The Constitutional Debate on the Death Penalty

By: Pan Mohamad Faiz (India) and Mohamad Mova Al’Afghani (Germany)

Source: Jakarta Post (click) on 4 May, 2007

The capital punishment debate resurfaces whenever a group of death row inmates lodges a judicial review with the Constitutional Court against death penalty articles under the 1997 Narcotics Law used by the criminal court to sentence them. Almost 130 countries have abolished capital punishment, while the rest, including Indonesia, still use it.

The petitioners argue that the death penalty is a denial of the right of life as guaranteed by Articles 28A and 28I of the 1945 Constitution. According to international human rights instruments such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the right to life is a “non-derogable right”.

Indonesia is a party to the ICCPR but has not acceded to its protocols. The petitioner’s lawyers usually argue that as the Constitution mimics the ICCPR’s wording almost verbatim, they have to be interpreted parallel to the ICCPR.

The ICCPR does not prohibit the death penalty but its protocols do. As Indonesia is not party to any ICCPR protocol, the practice of the death penalty will not violate any international obligation to the ICCPR as long as the treatment of the inmates on death row and the execution of convicts is conducted in accordance with international standards.

It is then left to the problem of constitutional interpretation. Article 28I (1) of the Constitution guarantees that the right to life cannot be limited under any circumstances, but Article 28J (2) states that “In exercising his/her rights and freedoms, every person shall have the duty to accept the restrictions established by law… based upon the consideration of morality, religious values, security and public order in democratic society”. The debate goes on as to whether the application of Article 28I (1) — due to the phrase “cannot be limited under any circumstances” — is non-derogable, including by Article 28J (2).

The convict’s attorneys think that the rights under Article 28I (1) belongs to the cluster of rights which are non-derogable, including Article 28J (2). The government on the other hand, is of the opinion that Article 28J (2) may derogate Article 28I (1). Toward this polemic, there are a few methods of interpretation that can be applied.

First, by using the literal approach, it would appear that prohibition of the death penalty is stated nowhere in the Constitution. The wordings of “cannot be limited under any circumstances” under Article 28 I (1) cannot therefore be interpreted so as to mean prohibiting the death penalty. A comparison with Germany and
Vietnam’s constitutions would reveal that the prohibition of the death penalty is supported with a written, literal expression of the articles of the Constitution. As Indonesia’s Constitution has no such provision, the death penalty is so far in line with the Constitution.

Second, by using the teleological approach, it can be seen from the preamble that the purpose of the Constitution is to first “protect the whole people of Indonesia and the entire homeland of Indonesia”.
Indonesia reportedly has 3.2 million drug users with the number of deaths around 15,000 users per year or an average of 41 deaths per day due to overdose or drug-related AIDS infections. The state has a constitutional obligation to prevent these deaths and to prevent the occurrence of a lost generation. T
hus, the protection of the people by the state is paramount and would constitute a higher obligation in comparison to other duties.  

Third, using the systematical method of interpretation, it would be clear that Article 28 J is placed under the same chapter as Article 28 I, which is the amended human rights chapter. It is then conclusive that Article 28 J was made “in relation and with due regard to” Article 28 I. We do not consider it appropriate to interpret that the restriction towards the implementation of human rights under Article 28 J refers to clusters of rights other than Article 28 I. The restriction under Article 28 J appears to cover the whole set of the Constitution.  

Moreover, under the social contract construction, perpetrators are deemed to have waived their right to life, which is protected under the law, by acting in a manner that results in the loss of life. Thus, by “knowingly” killing others and being aware that their action entails capital punishment, they have given “implied consent” to be punished with the death penalty.

There are also a number of non-legal arguments which support the death penalty, especially when it comes to “the most serious crime”. There is no common understanding among UN Countries on this matter. Nonetheless, we can refer to the concluding observation of U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/79/Add. 25, 1993, which stated that the “imposition of [the death penalty]… for crimes that do not result in loss of life, as being contrary to the Covenant.”

The Advisory Council of Jurists of the Asia Pacific Forum considers such crimes to be those which involve the wanton destruction of human life. In their book, International Criminal Law and Human Rights (2003), Claire de Than and Edwin Shorts define the scope of “most serious crimes” as encompassing modern threats such as drug trafficking and terrorism. Narcotics-related crimes are the sort which may result in the loss of life. The debate however continues as narcotic accomplices does not “pull the trigger” themselves.

From a consequalist point of view, it may not be relevant that a certain crime is conducted “willfully and knowingly”, which means that there is a direct causal relation between the intention to kill and the consequences resulting from such intentions or only “knowingly”, which suggest that the intention to kill is not as manifest as the previous condition, as long as it results in the loss of life.

Thus, killing by producing and dealing narcotics is by no means a lesser evil compared to killing a person directly, as the perpetrators are fully aware that their actions will result in the loss of life.

Comparative studies have shown that most of the retentionist countries decided to abolish the death penalty after a long crucial public, judiciary and legislative debate. Due to de jure reality of death penalty, what may be done is restricting the offenses for which the death penalty is allowed under the law.


Pan Mohamad Faiz ( is the founder of the Institute for Indonesian Law and Governance Development

Mohamad Mova Al Afghani ( is the founder of the Center for Law Information.

Note Picture: 1st Writer (left) and other PPI members were taking a circle discussion with Prof. Azyumardi Azra (UIN Jakarta) and Dr. Rizal Sukma (CSIS) after praying in Musholla Baiturrahman KBRI New Delhi.


