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The Indonesian Executions

Well it has finally happened – the two Australian drug traffickers have been executed by an Indonesian firing squad. I abhor capital punishment and this particular event seemed, because of some of the Indonesian incompetence, more barbaric than it need to have been.

Despite my feelings for Chan, Sukumaran and their families and loved ones, I am glad it is finally over. If reports are to be believed both men had made significant progress in their rehabilitation. I suppose ten years in jail on death row significantly concentrates the mind! But I must confess I have found the media coverage of their plight somewhat over the top!

Whether you believe in capital punishment or not, there is no escaping from the fact that when you are in foreign countries where it is the law, you will be irrevocably subject to its barbaric application.

Certainly it could be argued that in our eyes their sentence was disproportionate to the crime. Some of the Bali bombers were released from jail after only four year’s incarceration. Some who have committed murder in Indonesia have had sentences even smaller than this. But we must respect Indonesia’s sovereign right to make their own laws and must accept that when we are in Indonesia, as much as we might wish otherwise, they indeed apply to us as well. We take great umbrage that this could be the fate of Australian citizens and we seem to turn a blind eye to the fact that seven other human beings perished at the same time.

There has been criticism of Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop about their handling of this issue. The criticism, some of it coming from self-serving minor celebrities, is wrong. Despite my reservations about the Abbott government, I would have to conclude that they did everything reasonably possible to save the lives of these two men. I believe we should applaud their efforts, and particularly the persistent and eloquent appeals from the Prime Minister and his Foreign Minister.

Now of course this is a personal tragedy for the executed men and those close to them, but is hardly a tragedy on a grand scale.

Remember that in the last decade or so there have been quite a number of Australians executed in South-East Asian countries and China, often for crimes less significant than drug trafficking. And even more appallingly, parts of the world that have to suffer under Sharia law see people stoned, beheaded and mutilated for the most trivial of reasons.

And if we believe that capital punishment is an aberrance that only occurs in the Third World or in developing countries, don’t forget that it is still practised in some states in the USA!

So let’s get some perspective about this particular incident. Despite what the media might want us to believe, this is a small scale tragedy indeed. It seems to have been built upon a populist narrative that began with the appalling Schapelle Corby affair. It is a narrative which suggests Australian victimisation and a denial of individual responsibility. Our consequent confected affront has generated more column inches than such things warrant. The recalling of our Indonesian ambassador as a consequence of the executions seems more to be sop to public opinion than a punitive act on Indonesia.

In the same week that this execution dominated headlines we have a truly international disaster in Nepal, where thousands of innocent people (not drug traffickers in the main one would believe) died as a result of a devastating earthquake. If you are parochial enough to believe that only Australian lives matter, then it is more than likely that the Australians killed in this disaster will number more than two.

So what should we learn from this little tragedy?

Firstly we should begin to understand that whatever our behaviours, they have consequences. Let us not shy away from the fact that the two men executed were in fact drug traffickers. They may have other admirable qualities, but they transgressed the laws of Indonesia in the pursuit of personal gain and to the detriment of those who would have partaken in the drugs they trafficked in.

And whatever we believe, we can’t resile from the fact that as a sovereign nation, Indonesia has the inalienable right to legislate as they see fit. We might not agree with those laws but we would also be affronted if Indonesia sought to modify our laws if they thought somehow our laws contravened their beliefs.

We should be thankful that Indonesia, as a largely Muslim nation, has at least separated the business of government from the dictates of its religion. Certainly they don’t share the same values that we do and there will always be tensions as a result. But we should be pleased that in most regards Indonesia is mostly a working democracy in sharp contrast to other Muslim states. We need to encourage Indonesia’s democracy, not be unduly critical when an elected government enacts laws contrary to our own values. It is for the Indonesian people to pass such judgment – not us.

If we were to highlight our concerns about the effectiveness of democratic institutions I would be more likely to point to what has recently been happening in Baltimore. Here, in what many would point to as the quintessential example of modern democracy, we are seeing the rule of law usurped by racial violence. But that is another story!

But in summary I would say, rest in peace Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumar. I mourn your passing and I wish that it might have been otherwise. You have died needlessly as a result of having been subject to a barbaric system of law. Nevertheless you both were drug traffickers and were destined as a result to cause heartache to many.

To the Australian public I would urge that you put these executions in perspective. Terrible as they were, there are far greater travesties being imposed on humanity. In a hundred years when we look back upon our history very few will remember this event as an important example of injustice imposed on our liberal society.

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  1. 5 Comment(s)

  2.   By Peter Dowling on May 2, 2015 | Reply

    Good balanced comments Ted. We should stop talking about other countries with vastly different cultures as friends. It raises false expectations. Indonesia is not a friend. It is a neighbour. We dont choose our neighbours but it is incumbent upon us both to keep a civil, arms-length working relationship in place despite the various ups and downs.

  3.   By lynda dowling on May 2, 2015 | Reply

    Thanks Ted for your thoughts – I agree with you despite the fact that Indonesia has laws that defy our logic, they are a country we do business with and will continue to do so. I also do not like what they are doing to the people in West Papua and East Timor, and I do wish we could help these countries rid themselves of the cruel Indonesian invasion. They ruthlessly shot and killed Australian journalists in East Timor some while ago – now all seems forgotten and forgiven. I would love it if the media became concerned about the genocide of West Papuans under Indonesian military occupation, yet the media seems content on focusing on two Australian drug traffickers.

  4.   By Aileen Tan on May 3, 2015 | Reply

    Thank you for your timely article, Ted and the different perspectives you offered.

  5.   By Matt Smith on May 3, 2015 | Reply

    Respecting another country’s sovereign right to exercise it’s powers is a very grey area, so I thought I would raise this point. This point alone cannot provide much weigh to the reason of a person’s view on the matter because inconsistencies (exceptions) are likely to arise. Should we not interfere with North Korea’s sovereign right? Isis? What about human rights, animal rights, the environment etc. If sovereign right is an absolute, then every invasion by western (or any other) country was wrong.

    If the murders were the catalyst of the complete breakdown of relations and the precursor to a war, then in a hundred years, they would be remembered.

    My view for the record however, I don’t support the murder of these two, but I also don’t support the latest fashion to have a vigil for every turn of events. I saw a news clip where young children (who have very no idea about the matter) where lighting candles for them! Seriously, that’s way out of whack.

  6.   By Esther Cook on May 8, 2015 | Reply

    Gone ..an eye for an eye.

    Meanwhile the print space could have focused on #sosblakaustralia in the backyard ..worse by anyones standard…

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