27 February 2011

Vigilante Justice: How Much is Life Worth?

How much is a life worth?

It is a question that could be asked in any number of contexts, including vigilante justice. It must be said that vigilante justice is not something that is exclusive to any one country or any one period of history. The choice of Indonesia, and in particular Aceh, in this example represents nothing more than my interest in Indonesia.

It was not surprising to read a story in The Jakarta Globe about the killing of two men accused of stealing ducks in the village of Lawe Serke in Aceh. It is not surprising because since my first day in Indonesia way back in 1993 there has always been news stories of vigilante justice. One of the first things I remember was advice to call out "thief" if I was ever pick-pocketed or the victim of a burglary or similar.

The story is a relatively simple one. Lawe Serke village has a duck rustling problem. Ducks are going missing in increasing numbers. Therefore, the villagers decided that night patrols were the way to go. It goes without saying that when the night patrol spotted some unknown men roaming in the village that the patrol immediately suspected they were the duck rustlers.

The suspicion was spot on. Two of the three men they caught had ducks with them, eight to be exact. The two men that were caught, Hajidsu and Jabar, were then attacked with whatever the villagers had at hand. Some of the weapons that were used were knives and machetes. Both men were killed where they were found.

Samsuar, the Village Head, justified the violence and subsequent murders by stating that the villagers had sustained significant losses over the past month to the duck rustlers. The police position was that "people must not take the law into their own hands".  Although, the police are saying that they are treating the killings as a serious criminal offense, but perhaps more telling is that the police have not yet identified any suspects in the killings.

So, how much is a life worth? Seemingly, four ducks!

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