A former UN diplomat said he was hopeful the lives of two Australians on death row in Indonesia may be saved, but that the Federal Government should take little credit for the delay of the executions.
Professor Philip Alston was the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions at the time the Bali Nine drug smugglers were convicted, and gave evidence on the case at the Indonesian constitutional court.
In recent weeks the Federal Government has stepped up its diplomatic pressure on Indonesia to prevent Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran facing the firing squad.
But Professor Alston, who spoke to The World Today from Spain, said more could have been done sooner.
“Well I think if I was an Indonesian diplomat observing the situation closely, my sense would be that neither the Prime Minister nor the Foreign Minister were particularly agitated by this prospect some time back,” he said.
“What’s changed is that Australian public opinion is clearly moved by a very strong majority against the potential execution and I think that Australian politicians see it now as a domestic issue.”
Professor Alston, a professor of law at New York University, said it was fortunate Australia was not alone in advocating against the death penalty.
“Australia’s own human rights record is so poor in recent years that it would be a not particularly credible interlocutor if it was on its own,” he said.
“It’s been supported by the UN secretary-general, it’s been supported by the US special rapporteur and a whole range of other countries whose nationals are also implicated.”
Professor Alston said the Australian Government only advocated strongly against the death penalty when its own citizens were involved.
“I think Australia has not made it a high priority to run a campaign against the death penalty internationally,” he said.
“It has spoken up when its own nationals are affected, so that runs the risk that it looks as though our concern for respect for human rights applies only when Australians are at risk.”
I doubt that president Widodo really expected to be confronted by pretty serious objections coming from a wide-range of countries with which Indonesia has had good relations.
Professor Alston said it was encouraging that Chan and Sukumaran had been granted more time.
“I think that the indications in recent days are looking rather more positive than one might have expected,” he said.
“The delays that have been announced could have been avoided if there had been an absolute determination to go ahead and not to listen to any of the arguments being made.
“I think the more time there is, the more opportunity to persuade president Widodo that this is not worth it.”
‘Track record could undermine Australia’s efforts’
But he said Australia’s track record in following international law could undermine its efforts to stop the executions.
“When Australian goes in, what they have to say is international human rights law is not consistent with executing people for drug offences,” Professor Alston said.
“Now Australia has said very, very clearly on a whole range of issues that it doesn’t care about international law in relation to human rights, it’s going to go ahead and do its own thing.
“So an Indonesian government that is confronted by a simple argument coming from Australia is probably not going to be moved all that much.
“I think it’s a much broader political backlash, if you like, that is coming from a range of different sources that is more likely to be playing on the mind of the Indonesian president.”
Professor Alston, a professor of law at New York University, said Indonesia had probably come under more pressure than it expected.
“While it’s easy to make a strong statement that we’re going to go ahead with a wide range of executions in order to make a straightforward point, I doubt that president Widodo really expected to be confronted by pretty serious objections coming from a wide-range of countries with which Indonesia has had good relations,” he said.