Indonesian Harm Drug Policy: When Women Left Behind

ICJR once again reminds the Indonesian government of the importance of reforming drug policy in Indonesia. The existing drug policy is merely focusing on criminalization and have already taken too many victims, especially member of vulnerable groups such as women.

The International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking is observed annually on 26 June. On this specific day, ICJR encourages the Indonesian government to re-evaluate and immediately reform the existing drug policy. So far, the primary regulation on drug in Indonesia is Law No. 35 of 2009 on Drugs (Drugs Law), which is still prioritizing criminal penalty in the form of imprisonment and even death penalty instead of using the public health approach. The tough stance of President Joko Widodo, who previously declared “war on drugs” at the beginning of his leadership period, also worsened the handling of drug cases in Indonesia.

The measure chosen by the Indonesian government to prioritize criminal policies in resolving the problems of illicit drug trafficking, clearly have taken more victims, especially women. Recorded until January 2019 based on data from the Directorate General of Corrections, 5,579 (53%) of female prisoners currently in prison were convicted of committing crimes related to drug without violence. Data from 2000 to 2018 has shown that 22 death penalty cases with female convicts, of which 18 were charged for drug cases and four of the 18 women have been executed since 2000.

Our criminal justice system fails to identify the vulnerability of women involved in drug cases due to the existence of power relations (relasi kuasa) schemes within the community, which in turn affect women’s freedom in making their own choices. The above mention condition and the strong narrative of the “war on drugs” make women involved in drug cases must face multiple penalties in criminal procedures.

Based on data on the death penalty decisions that was previously used on the research conducted by ICJR namely “Vulnerable Justice: Implementations of Death Penalty and Fair Trial in Indonesia (2019)” consisting of 100 death penalty decisions with complete documents, five of them involved women who were sentenced to death for being involved in drug cases. In other research conducted by our researcher, Maidina Rahmawati, namely “Analyzing Fair Trial Aspects of Death Penalty for Drug Cases in Indonesia” has shown that vulnerabilities of women who have been overlooked by the criminal justice system have shown in several conditions:

  1. In the case of Mary Jane Veloso, Tuti Herawati, and R.A Sriemoetarinivianti, all three are single mothers who are in economic difficulties and are from poor families;
  2. In five drug cases with female death row inmates, all women were victims of exploitation by men: husbands, boyfriends, neighbours, and drug dealers;
  3. In all cases of  female death row inmates, there were also violations of fair trial rights such as the right of competent translators.

The condition where women become victims of law enforcement over drug cases will have a serious impact as the number of female drug prisoners continues to grow, considering that currently the problem of overcrowding in Indonesia is still unresolved, number of detention centres and prisons specifically for women is still insufficient so that the separation of facilities cannot be carried out maximally, and the fulfilment of reproductive health rights in detention centres and prisons has not been fully guaranteed. This condition will continue to occur if drug policy reforms is not immediately carried out and directed towards a public health approach rather than punishment. In the present situation, this condition is exacerbated by the persistence of a spirit of punishment through the inclusion of several criminal acts which are commonly used to punish women into the Draft Criminal Code. Women will continue to become victims, given the social and cultural vulnerability that surrounds women as explained above.

The government, especially President Joko Widodo, whose at the 71st UN General Assembly was appointed to become the ambassador of “He for She” in the “Impact 10X” program, must be able to identify the vulnerability of women involved in drug cases. Given that increasing access to health and ending violence against women are ones of the missions carried by the “He for She” ambassador, the Government of President Joko Widodo must demonstrate their commitment and sincerity in carrying out the mandate, by reformulating drug policy and avoiding prioritizing criminal penalty in drug cases, so that the new drug policy will be able to protect vulnerable groups, especially women, in a much better way and to stop the chain of violence committed by the state against women involved in drug cases.

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