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Indonesian official calls for Philippines-style ‘war on drugs’

war on drugs

The bodies of suspected drug dealers, who were shot dead during a police operation against illegal drugs, lay on a street in Quezon City, east of Manila, Philippines, 06 September 2016. Photo: EPA/FRANCIS R. MALASIG

Indonesia’s anti-drugs chief has publicly supported carrying out a violent crackdown on drug traffickers similar to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal war on drugs that has seen nearly 3,000 alleged criminals gunned down by police and vigilantes.

Speaking to reporters at a press conference held on Tuesday by Indonesia’s National Narcotics Agency (BNN), agency head Budi Waseso said that “if such a policy [as that of the Philippines] were implemented in Indonesia, we believe that the number of drug traffickers and users in our beloved country would drop drastically”.

“The life of a dealer is meaningless,” Waseso added, saying that a dealer “carries out mass murder. How can we respect that?”

Waseso also told the media that the BNN was planning to hire more staff and purchase weapons to be used against those involved in the country’s drug trade.

Agency spokesperson Slamet Pribadi later tried to temper Waseso’s statements, saying a policy similar to that in the Philippines would only be enacted “if our law makes it possible”.

“We can’t shoot criminals just like that,” he said. “We have to follow the rules.”

Pribadi acknowledged that Waseso was “strict”, but added that “we should not keep our guns in a safe, we must use them – but only for law enforcement”.

Human rights workers in the region roundly condemned Waseso’s comments.

“Waseso should publicly decry the Philippines’ ‘war on drugs’ for what it truly is: a brutal, unlawful assault on the rule of law and universal human rights protections that has targeted some of the country’s poorest, most marginalised citizens,” wrote Phelim Kine, deputy director at Human Rights Watch’s Asia division.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (L) listens to Indonesian President Joko Widodo (R), during the gala dinner of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Summit at the National Convention Center in Vientiane, Laos, 07 September 2016. Photo: EPA/MAST IRHAM

But Gloria Lai, senior policy officer at the International Drug Policy Consortium, told Southeast Asia Globe that she was “not worried yet” that Waseso’s ideas would come to fruition.

“I don’t think any of [Waseso’s proposed policies are] really going ahead,” Lai said, adding that the anti-drugs chief had a history of suggesting radical solutions to drug trafficking.

In a widely publicised statement, Waseso proposed last November to hold death row inmates convicted on drug-related charges on an island surrounded by crocodiles.
Lai said that extrajudicial killings such as those carried out in the Philippines were unlikely to spread throughout Southeast Asia. Lai said that Thailand, which has “one of the stronger” anti-drug policies in the region, has not indicated that they would consider similar measures.

“[T]his is particularly in light of the fact that they know they’ve gone through this before in 2003,” Lai said, referring to an anti-drugs crackdown by the Thai government that left more than 2,000 dead.

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