Subject: UPI Op-Ed: Protecting Human Rights Defenders in Indonesia [by Kontras' Indria

From Joyo

UPI October 23, 2009

Protecting Human Rights Defenders in Indonesia

Guest Commentary

By Indria Fernida

Jakarta, Indonesia — Human rights defenders in Indonesia are increasingly being reported to the police, accused of lies, defamation and criminal acts. This is of high concern, as it is occurring while the government is promoting reforms, the spirit of democracy and respect for human rights.

At the beginning of this year the attorney general reported Emerson Yuntho and Illan Deta Arthasari, both activists with Indonesia Corruption Watch, to police headquarters because of a newspaper report in which they criticized the way the attorney general managed the return of corruption money. Their statement was based on official data from an audit conducted by the State Audit Board.

Before that Muchdi Purwopranjono ­ the former deputy head of the State Intelligence Agency and one of the main suspects in the 2004 murder of rights activist Said Thalib Munir while aboard an airplane ­ had reported Usman Hamid, coordinator of rights group KontraS, to the police. Muchdi accused Usman of defamation for calling him a murderer.

This statement was based on a report by the Presidential Fact Finding Team, of which Usman was a member. Usman was previously accused of criminal defamation by the head of Indonesia's State Intelligence Agency, retired Lieut. Gen. A.M. Hendropriyono, after the fact-finding team issued a summons.

These events are not the only ones. There are many reports from all parts of Indonesia about similar false reports to the police about members of minority groups, farmers, fishermen and community counseling staff. From these incidents, two things raise the highest concern.

First is the misuse of criminal defamation laws, which are a colonial legacy but are still on the books in Indonesia. The Indonesian government still uses these laws to restrict freedom of expression and opinion among its citizens. In many cases, these laws are used to hinder criminal proceedings against the main culprit and criminalize the witnesses or the victims. Frequently, defamation charges against witnesses are introduced separately from the main case.

The use of criminal defamation laws is in conflict with the Indonesian Constitution, in which freedom of expression and opinion is guaranteed. Furthermore, the U.N. special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression stated that criminal defamation is not a justifiable restriction on freedom of expression. During the U.N. General Assembly this year the special rapporteur urged U.N. member states to abolish criminal defamation laws and replace them, where necessary, with appropriate civil defamation laws.

The second issue concerns the protection of human rights defenders. In accordance with the U.N. Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms legalized by the United Nations in 1998, human rights defenders are persons who are entitled, individually or in groups, to promote and fight for the protection and fulfillment of human rights and fundamental freedoms at national and international levels.

Such is also stated in the Indonesian Constitution, where it is stipulated that all persons are entitled collectively to fight for their rights to develop their community, nation and country as well as having the rights to freedom of belief, opinion and expression, according to their conscience. Specifically, Law No. 39/1999 regarding human rights stipulates that every person is entitled to use national legal measures and international forums if his rights are violated.

In her visit to Indonesia in 2007, the representative of the U.N. secretary-general on the situation of human rights defenders, Hina Jilani, strongly recommended setting up mechanisms to investigate complaints of violations against human rights defenders who are involved in the advocacy, monitoring or reporting of human rights violations.

She also urged the government to review administrative procedures and remove restrictive regulations that impede the right of defenders to freedom of assembly and association. She further recommended that procedures be instituted to prevent the prosecution of human rights defenders for conducting legitimate activities related to their function.

As a U.N. member state that is committed to promoting, protecting and fulfilling human rights, as well as being actively involved in regional and international forums, the Indonesian government should immediately take effective, appropriate and integrated measures to implement the above recommendations.

Within this framework the National Human Rights Institution, or Komnas HAM, should be able to take the initiative and play a more active role in taking measures such as creating a specific task force to deal with the protection of human rights defenders. This would serve as a starting point to recommend changes in state policies on the fulfillment of the rights of human rights defenders.

(Indria Fernida is deputy coordinator of the Commission for Disappeared and Victims of Violence, Kontras, in Jakarta, Indonesia. She holds a law degree from the University of Parahyangan, Bandung. KontraS provides legal defense for victims of human rights violations and deals with issues related to transitional justice and security sector reforms.)

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