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The Asia Foundation Co-Hosts International Conference on Drugs Research and Policy in Indonesia

May 23, 2024 — Indonesia faces a significant challenge in addressing drug-related crimes. From May 14 to 15, The Asia Foundation co-hosted the first International Conference on Drugs Research and Policy with support from the Australia-Indonesia Partnership for Justice 2 and in collaboration with the Institute for Criminal Justice Reform and Atma Jaya Catholic University.

As of May 2024, data from the corrections database system indicates that the number of inmates incarcerated for narcotics-related offenses has reached 145,272, accounting for 54% of the total inmate population. This encompasses 137,756 male inmates and 7,516 female inmates. Recognizing the strict punishments for drug offenders, including the possibility of capital punishment, the conference focused on finding recommendations to reform the situation.

Several key experts attended the conference, including keynote speaker Cahyani Suryandari, director of legislation drafting at the Ministry of Law and Human Rights of the Republic of Indonesia. Plenary speakers included Suharto, head of the Criminal Chamber at the Supreme Court of the Republic of Indonesia; Jayadi, the principal criminal investigator at the Criminal Investigation Agency from the Indonesian National Police; Rita Endang from the Indonesia Food and Drugs Administration Body; Eko Adi Prasetyanto from the Indonesian Center for Drugs Research—Atma Jaya Catholic University, and Erasmus Napitupulu, executive director of the Institute for Criminal Justice Reform.

During the conference, speakers emphasized the imperative to reconsider punitive measures and move forward with a more progressive approach focused on harm reduction. Experts also spoke about the importance of legalizing medical cannabis, highlighting its potential benefits and medicinal purposes, as cannabis products are currently prohibited in Indonesia under the country’s 2009 Narcotics Law.

Cahyani Suryandari, director of legislation drafting at the Ministry of Law and Human Rights, stated:

“Fundamental changes to the Narcotics Law are needed. Changes are necessary so the same problem won’t continue to occur. A decriminalization approach for narcotics users should be adopted. This approach involves establishing a specific range for narcotics use, which will distinguish between users and traffickers of narcotics/psychotropic substances. The goal of this plan is to reform narcotics policies using evidence and data while also considering the necessity for fair punishment and health interventions for narcotics users.”

The Foundation’s Law and Justice program officer, Carolina Martha, also spoke at the conference, focusing on prison overcrowding and calls for narcotics policy reform. Panelists noted the alarmingly high number of narcotics-related cases and the fact that there are more drug users in prison than dealers due to ineffective Law No. 35/2009, which mandates the same punitive treatment for all individuals involved with drugs, whether users, dealers, or couriers, including from vulnerable groups such as women, children, persons with disability, and the elderly.  Other remarks shared at the conference included insights on the increased risk and negative effects associated with imprisoning narcotics users and the necessary international cooperation to address drug trafficking.

The consensus at the conference called for assessments for sentence commutation, reform in Indonesia’s narcotics policies, and a commitment to strengthening international collaboration to combat drug trafficking. There was a strong emphasis on restorative justice and harm reduction strategies where, instead of prison, narcotic users are given proper rehabilitation or treatment and counseling suited to their psychosocial needs. Speakers also advocated for working with ASEAN and neighboring states, enhancing maritime domain awareness, and strengthening interagency ties to address the crisis holistically and better control drug administration.

The Asia Foundation is a nonprofit international development organization committed to improving lives and expanding opportunities across Asia and the Pacific. Informed by 70 years of experience and deep local knowledge, our work is focused on governance, climate action, gender equality, education and leadership, inclusive growth, and international cooperation. We work in more than 20 countries through our 17 permanent country offices and programs across Asia and the Pacific, supported by a headquarters in San Francisco and an office in Washington, DC. Our funding comes from a diverse array of bilateral and multilateral development agencies, foundations, corporations, and individuals.

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Related locations: Indonesia
Related programs: Good Governance, Law and Justice

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Eelynn Sim, Director, Strategy and Programs
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