Subject: JP Editorial: The Human Rights Agenda

The Jakarta Post Monday, June 29, 2009

Editorial: The Human Rights Agenda

The Jakarta Post

The release of two separate human rights reports in the past weeks could not be timelier given the fact that Indonesians will vote for their next president next week.

Unfinished Business — Police Accountability in Indonesia, a report by the London-based International Amnesty, and What Did I Do Wrong? Papuans in Merauke Face Abuses by Indonesian Special Forces, released by the New York-based Human Rights Watch, should remind the nation that the reforms begun after the collapse of the authoritarian Soeharto regime in 1998 must continue.

Our claim to be the world’s third largest democracy will be seriously compromised unless the presidential candidates address these reports, from two credible international institutions, and heed their recommendations.

Sadly, all three candidates and their running mates have consistently skirted the human rights issue completely. Each time questions have been raised about the abuses committed during the Soeharto years, the candidates insist they have all been resolved and that there is nothing more to be done — end of discussion.

This is sad indeed because, as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reported, the culture of impunity for vagrant abuses by powerful state institutions in this country remains in tact. Anyone looking for examples of Fareed Zakaria’s “illiberal democracy” need look no further than Indonesia, its living proof, at least going by these reports. One would be tempted to call Indonesia an illiberal and unjust democracy.

The National Police and Kopassus (Army Special Forces) that the reports single out for their continued human rights abuses have undergone some reforms in the last 11 years, but clearly these have not been far reaching enough.

Granted, the victims of these reported human rights abuses are specific groups and not the public in general, as was the case in the past; but that does not make it right. Amnesty International said “criminal suspects living in poor and marginalized communities, in particular women and repeat offenders, suffer disproportionately from a range of human rights violations.” The Human Rights Watch report was more specific, detailing the abuse of residents of Merauke, a town in the southeast corner of Papua province suspected of harboring separatists and their sympathizers.

Victims interviewed in the reports gave graphic details of the kind of torture methods employed by the police and the Kopassus to coerce them into giving incriminating confessions, or, in the case of the police, to extort bribes. These interrogation techniques are unacceptable in a democratic and civilized nation.

In the Soeharto years, reports of abuses in Indonesia were main staples for human rights organizations; the regime simply chose to ignore and deny the allegations. The government, and those institutions named in the report, would be making a grave mistake to simply dismiss these reports this time around. A credible and independent inquiry, as both reports proposed, must be conducted using the materials gathered by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Since Indonesia is in election mode, now is the time to ensure all candidates public commit to improving human rights for all people in Indonesia.

We have three generals running for office: the incumbent president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and vice presidential candidates Wiranto and Prabowo Subianto (himself a former Kopassus chief).

Given their military backgrounds, they should be more than familiar with the human rights problems in Indonesia. They can either end this culture of impunity once and for all, or maintain it. Let’s hope Indonesia makes the right choice.

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