Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The consequences of judicial murder

Now that the merchants of death in Jakarta have completed their latest round of judicial murders, it is time for Australians to take stock of how to approach and interact with Indonesia — a close neighbour geographically but distant in so many other ways.

Respected commentator and former ABC Jakarta correspondent, Mike Carlton admits that there has always been an undercurrent of mistrust between the two nations, but in the weeks leading up to the execution of convicted drug smugglers, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran (and the six others who faced the firing squad at the same time) Australians have had a piercing insight into the mindset of those who lead and set the agendas in Indonesia.  

Pleas for clemency, reasoned arguments, vigils, even offers to foot the bill for a lifetime sentence for Chan and Sukumaran, fell on deaf ears — as did the overwhelming evidence the pair had been rehabilitated during more than a decade in prison and could continue to do useful pastoral work among their fellow inmates.

It has been claimed that Indonesian President, Joko Widodo needed to project a ‘tough guy’ image after perceptions that his predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, had been something of a vacillator.

Instead Widodo has come across as a rather weak little man — a prisoner of the mob baying for blood; of the army generals still smarting over real or imagined slights and of  former President Megawati Sukarnoputri, the Madame Defarge of Indonesian politics, whose attitude to the execution of foreigners appears to be only “faster, faster”.

Carlton has said that part of the reason for the failure of Widodo to listen to international calls for mercy is that his country is still stuck in a post-colonial mindset – a we-are-in-charge-now-and-you -can’t-tell- us-what-to-do attitude.

If this is the case it is astonishing after almost 70 years of independence, especially as other countries, India is an example, have long since abandoned these attitudes. It would seem Indonesia still has a way to go to reach maturity as a nation.

Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott has said there will be consequences following the executions. This will involve the recalling of the Australia’s Ambassador in Jakarta and probably the cancellation or postponement of a few Ministerial contacts. It is the normal diplomatic showing of displeasure.

Before long relations will resume and it will be back to normal. Abbott has said as much.

As a lifelong opponent of capital punishment, I believe Australians should go further. My wife and I have both promised never to set foot in Indonesia while capital punishment is routinely carried out. We will not consume any goods or services which originate in Indonesia and we are going to do our best to convince as many people as possible to do the same.

Only days after Australians commemorated the slaughter of young lives in a pointless war; as we grieve over the loss of life in natural disasters and as the parts of the Middle East lapse into murderous barbarism, Indonesia has needlessly, and under the false cloak of judicial authority, added to the toll.

When will we learn that every life is precious and worth celebrating; that every life lost is a tragedy that damages us all?   


Thursday, April 16, 2015

No more appeasement in border ‘games’

When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits Beijing next month he will know what to expect – handshakes, smiles, promises of stronger trade ties and investment and lengthy speeches pledging eternal friendship.

He will also expect — or at least he should by now — Chinese forces to move across the disputed border between the two countries known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC),  military stand-offs, perhaps even a re-publication of maps showing the Indian State of Arunachal Pradesh as the Chinese territory of  ‘Southern Tibet’.

It has become a typical Chinese gambit in its relations with India: Wait until some friendly diplomatic event between the two countries is under way then launch a border provocation. What happens then? India could react by heading straight home if it is the visiting party – or kicking its Chinese guests out of the country if they are the visitors.

Either way it is a massive escalation of tensions within the region and the possibility of an all-out border war that India knows it is not strong enough to fight. So the alternative is to grit teeth and carry on, leaving the impression it is not particularly concerned about the territories in dispute.

These tactics were all-too apparent with the visit to New Delhi of Chinese President Xi Jinping last September which coincided with a Chinese intrusion into Chumar, a border region in the State of Jammu and Kashmir.

Then there was Premier Li Keqiang’s 2013 visit which followed a Chinese encroachment into the Depsang Plains, also in Jammu and Kashmir. This was particularly galling for India as the Plains were the scene of heavy fighting during China’s 1962 invasion, with Bejing’s forces still occupying areas it captured during that conflict.

