When the head of Indonesia’s narcotics control agency (BNN), Mr. Gories Mere, said that his country’s drug policies were better than those of Portugal because they required all people who use drugs to be rehabilitated, he set the tone for his agency’s contribution to a national symposium on drug policies on diversion and treatment. IDPC, which was represented by Mike Trace (Chair), Ann Fordham (Executive Director) and Gloria Lai (Senior Policy Officer), were co-organising the symposium together with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, BNN, and Indonesia’s Ministry of Health, held in Jakarta in early October.

In the context of ongoing difficulties with implementing new laws and regulations introduced since 2009, including mandating the registration of people who use drugs and their diversion into treatment centres, a Portuguese representative (Nuno Capaz, Dissuasion Commission, Lisbon) was invited to speak on his country’s system of decriminalisation and diversion of people who use drugs to treatment and services (only where the individual has such a need).  Just three weeks prior to the Jakarta symposium, over 20 government officials (including Mr Mere), parliamentarians, civil society and international agency (UNODC, AusAID) representatives had taken part in a study visit to Portugal to see for themselves the Portuguese model of decriminalisation and drug treatment. However at the symposium, there did not appear to be a prevailing mood for change amongst government agencies.  While the Ministry of Social Affairs insisted on the need to ensure that individuals were fully rehabilitated and did not relapse, though without explaining their plan to achieve that need, the Ministry of Health spoke frankly about the challenges faced in implementing laws on compulsory registration—including difficulties with coordinating all the agencies involved in the registration and treatment system—and improving the capacity of health centre staff to respond appropriately to people who use drugs.

In what seemed like a parallel universe, BNN representatives, proudly talked about having the ‘most beautiful’ rehabilitation centres in Southeast Asia, the effectiveness of relying on religious leaders to ‘rehabilitate’ people who use drugs where law enforcement agencies have failed in their efforts, and offering ‘sabbatical’ trips to islands for people who have stopped using drugs to help them with social reintegration.

However the symposium was refreshing in allowing a wide range of voices to be heard. A member of the House of Representatives committee responsible for health issues questioned the necessity and effectiveness of requiring the compulsory registration of people who use drugs, and urged the serious consideration of adopting instead drug courts (as with some states in Australia) or dissuasion commissions like those in Portugal. Edo Agustian of the national drug user network (PKNI) spoke about the fear that people who use drugs have about police abuse, and the need for them to feel assured about being safe from abuse and harassment if they were ever to willingly register themselves with the authorities. He also spoke about the increasing use of amphetamine-type substances (ATS) and the need for ATS-specific treatment on the one hand, but on the other, the need to recognise that many people use ATS occasionally and do not need treatment.

That there was an opportunity for a range of voices from government, community, and civil society to speak frankly about the specific issue of compulsory registration and the treatment system in Indonesia might have been an achievement in itself. That it could help to stimulate further steps towards lasting change in laws and institutional practises now depends on the ongoing efforts of all those involved. This was one of the aims of several Indonesian civil society actors, who gathered the day after the symposium for an IDPC civil society advocacy workshop.

At the workshop, IDPC shared an update on international and regional drug policy developments. At the international level, Mike shared some good news about movements toward drug policy reform in the United States and some Latin America countries. Meanwhile, news from the region showed that drug policy debates were not as dynamic as at the international level. Many Asian countries still impose compulsory treatment for people who use drugs, such as in Thailand.

Many participants exchanged views on the Indonesian government’s perception of diversion issues. Some participants also pointed out that there are still many civil society workers that lack understanding about Indonesia’s overall drug policy. To gain a better understanding about national-level policies, participants did an exercise to map the actors involved on drug policy issues in different areas, for example, providing harm reduction services,  gathering data related to drugs, and policy advocacy. Participants also engaged in other exercises to help identify the key problems in Indonesia’s current drug policies, as a basis for developing an advocacy plan. Among the problems identified were the need to amend the Narcotic Law and address the lack of coordination among all government agencies involved in drug policy.

At the close of the workshop, one participant from Papua shared her concern about Papua’s unique conditions where, unlike in the big cities, access to treatment, data, and information are very limited. Overall it was a fruitful two-day discussion. Even though there might have been an issue with language barriers, everyone had their opportunity to share their opinion on the challenges and opportunities in reforming Indonesian drug policy.

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