Fri, 30 Jun 2000

Warni's tragic story

The tragic death of Warni in Saudi Arabia could happen to any of the hundreds of thousands of Indonesians working there or in other foreign countries. The 27 year old from Malang, East Java, was executed three weeks ago for murdering her Arab employer in 1998.

It is not so much the execution that is so disturbing about her story as the fact that she had lingered in jail for about two years -- first awaiting her trial, and later her execution -- without anyone in this country, not even the government whose job it is to protect its citizens anywhere in the world, knowing anything about her fate. Her story surfaced this month only after Saudi newspapers reported her execution.

What was the Indonesian Embassy or consulate in Saudi Arabia doing all this time? How many other Indonesians are now waiting in Saudi death rows as we speak? Warni's death has exposed the gross inefficiency of many Indonesian missions abroad when it comes to protecting their own people.

There is no denying that any person must respect the law of the country where he or she resides. If Warni had broken Saudi law -- and murder is a serious crime -- she had to be punished in accordance with the law of the land. As much as we deplore capital punishment -- she was reportedly beheaded -- there is little that outsiders can do about it. We too expect foreigners living or working here to respect our laws, for they too are subject to the law of this country.

Warni's story, however, is typical of the ineptness of our government in protecting its citizens abroad. Warni was tried and convicted by a Saudi court without the benefit of assistance from the Indonesian Embassy.

Working as a domestic helper, she was too lowly educated to perhaps know her legal rights. Language could also have been a major problem for her as is typical for the hundreds of thousands of Indonesians working in the Middle East. One could only surmise that she did not have the benefit of full legal defense during her trial. We are not even sure whether due process of law, including her right to appeal, had been observed in full before she was finally executed. The only thing we do know is that we were not there when she needed our help the most.

Warni's story contrasts with that of Kartini, a 35-year-old woman from Karawang, West Java, who was saved from execution in United Arab Emirates in March following an eleventh hour diplomacy by our government. Kartini had been convicted of adultery, again after a court trial where she did not have the benefit of assistance from the local Indonesian Embassy. The difference with Warni is that her story surfaced before she was due to be stoned to death.

After an intensive diplomatic campaign, Kartini was given a new trial, this time with the benefit of translators and legal counsel provided by the government. That's when the court heard her story that she was raped by an Indian cook, who was at large. Unlike the mission in Saudi Arabia, the Indonesian Embassy in the United Arab Emirates was able to rectify its earlier mistake.

With the government still promoting the sending of workers abroad, more and more Indonesians are likely to find themselves in the same circumstances that Warni and Kartini were in. It is clear that the benefit of sending workers abroad -- especially in terms of their repatriated earnings and reducing pressure on the domestic job market -- outweigh the costs and risks that come from such a policy. Given this, it is the duty of Indonesian missions abroad to monitor the presence of Indonesian workers in their respective areas, and to come to their rescue whenever they land themselves in trouble with the local authorities.

There is nothing we can do about Warni's death. But let that be a valuable lesson for all of us, and most particularly for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, about our duty to protect our own people, wherever they choose to live as long as they remain Indonesian citizens.