THE BLOG

Indonesia's Executions: Drugs Diplomacy in a Diplomatic Crisis?

26/02/2015 12:19 GMT | Updated 27/04/2015 10:59 BST

All diplomatic efforts earlier this month to save Brazilian and Dutch citizens from execution in Indonesia failed. Both were executed by firing squad. The harrowing final hours of Marco Archer Cardoso Moreira have since been revealed. Australia has been told that two of its citizens face imminent execution and nationals of the United Kingdom and elsewhere must now be losing hope. Indonesian Attorney General Muhammad Prasetyo has said that 'nothing whatsoever' will stop the executions of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, two of the so-called Bali Nine.

'Nothing whatsoever' includes any level of diplomatic intervention. The heads of state of Brazil and the Netherlands were, after all, denied their appeals for clemency for their citizens. Brazilian and Dutch ambassadors were subsequently recalled from Jakarta. The Indonesian ambassador was recalled from Brasilia after his ceremony to present his credentials to President Dilma Rousseff was cancelled on short notice. President Rousseff said 'We think it's important there is an evolution in the situation so that we can have clarity over the state of relations between Indonesia and Brazil'.

The question, then, is how these nations can talk to each other as normal in international drugs diplomacy. After all, these executions are being sped up to further Indonesia's drug policies, which are part and parcel of the so-called international 'shared responsibility' for drug control.

In 2007 the Indonesian constitutional court cited the international drug trafficking treaty of 1988 to justify such killings. In fact, after that treaty was adopted, more countries began applying the death penalty for drug offences. Surely that is not what others signed up for.

Indonesia is a member of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs, one of fifty-three, made up of Member States of the United Nations. So are Brazil, the Netherlands, Australia and the United Kingdom. Every year at this diplomatic meeting governments gather to develop and agree resolutions that guide international drug policy. It is the political focal point of global drug control, basing its deliberations on three international agreements, including the 1988 trafficking convention.

The so-called 'spirit of Vienna', named after the location of the Commission, means that all such decisions are adopted by consensus - a keystone of UN diplomacy - and a show of agreement and solidarity on shared visions and shared responsibility for drug control.

The Commission will begin its 58th session on March 9th. Last year the question of the death penalty (among other issues such as HIV prevention and civil society participation) nearly crippled negotiations of a 'Joint Ministerial Statement'. This was supposed to be a review of how the international community had done on its drug control targets (not well). But consensus was eventually reached, presumably because an inability to do so would have been profoundly embarrassing.

Things have changed since last year.

How can Brazil and the Netherlands now negotiate as normal with Indonesia, as if there were a consensus of any sort between these nations that can survive one killing the nationals of the other? How can the UK do so having been told that Indonesia cares nothing for its diplomatic interventions?

Australia, for its part, helped to catch the Bali Nine. What will it say now?

Both Australia and Brazil have proposed resolutions. How will they respond to Indonesia's views?

Based on previous years I fear that the 'spirit of Vienna' will again cloud human rights. Even though general human rights concerns are raised, including calls to end executions, no government is ever called out for its atrocities, whether it's denying healthcare, torturing people or executing them. This is seen as somehow untoward or undiplomatic.

But diplomacy and negotiation need not always be about reaching agreement in each case. No agreement is an outcome. The question is whether the 'spirit of Vienna' and the protection of the veneer of agreement in the international drug control system is so important that even protesting the execution of one's citizens takes a back seat to the negotiation of yet more resolutions that few will ever read.

The ambassador of Indonesia will make his allotted intervention at the beginning of the Commission meeting with the usual self-congratulatory script that most governments will follow. So it always proceeds. But it will be all the more difficult to stomach this year.

It takes just one representative to stand up and walk out to make a diplomatic statement far greater than any consensus resolution.