3 Responses

  1. Salam persahabatan. Selamat belajar semoga selalu lancar dan sukses. Amin

  2. Sabar dalam Kehidupan
    Oleh : Dede Farhan Aulawi

    Jikalau kita kurang sabar,
    …maka banyak kehidupan yang berakhir dengan penyesalan
    Minimal berbagai kekecewaan dan kesedihan
    Ada bayak fenomena empirik yang sering membuat kita sangat jengkel
    Dan ketika kita terpancing dengan amarah…
    Maka masalah baru yang muncul,
    …dan masalah lama tetap tak terselesaikan

    Kita sering mendengar istilah sabar,
    …tapi apa sebenarnya yang dimaksud dengan sabar ?
    Secara terminologi…, Sabar bisa didefinisikan sebagai…
    Keteguhan diri dalam menjalankan ketaatan kepada Allah,
    …menahan diri dari perbuatan tercela,
    …serta menjaga dari sikap marah dalam menghadapi takdir Allah

    Secara umum ada 3 jenis kesabaran, yaitu :
    1. Bersabar dalam menjalankan ketaatan kepada Allah
    2. Bersabar untuk tidak melakukan hal-hal yang diharamkan Allah
    3. Bersabar dalam menghadapi takdir-takdir Allah yang dialaminya

    Sebagai manusia yang berusaha untuk menjadi hamba-Nya yang ta’at
    Tentu bukanlah hal yang mudah,
    …paling tidak..,tidak semudah dalam mengatakannya
    …sudah pasti banyak ujian yang akan kita jalani
    Di sinilah kita benar – benar dituntut untuk bisa bersabar

    Begitupun banyak sekali godaan di sekitar kita,
    sebagaimana warna yang memiliki banyak corak
    begitupun dengan pilihan hidup
    betapa banyak berbagai gangguan yang diharamkan-Nya
    betapa bertaburan di kiri dan kanan
    kalau kita tidak bisa bertahan dari kesabaran untuk itu,
    …maka kita akan terlena ke dalamnya

    Dan terakhir yang berkaitan dengan kesabaran akan takdir-Nya
    tidak ada kejadian apapun yang luput dari ketentuan takdir-Nya
    Meski demikian,
    …tidak lantas kita menyandarkan segala sesuatu pada takdir,
    Karena takdir adalah sesuatu yang kita peroleh di luar kemampuan kita,
    dan setelah kita berusaha

    Maka apapun yang sedang kita alami…,
    niscaya bisa menjali jalan kita munuju kemuliaan dalam hidup ini
    mungkin hidup kita masih jauh dari kemuliaan
    tapi paling tidak
    ada ikhtiar yang terus menerus berusaha untuk menggapai hidup mulia
    Termasuk bersabar untuk terus saling mengingatkan

    Mungkin tidak semua orang akan menyukai hal ini,
    dan selalu ada celah yang dilihat sebagai kelemahan,
    tapi tetaplah berbuat yang terbaik yang bisa kita laksanakan
    terus menerus mencoba dan berusaha
    Insya Allah, kita pasti bisa. Aamiin

  3. Selalu Ada Tempat Bersandar
    Oleh : Dede Farhan Aulawi

    Di antara celah kegelapan waktu yang tersisa
    Aku memandang dari puncak abstraksi jiwa
    Dan mulai bertanya,
    …tatkala engkau terlihat sangat lelah
    Mengerjakan segalanya oleh sendirian
    Sementara persoalan yang harus diselesaikan tidaklah mudah,
    …bahkan semakin hari semakin menumpuk dan menggunung
    Adakah yang sudi mengerti …???
    Pertanyaan itu membuncah…dan membahana tanpa arah…..

    Tatkala engkau merasa lelah…
    Bolehkah ku ulurkan tangan untuk membantumu berdiri,
    Belajar melangkah kembali,
    …merajut sisa usia yang ada
    Engkau bukan tak mampu…
    Engkau hanya butuh waktu istirahat walau sejenak

    Dan jika suatu waktu engkau ingin menangis…
    Nun jauh di lubuk hatimu telah kusiapkan sapu tangan,
    …tuk menyeka setiap bulir air mata yang hendak keluar
    Tapi jika kau tak membutuhkan sapu tangan itu,
    …telaj nampak beberapa jemari yang sudi menghapusnya

    Aku sangat percaya,
    …bahwa engkau bukanlah manusia lembek yang mudah merengek
    Rasanya terlalu mahal…,
    … jika air mata harus menetes ….
    … hanya karena persoalan yang sedang kau hadapi,
    Tidak mudah memang,
    Tapi di balik otak cerdasmu,
    …tersimpan bermilyar ide solutif untuk menyelesaikannya
    Di sini kulihat…,
    …bahwa di balik rasa lelah dan letihmu
    …ada seribu ketegaran yang tak pernah kau perlihatkan
    Di balik bayang kegundahanmu,
    …ada keimanan yang tertanam begitu dalam
    …bahwa solusi persoalan terbaik adalah ikhtiar dan mohon petunjuk-Nya

    Tidak ada persoalan yang pelik,
    …bagi engkau sahabatku yang cerdik
    Tidak ada permasalahan yang berat,
    …bagi engkau yang berjiwa hebat
    Seberat apapun persoalan yang kita hadapi,
    …pada akhirnya akan terhempas di antaran pusaran waktu yang berlalu

    …tataplah senyum indahmu di depan cermin jiwamu
    Betapa engkau tampak manis…,indah lahir dan bathin
    namun satu hal yang sering saya ingatkan…,
    …bahwa di balik semua himpitan persoalan yang kita hadapi
    Selalu ada tempat bersandar yang utama,
    Dia-lah Allah Yang Maha Agung dan Maha Mulia
    Sesibuk dan sesulit apapun persoalan kita,
    Teatplah untuk dekat dan mohon petunjuk-Nya
    Sebab dari-Nya kita berasal,
    Dan kepada-Nya kita akan kembali

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s