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Indonesia adopts softer approach with drug users

Anti-narcotics agency announces cooperation deal with UN in effort to rehabilitate addicts, not jail them

Indonesia adopts softer approach with drug users

UNODC country manager, Collie F. Brown (right) with the BNN'S Diah Setia Utami at the announcement of the cooperation agreement between the two organizations in tackling the problem of drug use in Jakarta on June 26. (Photo by Konradus Epa/ucanews.com)

Church leaders and activists have welcomed what they think is a possible softening in the Indonesian government's hard-line drug policy after the anti-narcotics agency said it would push for drug users to be rehabilitated, rather than imprisoned.

The move was announced on June 26 when the Indonesia National Narcotics Agency (BNN) and the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) agreed on June 26 — the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking — to boost cooperation in rehabilitation efforts for drug addicts.

UNODC country manager, Collie F. Brown, said both institutions agreed that the best way to stop the spreading of drugs is through rehabilitation of drug addicts, rather than sending them to prison.

Indonesia imposes harsh punishments for drug related crimes. Under President Joko Widodo the country has executed 18 prisoners for drug trafficking, while police have shot dead 99 people during its anti-drug war. Users, meanwhile, are systematically jailed.

Azas Tigor Nainggolan, coordinator of the human rights desk of the Indonesian bishops' Commission for Justice, Peace and Pastoral for Migrant-Itinerant People welcomed the agreement, saying the church has long advocated for rehabilitation rather than jail time.

"Drug users need to be guided and treated humanely, through counseling, in order for them to recover," Nainggolan told ucanews.com.

"The Catholic Church is good at that," he said, suggesting that the church would be willing to help in such efforts through Catholic lay groups who help drug users at rehabilitation centres.  

Robertus Sudargo, secretary of Sekar Mawar, a foundation that helps rehabilitate drug users in Bandung diocese, in West Java, said curing an ill is more productive than punishment.

"Imprisoning drug users just creates another social problem," he said.

Since its foundation in 2000, Sekar Mawar has helped many addicts from different ethnic and religious backgrounds.

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But the challenge is huge, because the number of drug users in Indonesia remains high.

According to the BNN, about 6.4 million Indonesians are under the influence of drugs. The agency also said about 6 tons of drugs are consumed each week and about 50 users die every day.

The agency also reported that since most drug users are imprisoned, it has led to overcrowding in many of the country's prisons.

Diah Setia Utami, BNN's Deputy for Rehabilitation, said cooperation with the UNODC would cover medicines, rehabilitation process, and the training of Indonesian law enforcers in how to help drug users.

"Training will help law enforcement officials distinguish between drugs users from dealers, so that they know who deserve punishment and those who need rehabilitation," she said.

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