Wednesday 22 July 2015

What are the alternatives to death penalty?

What are the alternatives to death penalty?

Earlier this year Indonesia shocked the world with a nasty manifestation of lifting the moratorium on death penalty. Bali Nine’s 8 members were mercilessly executed in April, and some more were executed in January 2015. “There is something nice about final justice but justice is far better” goes the legal adage.

The world was shocked to hear and witness mass murder in the name of justice. I am haunted by the melancholic, helpless eyes of one convicted death row prisoner: Myuran Sukumaran, an Australian citizen of Sri Lankan origin who had reformed by spawning his talent and held immense promise for constructive engagement.

His reformation was an inspiration to the world that watched so helplessly his mother’s pleas for mercy in the days and hours before he was executed. Advocate General Prasetyo actually said “this time the executions were well planned so it went off smoothly without glitches”.

What offends observers is that political will to exemplify deterrence has failed miserably. Drug hauls continue unabated in Indonesia and the world over even as many states in the United States are legalising usage of “medical marijuana”; So obviously – Mr. President Widodo, the deterrent was futile.

In my first appeal on a blog ( on 27th April 2015 I had argued about the futility of death penalty especially in the case of reformed convicts. In my follow up on Bali Nine executions ( I questioned again the reasons for executions:
  •         The world would like to know if drug peddling has decreased in Bali Indonesia, in the days since the execution of the Bali Nine (Eight)?
  • ·Have there been any arrests of drug peddlers anywhere in Indonesia? If yes the world would like to know of these developments with as much transparency and publicity that was given to the trophy hunting in the execution of the Bali Nine / Eight. 
  • Is there any quantifiable seizures of psychotropic substances in the days since the execution of the Bali Eight? Is this more than usual or less than usual? 
  • ·How does the seizures compare to those before the Wendepunkt ( the watershed event) of mass executions of 29.04.2015?
  • ·       Has there been a decrease of drug related violence or mortalities since the execution of the Bali Eight? President Widodo was quoted as saying that more than 1800 people die due to drug related violence in all of Indonesia’s sprawling archipelago put together every single day.
  • ·      Has Indonesia succeeded in decreasing the drug menace to some extent atleast? 
  • ·      Has Indonesia been able to identify those in the Enforcement Agencies in Bali’s notorious Kuta district or customs officials in Denpasar International Airport who may have connived with the two Australian “ring leaders”?
  • ·         Has there been any investigation into allegations that some judges in the case of the Bali Nine asked for bribe in exchange for a lighter sentence?

Military personnel in battle gear descended from military trucks to mobilise the handcuffed death row convicts Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan to Nusa Kambangan with much publicity bordering on schizophrenic trophy hunting. We have some answers to the questions raised in my follow up blog:
  1. ·         Indonesian authorities seized 352 kg of heroin in Jakarta reported Jakarta Post on 16th July 2015.
  2.         Earlier on 24.06.2015 South Seberang Prai police seized 42kg of drugs worth more than RM 4 million and detained three people, including a Vietnamese woman as site cites.
  3.         One of the biggest hauls of drugs (about 360 kg of methamphetamines from China on 15th July 2015) was reported by Coconuts Jakarta (

So Mr. President Widodo death penalty to reformed regretting convicts was the easy blood thirsty ploy for political brownie points; nothing else. 

In United States, China Iran, India, Afghanistan Pakistan Saudi Arabia, Singapore Malaysia, Myanmar, Vietnam, executions are frequent in varying degrees; statistics are hard to come by in states like China and Iran.

Media today affords us a space to engage constructively to arrive at plausible solutions instead of emotional breast beating. We need to make use of the space to find solutions, not just to the crimes like drug peddling, terrorism, gender based violence and heinous, violent crimes, but to find alternatives to death penalty. The need for abolition of death penalty arises because:
  1. None has the right to take away another human being’s life because all are born equal.
  2. 2None, not even the parents of the condemned prisoner can give him or her - their lives back to them. So the State has no business to execute someone. 
  3. 3.      On the other hand keeping them alive with life terms allows psychologists, sociologists, and human rights practitioners - opportunities for research, investigations and evolution of political thought in this context.
  4. Prisoners are certainly not fodder for researchers but they are not cannon fodder either.  Sparing their lives offers opportunities for the condemned prisoners to regret their crimes…. The worst possible psychological punishment to offenders. This should satiate those seeking vengeance in the name of justice…? 
  5. 5.      Death penalty has never solved any of the problems that brought these convicts to their hapless hopeless positions.

6.  Attempts must be made by the mainstream majority to solve factors that lead to such crimes: economic disparities, alienation, suppression corruption exploitation etc.

This is not to condone any crime. But death penalty neither serves as a deterrence against crimes nor does it prevent recurrence of crimes… much as it is so unfortunate.

We in the media need to engage in introspection to investigate the causes for such crimes so we can then try to solve them. Naïveté maybe, but better than mass murder of the Indonesian variety of justice!
©Malini Shankar 

Another doable alternative takes us back to history. The British colonised India’s Andaman Nicobar Islands to establish a penal colony. Is it not possible for the United Nations officially to ask Republic of France / United Kingdom / Portugal to lease out land on the safe side of the volcano in either French Southern Indian Ocean’s Antarctic Lands / Reunion Islands / British Indian Ocean Territory /  Cae Verde to establish under the aegies of the Geneva Convention a universal penal colony in their Island territories for the world’s death row convicts?

Of course nation states’ will argue that their justice will not be served. But a UN managed penal colony can certainly allow for legal systems of Nation States to execute sentences without manifesting as death penalty because it is a gross violation of human rights, it is a guarantee that only the United Nations can assure, guarantee and monitor.  All death row convicts from all countries ought to be moved to such a penal colony without future legal reprieve and sentenced to life sentences, rigorous imprisonment or something similar, stopping short of death penalty. Till appeals are exhausted democratic nations can imprison their convicts in their national jails before mobilising them to a UN managed penal colony maybe…?

Infact Indonesia’s geography would qualify it best for the archipelago nation to offer any uninhabited Island to the United Nations for the establishment of such a penal colony. But the country’s recent history casts doubts for the safety, security, and credibility of such a penal colony in its territory.

Or maybe Indonesia can as a gesture of remorse dedicate the prison facilities at Nusa Kambangan to such a penal colony in memory of those who were recently unjustly killed? Hopefully change will not be resisted in the future…? I know unfortunately that I am being naïve in thinking of the country’s remorse…

Malini Shankar, photojournalist, Bangalore, India

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