On the Clemency Fallacy and Indonesia’s Foreign Policy

President Jokowi’s rejection on the clemency pleas of death row inmates have mounted piques on foreign leaders, especially those whose citizens have been executed and those whose are in waiting. The immediate public debate that follows were that there could be some repercussions to the bilateral relations between Indonesia and those countries.

The juxtaposition between rejection of clemency and the damage it can inflict on Indonesia’s bilateral relations should be carefully comprehended, if one looks to avoid the latent logical fallacy that could seriously obstruct a healthy public discourse.

Decision to grant or reject clemency is exclusively the prerogative of the President. This authority is neither baseless nor arbitrary. It is well prescribed by law to which surely crafted in a democratic manner.

Meanwhile, pleas of foreign leaders to have their citizens acquitted from death sentence abroad is nothing sort of new phenomena. It is a common international practice that could be argued to be grounded on humanitarian rationales.

There could be some emphasis on the issue of protection of nationals abroad, but this shall not be misunderstood as an effort to intervene or muddling in the internal legal process of another nation.

As far as the Westphalian order concerned, sovereignty and non-interference still remain the chief pillars of inter-state relations. Whether these pillars have lost its sanctity or meaning is certainly the question of statecraft.

When clemency is prescribed under legal framework, nothing can be said to the contrary. In this sense, clemency is not borne out of legal vacuum that could preferably be given whenever short or long term interests necessitate.

If an Indonesian national is pardoned from capital punishment abroad, it is not because Indonesia succeed to negate the application of foreign domestic legal process. Indeed, it is because that legal system enables and empowers such pardon.

Corollary, if a convicted foreign national is pardoned in Indonesia, it is more because of our domestic laws says so, which so happened to take form in the clemency institution of the President. In any event, any perceivable trends in the grant of clemency should never easily and necessarily be equated with a preference towards abolishing death penalty.

Although clemency is entrenched under legal framework, it is not an extension of legal proceedings. In addition, provision of clemency does not in any way refute a court decision nor abolishing it.

Clemency is an option weighed in a complex determinants of a decision making processes. Its content covers different spectrums of both political and non-political ingredients. Hence, statesmanship of a leader is decisive in determining the just cause of his/her clemency decision.

One determinant is critical to safeguard the clemency decision making process. That is our nation’s own tenets of foreign policy, which is the Politik Luar Negeri Bebas-Aktif (Independent and Active Foreign Policy).

The Bebas-Aktif foreign policy was not simply a realpolitik answer to the geopolitical environment of the era at the time of its assertion.

Bebas-Aktif is a reflection and a lesson-learned from centuries of colonialism and imperialism as experienced by the Indonesian people.

Indonesia knows too well the price of being able to be independently charting its own course and destinies, so that it would not subjugate them anymore to be framed by foreign powers.

It is this consciousness that Indonesian statesman can recourse to in answering the ultimate test of what is our paramount national interest in granting or rejecting clemency to the convicted death penalty inmates.

Abraham Lincoln, a celebrated figure of emancipation in the United States, once known to write the following words in a letter to Horace Greeley, “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that”.

Almost a century after Lincoln, Indonesia’s first President Sukarno wittingly pronounce the central credo of our nation’s engagement in international fora saying, “Internasionalisme tidak dapat hidup subur kalau tidak berakar dalam buminya nasionalisme. Nasionalisme tidak dapat hidup subur, kalau tidak hidup dalam taman sarinya internasionalisme” (“Internationalism could not be luxuriantly alive if it is not rooted on the land of nationalism. Nationalism could not be luxuriantly alive, if it does not grow in the blooming garden of internationalism”).

Hence, whatever Indonesia’s national interests dictate, may it bilateral relations, saving future generations, or national contingency situation of drugs abuse, it should be rest assured that it is carried out with the right context in mind.

What comes after, is the challenge to assertively and perspicuously articulate the rationales of the clemency decision to domestic as well as international audience. Convergence and comprehension from all corners of the bureaucracy upon the rationales taken is of significant importance.

After all, it is to his people that President Jokowi should be responsible for the decisions taken during his administration.

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