One of India’s most prominent strategic thinkers, Brahma Chellaney, believes there is a further dimension to China’s tactics. He points out that the Indian-occupied area of Depsang and Chumar have never been part of China’s territorial claims until now.

“With the aid of progressively increasing or recurrent incursions in each coveted area, the strategy aims to create a dispute where no dispute has existed so that China can subsequently demand that it be settled ‘peacefully’ on give-and-take terms,” he says.

Chellaney points out that Modi has quite clearly stated that a final settlement, or at least peace on the border, is a prerequisite to improved India-China relations, but it is time he backed words with actions.

“India’s first line of defence remains a thinly stretched police force. The Home Ministry-administered Indo-Tibetan Border Police is no match for the People’s Liberation Army’s guile and capability. Beefing up its strength alone won’t suffice; it must be placed under the army’s operational command,” he says.

Chellaney is right. Such a move would not automatically lead to armed confrontation, as some doves fear, but would convey a clear message to Beijing that India is tired of its games along the LAC and will not allow its territory to be nibbled away little by little.

Caution is certainly needed in these delicate dealings. Appeasement is not.  



Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The proper revenge for India’s Daughter

I have recently seen the documentary film India’s Daughter, dealing with the horrific gang rape and mutilation of medical student Jyoti Singh on a bus in India in 2012, her subsequent death from the internal injuries she suffered, and its aftermath.

The production has been banned in India, but I know for a fact that many high officials, perhaps even Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself, have viewed it.

In some ways I can understand why the Government moved to block distribution of India’s Daughter. It contains a confronting interview with one of the rapists, Mukesh Singh, totally unrepentant and actually blaming his victim for the savage assault.

“A decent girl would not roam the streets at 9pm…housework and housekeeping are for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night, doing wrong things and wearing wrong clothes,” was his excuse for what he and the others had done, adding that if the girl had not struggled so much she would have been allowed to leave the bus otherwise unharmed.

Worse still was a defence lawyer who supported his client’s attitude and went further saying that even if his own daughter or sister had got herself into a similar situation and was raped, he would pour petrol over her and set her alight.

No matter that Singh was in the company of her boyfriend, who was also badly beaten. No woman should be out at night unless accompanied by her husband, brother, father, grandfather or some other male relative. Fortunately this man is now subject to discipline by the Indian Bar Association.

Obviously this is not the kind of image the Government wants as it seeks to portray a modernising nation preparing to take its place among the world’s great powers. Nor does it constantly want to be reminded of the fact that a rape in India occurs on average every 20 minutes.  

Equally disturbing were the mobs calling for the rapists to be strung up.  Four of the six have been convicted and face the death penalty, a fifth is a juvenile whose maximum sentence can be only three years imprisonment and a sixth was found dead in his cell, a presumed suicide.

To balance this there were the more measured views of a senior female judge, and younger friends of Ms Singh and her boyfriend. While understandably disgusted and bitter at what had taken place, they sensed the real problem lies with the patriarchal nature of Indian society where, in the most conservative areas, women are still treated as possessions – valuable possession perhaps, but possession nonetheless.

The judge was right when she said education was the only effective, long-term cure for this problem. Other contributors were also right in pointing out that the lynch-law mentality has no place in Indian society.

I have been a life-long opponent of the death penalty, or judicial murder as I prefer to call it. The first aim of punishment should be rehabilitation and at this point I cannot help but mention the situation of Australian drug criminals Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran whose rehabilitation in an Indonesian jail has been apparent to all, but who still face imminent execution.

But what of Mukesh Singh, who shows no remorse and actually seeks to portray himself as the victim of what he and the others did?

What greater punishment could there be for him to spend decades in jail while outside Indian society gradually changes (as I believe it must and will) to one of mutual respect and equality among the sexes; watching those with his brutal attitudes die off to be replaced by men and women who have created a more enlightened age.

What greater punishment for him to sit in his prison cell year after year, forgotten, irrelevant?