer violated, we will continue to see tragedies such as those faced by the Bali Nine and their families.