State sanctioned murder

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Buzzfeed political reporter Alex Lee with a plea for mercy in the last hours before the execution (Image via @alex_c_lee / buzzfeed.com.au)

Joko Widodo's decision to senselessly execute foreigners is about strengthening his political base at the expense of international relations — so he should be taught a lesson, says retired diplomat Bruce Haigh.

Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran are dead — shot for a crime that no doubt deserved a gaol term but not the death penalty.

The contradiction between Indonesia’s position relating to the death penalty imposed on its own citizens sentenced to death off shore and its domestic attitude to imposing the death penalty have been widely canvassed and discussed. There is no logic in the Indonesian position. The only conclusion that can be drawn in view of their vigorous lobbying for reprieve of the death sentence in countries such as Saudi Arabia is that Chan and Sukumaran are hostages to the political fortunes of Indonesian President Joko Widodo

Indonesian law has little to do with it. The former President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, was prepared to accept this aspect of Indonesian law in the breach; Joko Widodo could have granted a pardon. 

There are some who say Australia should accept that the imposition of the death penalty on the two Australian’s is a matter of Indonesian law within the framework of Indonesian sovereignty. That is a bit rich when Australia opposes the death penalty. It avoids addressing the issue of a fundamental injustice all in the name of preserving Australian/Indonesian relations. Avoiding issues will not strengthen the relationship amply demonstrated by the East Timor fiasco.

The Australian Government and its advisers are hoping to minimise the impact of this prolonged process, in itself cruel and inhumane, on the bilateral relationship. Good luck to them. There will be considerable public anger from both the left and the right — the former driven by concern for human rights and natural justice, the latter by racism, jingoism and twisted nationalism.

Policy may well be driven by popular reaction.

These deaths could become a touchstone every time there is a problem in the relationship. This state sanctioned murder could fester away. It could become the regional version of the execution of Breaker Morant

It seems likely that Widodo, fixed as he is on strengthening his weak political base, has been prepared to ignore international reaction or, more likely, hasn’t a handle on international relations. That being the case, he should be given a lesson. Any reaction by the international community, including Australia, will be salutary but not terminal in terms of the relationship. On past experience recovery time will be measured in months not years. In any case even when there have been prolonged lows in the past, business has gone on, if nothing else Indonesians are pragmatic.

The official reaction of recalling the Australian Ambassador demonstrates that we do not like having our representations ignored, that we are concerned that due process under Indonesian law did not occur and that serious allegations of corruption were not investigated before the death penalty was carried out. The recall indicates that Australia is not a walk over, which of course it is.

We do not occupy the moral high ground; we have broken Indonesian law and transgressed their sovereignty with respect to turning back the boats of asylum seekers. We have failed to engage over processing the increasing number of asylum seekers in Indonesian. The Indonesian elite have little respect for our current crop of federal politicians. Had Abbott a skerrick of nous and style he might have been able to negotiate with Joko Widido over Chan and Sukumaran, but he has long been written off internationally, regionally and domestically.

The deaths of course were preventable. The AFP should never have shopped them and having done so they should have done everything in their power to overturn this outcome.

But they didn’t because their writ is to deal with the corrupt Indonesian police, naval and army personnel to prevent boats coming to Australia. They are embedded; they are almost part of the system. We need to know why the AFP shopped the nine. The involvement of the AFP in these executions needs investigation. 

Chan and Sukumaran are victims of an incomplete and flawed relationship that Australia maintains with Indonesia. If Indonesia had been colonised by the British and spoke English and played cricket the relationship would be substantially different. It wasn’t and it requires work, commitment and understanding. It requires Bahasa to be taught in our schools, it requires insular and inward looking Australian politicians to travel within the archipelago as frequently as they do to Europe. With the exception of Julie Bishop and Tanya Plibersek, the current political class does not do regional diplomacy very well.

If Australia wishes a permanent reminder of the injustice of what has taken place and also a beacon to the future it should establish a scholarship scheme in the name of Chan and Sukumaran for young people of both countries to travel and study in either country.

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat. You can follow him on Twitter @BruceHaigh2.

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