Subject: Indonesia's Human Rights Future Remains Bleak Ten Years After Reformasi

TODAY (Singapore)

May 16, 2008

Indonesia's human rights report card

Still a long road ahead for Indonesia after Reformasi, human rights activist says


HORRIFIED by the bloody riots that left some 1,200 people dead in Jakarta at the height of the Reformasi movement, human rights activist Rafendi Djamin decided to play the role of healer.

Together with other activists, he got hold of some survivors and brought them to Geneva to deliver their testimonies to the Uni-ted Nations Sub-com- mission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.

Today, a decade later, the coordinator of Indonesia's Human Rights Working Group - a coalition of non-government organisations fighting for human rights - believes that "justice has not yet been served".

This, despite the fact that Reformasi - a nationwide movement to democratise Indonesia that culminated with the resignation of the late president Suharto in May 1998 - led to the formation of a human rights court in 2000.

And while he believes Indonesians are now more free to voice their dissent compared to the time when Mr Suharto was in power, Mr Rafendi also said the credibility of the Republic's human rights court still comes under question.

Not only has it failed to convict perpetrators of the May 1998 riots that took place in Jakarta and other Indonesian cities, the country's human rights court has also failed to bring to justice those responsible for the human rights abuses that took place in Papua New Guinea in 2000.

Indonesia's army allegedly raided villages that were thought to be supporting separatist movements and carried out violent attacks against East Timor as its people fought for independence from Indonesia in 1999, he said.

"Our human rights court operates just like a criminal court," Mr Rafendi told Today from Jakarta. "For example, testimonies of the victims are not considered evidence of crimes against humanity. But in international courts, they are accepted," he said.

Mr Rafendi was on his way to Bali to participate in a conference about the proposed Asean Human Rights Commission.

Then there is also the failure to consider "commander responsibility", which Mr Rafendi defines as "someone of authority who is a party to a human rights crime if it took place under his watch".

This means Indonesia, unlike the UN which had put the late Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic on trial for alleged crimes against humanity in Bosnia, could not charge the masterminds, but only those who were directly involved in abuses.

"Former army chief General Wiranto, for instance, was said to be behind some of the atrocities in East Timor. But he has not been convicted and is now even a presidential hopeful," Mr Rafendi said.

But Indonesia's problems with human rights are not just technical. Religious freedom, too, has emerged as a major issue, Mr Rafendi said, citing the recent proposed ban of the Ahmadiyah sect as an example.

Indonesia's Coordinating Body for Monitoring Religions and Beliefs - a panel set up under Suharto's rule - intends to outlaw this religious group whose followers claim to be Muslims even though they do not believe that Mohammad was the final prophet, contradicting a central tenet of Islam.

"As far as religion is concerned, the body should protect the freedom to practice it but instead, it has now interfering in the way it should be practised," he said.

However, the biggest human rights issue Indonesia faces 10 years after Reformasi is not esoteric, but rather, bread-and-butter, said Mr Rafendi.

"Yes, we are a country burdened by debts. Yes, we have to pay more than 70 per cent of our annual state budget to institutions like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Asian Development Bank," said Mr Rafendi.

"But the Indonesian government has consistently been unable to implement pro-poor policies," he said. "No wonder the number of poor in our country has risen since Reformasi."

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