1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

A major drug hub

Interview: Thomas Latschan / gd
February 3, 2015

Indonesian President Jokowi has shocked rights groups by defending executions of drug traffickers, saying the country faces an emergency over drug use. DW talks to the UNODC's Troels Vester about the nation's drug woes.

Symbolbild Drogenschmuggel
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Indonesia is set to carry out its second round of executions of death-row convicts this year. The country's Attorney General's office said last week it had received letters from President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo rejecting clemency for 11 convicts, including eight drug traffickers. They include one each from Brazil, France, Ghana, the Philippines, Nigeria, and two from Australia.

Last month, the Southeast Asian nation executed six traffickers - from Malawi, Brazil, Nigeria, the Netherlands, Vietnam and Indonesia.

The Jokowi-led administration has defended the death penalty for drug traffickers, saying the country's drug problem has reached an emergency level. According to government statistics, drug abuse kills an average of 40 people in Indonesia every day, and the estimated number of drug addicts is expected to reach 5.8 million people this year.

In a DW interview, Troels Vester, Country Manager of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Indonesia, says the Southeast Asian nation is being used as a major hub for drug trafficking by transnational organized crime groups in an effort to meet current or possible demand of a large young population and a correspondingly large market for drugs.

Indonesien Präsident Joko Widodo 21.10.2014
President Joko Widodo has defended the execution of drug traffickers, saying the country faces an emergency over drug useImage: Reuters/Darren Whiteside

DW: How many drug users are there in Indonesia, and which drugs are consumed most in the country?

Troels Vester: It is estimated that there were 3.7 million to 4.7 million drug users in Indonesia in 2011. About 1.2 million of them used crystalline methamphetamine and 950,000 consumed ecstasy. By comparison, there were an estimated 2.8 million cannabis users and roughly 110,000 heroin addicts. Indonesia's National Narcotics Board (BNN) estimates there are currently 5.6 million drug users in the country.

The use of drugs in Indonesia has long been dominated by cannabis. In the latter half of the 1990s, there was a substantial increase in heroin use - particularly its injection - which fuelled rapid spread of HIV. However, towards the end of the decade, Amphetamine Type Stimulants (ATS) had become increasingly available and widely used.

Are there any government-backed programs to treat drug addicts or prevent people from abusing drugs?

The Indonesian government plans to rehabilitate 100,000 drug users this year. In the context of reducing the health and social consequences of drug abuse, a range of services has been made available for them such as psychosocial treatment, counselling, self-help group therapy, needle syringe programs, HIV counselling and testing, including the provision of anti-retroviral therapy for PLHIV (people living with HIV).

UNODC, in collaboration with BNN, is about to start a pilot program in selected provinces to ensure that drug users are not incarcerated but offered treatment based on the inter-ministerial regulation.

Indonesia is also known to be an important hub for drug trafficking. What is the country's role in the international drug business?

It is fair to say that Indonesia has become a major hub for drug trafficking with large volumes of drugs being trafficked to Indonesia by transnational organized crime groups in an effort to meet current or possible demand of a large young population and a correspondingly large market for drugs. Indonesia has made major drug seizures coming from other countries recently, especially of methamphetamine, which is locally referred to as "syabu."

These groups are highly organized and often operate in several countries, taking advantage of the vulnerabilities of different countries, moving shipments fairly easily across land borders, and in some cases through ports.

Methamphetamine has been produced on a large scale in Indonesia by organised crime groups, but is often trafficked to Indonesia from places like China, the Philippines, and Iran.

What kinds of drugs are trafficked most? Where do they come from and where are their target markets?

ATS is the most trafficked drug in Indonesia. A decade ago, most of the crystalline methamphetamine seized in Indonesia originated from China (including Hong Kong), the Philippines and Thailand. At present, however, most ATS is supplied by domestic manufacturers, with remaining quantities continuing to be trafficked into Indonesia by transnational criminal networks. The entry points into Indonesia are primarily in Jakarta, Batam, Surabaya and Denpasar. Crystalline methamphetamine trafficked from Malaysia are also found in Aceh and Medan on Sumatra island.

Indonesia's new president Joko Widodo is trying to crack down on drug mafia by carrying out executions of a number of imprisoned drug dealers. What more should the Indonesian government do to combat illegal drug trafficking?

The United Nations is against the death penalty. The UN Secretary General has publically stated the UN position on the issue several times. The UN has also conveyed its position to the Indonesian government in this regard.

What more must be done in and outside of Indonesia to tackle the problem?

The Indonesian government continues to demonstrate its commitment to reducing both the demand and supply of ATS and other drugs in the country. The continuing high levels of ATS manufacture, trafficking and use in Indonesia suggest that the authorities will have to intensify efforts to reduce the ATS situation.

Symbolbild Drogen Junkie Stadt Straße
Vester: 'There are currently 5.6 million drug users in Indonesia'Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Drug treatment services for ATS users have to be scaled up. Currently, the most common locations for treatment for ATS users in Indonesia are specialized drug treatment facilities, psychiatric clinics and general hospitals. The government may consider initiating community-based and evidence-informed drug treatment for ATS users.

In addition to enhancing treatment services for ATS users, the government may also consider strengthening the capacity of its law enforcement and forensic agencies.

The extent of ATS precursor chemical trafficking into Indonesia is not fully known due to limited available data. Among Southeast Asian nations, next to Thailand, Indonesia has the highest annual legitimate requirement for pseudoephedrine (a precursor chemical for production of ATS) and diversion for illicit ATS manufacture remains a potential risk.

The ASEAN nations need to make sure there is a balance between trade facilitation and security. The law enforcement agencies need to be more effective to prevent cross border transportation of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances.

Troels Vester is Country Manager of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Indonesia.

Skip next section Explore more