Senin, 04 Mei 2015

Australia’s moral posturing at Indonesia is misguided

by Ramesh Thakur

Prime Minister Tony Abbott promised his government’s foreign policy would focus less on Geneva and more on Jakarta, meaning bilateral relations with key partners would be prioritized over vague and amorphous multilateralism. How ironic then that in a fit of absent-mindedness, Abbott has allowed the execution of two convicted Australian drug traffickers to damage relations with Indonesia. Australia is piqued because Indonesia has rejected attempts to impose Geneva-based human rights morality over Jakarta-sourced domestic law on tackling the scourge of drug trafficking that destroys and blights the lives of millions of impressionable innocents around the world.

The essential facts are not in dispute. The so-called Bali 9 — all Australians — were arrested in April 2005 by Indonesian police on being tipped off by Australian counterparts and convicted of trying to smuggle 8.3 kg of heroin into Australia. Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, the ringleaders, were sentenced to death and executed 10 years later on April 29. The rest were given prison sentences. The Indonesian criminal justice system may not be as efficient or corruption-free as Australia’s, but few doubt their guilt. Fully aware of the dangers if caught, they took the risk for the sake of the big profits and have paid the ultimate price because the gamble failed.

The earthquake in Nepal is a tragedy. The deaths of two self-serving drug traffickers peddling death-dealing poison is a regrettable outcome resulting from their own criminal folly. Their near canonization is way over the top and makes one wonder if they deserve a state funeral.

The argument of repentance and redemption too is less than persuasive. It truly is impressive how many criminals see the light on being caught and convicted, with those on death row most incentivized. Maybe their remorse and repentance was genuine and not just a convenient conversion on their way to meet their maker. It is just as likely that they would still be trafficking in drugs and destroying the lives of many young Australians had they not been caught. How many times did they succeed in their drug-running and how many drug users did they kill with their product before apprehension? The one silver lining may be that other drug traffickers will be deterred from playing Russian roulette in Southeast Asia.

The pleas for clemency were undermined by the near-hysterical attacks on the integrity of the justice system, the probity of judges and the immorality of the sentence. The strong reaction makes sense only if Australians believe in the innate superiority of their moral framework to which Indonesia should kowtow.

Most “global” norms originated in the ascendancy of Western empires during the era of colonialism. Their spread to the far reaches of the globe reflected the superiority of European firepower. Australians should wake up and smell the coffee: The era of Western ascendancy is fading and there is a global moral rebalancing underway.

Of course, a human right is by definition universal, for it arises from the very fact of us being a human being and does not depend on us belonging to any particular race, religion or gender. The right to life is the most fundamental human right of all, from which flow other rights. But an abstract conception of a human right acquires content only through specific laws and institutions.

Thus every culture abhors, condemns and punishes murder. But the understanding of what constitutes murder varies from one country to another at any given time, and in any one society over centuries of time.

Many people throughout history have rejected fighting for king or country as anathema to their conscience because it involves killing strangers on the orders of their government. Few countries have legalized euthanasia. The subject of abortion arouses strong passions in the right to life and the pro-choice groups. These are all examples where many reasonable people sincerely hold strongly opposed beliefs, based in their conviction that the act concerned amounts to murder.

Capital punishment is regarded as state sanctioned murder by most Westerners, many others, and by the United Nations today, but was not always thus. Even today the U.S. departs from the Western norm. Last year it carried out 35 executions and imposed the death sentence on another 72 people. Saudi Arabia executed 90 people last year. China is generally believed to execute more people annually than the rest of the world combined.

The fact that Australia does not condemn these countries as barbaric leaves it open to charges of hypocrisy and double standards, where its self-proclaimed moral superiority is tempered by calculations of realpolitik. Similarly, as one of the tiny coalition of the willing that attacked, invaded and occupied Iraq, Australia quietly acquiesced to the execution of Saddam Hussein. And Canberra failed to protest when Jakarta executed the perpetrators of the Bali bombing in which large number of Australians were killed.

When Australian citizens are put on death row, Canberra has both a right and the duty to make representations to the host government. The line in the sand is crossed when it seeks to condemn the host government as barbaric and impose penalties of any sort. When democrats disagree on the substance of policy, they can still agree on the procedures by which to settle the dispute.

I have my views on abortion, capital punishment (I would like it abolished everywhere), pacifism, and euthanasia (aging concentrates one’s mind on this subject). I also believe nuclear deterrence to be deeply immoral because it relies on the credible threat to commit mass murder. I have the right to express my views and to try and translate them into public policy through democratic discourse and the ballot box.

I do not have the right to abuse and vilify others as immoral and barbaric if the outcome is not to my liking. I have no right to abandon civility if the outcome is different in other countries. If Australia can descend into name calling and retaliatory gestures because Indonesia carries out the death sentence on drug traffickers, should we in turn we subjected to equivalent abuse by those who hold lawful abortion to be state sanctioned murder? Or are we innately so morally superior that our views are automatically correct and others are savages whose voice and opinions can be summarily disrespected?

It is wrong to take offense because Indonesia has rejected claims to Australian exceptionalism. All countries should show a reciprocal respect for one another’s laws. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has been measured, discreet and economical in her representations to Jakarta and in expressions of disquiet and regret. Others should take heed.

Ramesh Thakur is a professor in the Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

  ★ Japantimes  

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