Indonesia's torture of addicts must stop
Jakarta, Indonesia — Moral theorists tend to agree that nearly all instances of torture are unjustifiable, irrespective of the motive. Although universally condemned, local values continue to allow the practice of torture. This is because certain individuals and communities tend to view torture as “acceptable” if it is conducted on particular people, such as prison inmates or convicted criminals.
In Indonesia this attitude prevails toward people charged with or convicted of drug abuse. It is standard, although unofficial, practice for police to torture detainees and inmates charged with this crime. What is worse, the individuals themselves often feel they deserve to be treated in such a manner. They believe they have committed a terrible crime, which makes them unworthy of being treated with dignity. The concept that they deserve to be tortured makes it extremely difficult to eradicate this practice.
In Indonesia, almost all drug-related arrests are accompanied by the practice of torture. In this context, the act of torture – cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment – is conducted in a nondiscriminatory manner.
Police torture involves different parts of the anatomy, depending on the victim’s gender. For women, the customary method is sexual abuse; the victim is ordered to strip and perform various sexual acts. For men it is likely to include regular beatings, sleep deprivation and electric shocks to the genitals. These practices are regarded as common and acceptable, not only by police officers, detainees and inmates but also by society.
Indonesians who use drugs are considered lowly human beings. They are often seen as people who engage freely in sexual activities, come from bad family environments, or have bad characters and personalities. In addition, they are susceptible to HIV/AIDS.
Drug use is considered inconsistent with local values, customs and religious teachings, therefore users and addicts tend to be disowned by their families and ostracized by society. This contributes to the hardship that often drives drug users to commit bigger crimes like theft, rape and murder. The moralistic approach to their problem has been most damaging to this vulnerable group.
Scholars of both culture and law have attempted to explain this phenomenon. One theory postulates that law is a reflection of cultural values within a particular society. The cultural values of a society can be observed in the people’s attitudes, which are heavily affected by both external factors and intrinsic moral values.
In the case of drug users, both social attitudes and moral values in Indonesia lead people to think that torture is justifiable, both in detention and after conviction. Social acceptance makes it hard to label torture a crime, although the law perceives it otherwise.
These circumstances are depressing, as they are erroneous. Application of the law must be strengthened so police officers understand they have an absolute duty to refrain from torture. The misperception that the torture of drug addicts is acceptable must be corrected.
Whether by coincidence or intent, the U.N. International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, established in 1997, falls on the same day as the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking of Drugs, created a decade earlier. Both are on June 26.
It is a day to voice concern for both those who have endured the evil practice of torture as well as for drug users that are marginalized by society.
The fight against drugs should be conducted with the aim of protecting and rehabilitating drug addicts, as opposed to torturing them. Recognizing the human rights of drug users is essential, not least because it helps prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and mitigate the impact of drug use on public health.
Criminalizing and targeting drug users will never solve the root problems of global illicit drug trafficking. Severe punishments such as the death penalty – which is the ultimate denial of the right to life and a form of cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment – have failed to lower drug trafficking levels.
It is time for international human rights standards to be incorporated at the heart of international drug policies. The torture of any human being is unacceptable, and this includes drug users. Failure to implement humane policies will merely prolong the drawn-out sufferings of drug users as well as the mistaken attitudes of society.
Manfred Nowak, the U.N. special rapporteur on torture, rightly said, “It is high time to rethink the punitive approach to drug policies and to replace it with a human rights-based approach, which ensures inter alia the protection of the most vulnerable groups.”
We should not ignore this terribly mistreated group any longer in the name of a pointless war on drugs carried out by daily torture.
June 17, 2009