With the execution of Brazilian citizen Marco Archer in Indonesia on 01/17 for cocaine trafficking, one question remains: Will the war on drugs continue to revert the achievements of civilization with cruel and absurd penalties?
It is not only Indonesia that punishes the purchase and sale of banned drugs. According to Harm Reduction International, an organization that pushes for harm reduction policies for drugs, 33 countries and territories punish drug crimes with death — in 13 of them, the sentence is mandatory.
The situation in these countries is an anomaly even for the international standards of the war on drugs, as defined by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. In a 2010 document, the executive director of the office states that drug policy should be limited by human rights as defined by international law: The death penalty, if it exists at all, must be restricted to crimes against life.
International law posits a radical principle: The state cannot be the ultimate arbiter of our rights. However, paradoxically, it recognizes the legitimacy of the state to criminalize drugs and thus ratifies state brutality, both in explicit cases such as Indonesia’s and the more subtle ones we find in the Western World.
A report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) from 2013 showed that, in the US detention system, more than 3,000 prisoners were serving life sentences without parole for non-violent crimes — from drug crimes to crimes against property.
Cases such as Dale Wayne Green’s are frequent: He was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for his role as middleman in the sale of $20 worth of marijuana. It was his “third strike.”In 2009, incredibly, the average sentence in rape cases was six years while the minimum sentence for possession of certain drugs is 10 years, and can jump to 20 years if the individual has a prior conviction.
In Brazil, the situation is mostly similar. Congress should vote soon on legislation — supported by the opposition candidate in the last presidential election — that lowers the age of majority for so-called “heinous crimes,” among which Brazilian law lists “illicit trafficking of intoxicating substances and similar drugs.”
The tendency to toughen Brazilian drug laws is clear after the 2014 elections of several congresspeople with strident anti-drug platforms. Meanwhile, re-elected president Dilma Rousseff also promised to strengthen “public security” concentrating more power in the federal government — just like what happened during the World Cup, integrating the army and police forces.
The consequences of the drug war in the country are visible: Several Brazilian cities have joined the list of cities with most murders in the planet and the country has a very extensive list of executions linked to drug trafficking — though extra-judicially, obviously.
Drug criminalization creates the cycle of violence in Brazil. We have to minimize criminal law to minimize violence. Marco Archer was not the first nor will he be the last victim of the Brazilian war on drugs.
Indonesia is cruel, but Brazil does not lag far behind. Marco Archer probably would not survive even here.
Translated into English by Erick Vasconcelos.