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A Conundrum of Double Standards

Editorial: Australia's Final Chance to Share the True Meaning of Mercy.

(10/8/2007) 

The Quality of Mercy

Though justice be thy plea, consider this,

That in the course of justice none of us

Should see salvation; we do pray for mercy,

And that same prayer doth teach us all to render

The deeds of mercy.


- Portia, William Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice," IV, I


Writing recently in the Sydney Morning Herald, Indonesian scholar-journalist Hamish McDonald performed a masterful job outlining the moral and political conundrum currently surrounding relations between Canberra and Jakarta. [See: Double Standards in Bali]

While Bali now sadly recalls the two terrorist attacks of October 2002 and October 2005, McDonald underlines the uncomfortable ethical chasm between the words and deeds of Australia on the issue of capital punishment. Understandably, there exists a strong desire among many Australians for the execution of the three Bali bombers who killed 202 people at a Bali nightspot in 2002, 88 of whom were Australians. The resulting thirst for a State-sanctioned revenge "killing" of the Bali Bombers, however, contrasts curiously with Australia's proud status as a signatory to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, declaring the death penalty as an unacceptable punishment for any crime.

Australia conducted its last execution in 1967.

Both Australia's Prime Minister John Howard and its Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, say Australia will not interfere in the execution process of the three Indonesian terrorists. Whether fueled by revenge, political expedience or simple respect for Indonesia's sovereignty - such easy acquiescence to capital penalties for the Bali Bombers will carry the hiden cost of eliminating the last remaining opportunity Australia has to make a compelling argument to spare the lives of 6 young Australians drug smugglers now sitting on death row.

Any debate regarding the pros and cons of executing the 3 Indonesian terrorists and the 6 Australian drug smugglers, and the comparative severity of their crimes, is potentially endless. The current situation does, however, present Australia with an unique opportunity to champion the equal application of justice both at home and away by opposing the imposition of the death penalty in every instance.

Such a call for commutation of the bombers' death sentences, no matter how bitter the taste, would compel the full and undivided attention of many Indonesians. For the Australian's, who endured unspeakable suffering at the hands of the Bali bombers, to now find it in their hearts to plead for mercy on the behalf of their tormentors would place an enormous pressure on the Indonesian leaders to show similar magnanimity towards the 6 Australians nervously waiting a fatal date with a firing squad on an empty Bali beach.

To those hell-bent on retribution against terrorists and drug smugglers alike, take heart: the deplorable conditions of the average Indonesian prison render the commutation of a death penalty to life behind bars a "small mercy" by any standard.

And, by way of final recompense, should the killing somehow suddenly stop here and now, it would bring the added special bonus of denying the Bali Bombers the martyrdom they so desperately seek; relegating them to grow old, forgotten, bitter and increasingly irrelevant in a prison cell on the isolated island of Nusa Kambangan.