Subject: JP: What Indonesia stands to gain from seat on UN rights council

Jakarta Post

April 27, 2006

What Indonesia stands to gain from seat on UN rights council

Dede A. Rifai, Jakarta

The 47 members of the new UN Human Rights Council will be elected May 9, 2006. Membership to the council is open to all member states of the United Nations. Members will be elected for three-year terms by the General Assembly through individual and direct votes by absolute majority.

Indonesia has decided to vie for membership to council. To realize this goal, Indonesia has launched a campaign to win support from other UN member countries, as clearly shown during the UN-ESCAP (UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific) meeting recently held in Jakarta.

Why is Indonesia so eager to sit on the council?

According to Lord Palmerston, foreign policy firmly defends national interests. Likewise, the Indonesian candidacy is to defend its national interests.

Which of Indonesia's national interests at stake at the council?

One of the immediate interests may be related to the Commission of Truth and Friendship Indonesia has formed with Timor Leste to unveil the conclusive truth of the reported gross human rights violations in East Timor in 1999. This commission is expected to complete its mandate in mid-2007. The result of the commission's work may be referred to the Human Rights Council. Therefore, Indonesia's membership on the council would influence the debate on the result of the commission's work.

The other interest may be linked to the issue of alleged human rights violations in Papua and other parts of Indonesia. Recently, some special rapporteurs and other mandate holders of the special mechanism of the Commission on Human Rights have requested clarification on the reported human rights abuses. If Indonesia fails to provide a satisfactory responses, the cases may be brought to the council.

To address the alleged human rights violations, Indonesia could use its membership on the council to inform the progress on human rights promotion. Furthermore, Indonesia could get assistance from and cooperate with the council to advance its human rights performance, such as the implementation of the National Plan of Action on Human Rights and various international instruments on human rights ratified by Indonesia.

It is clear, therefore, that for the current Indonesian government under President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the membership of Indonesia in the council for the 2006-2009 term is extremely important.

Membership could help Indonesia to permanently close the reported crimes against humanity in East Timor and prevent the internationalization of alleged rights abuses in Papua. Indonesia cannot ignore the fact that the reemergence of the East Timor issue in the UN, which led to the territory's partition from Indonesia, was preceded by reported human rights violations there.

Given these challenges, does Indonesia deserve a seat in the council?

The situation of human rights in Indonesia cannot be judged by these matters alone. However, Indonesia cannot avoid the fact that there are unsolved human rights violations inherited from the previous regime.

Since the reform era in 1998, Indonesia has shown tremendous progress in the promotion and protection of human rights. Indonesia has ratified six out of seven core human rights instruments, including the International Covenant on the Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on the Economic and Social-Cultural Rights. Indonesia has also implemented the National Action Plan on Human Rights, held direct elections for president and local government leaders.

In the area of law enforcement, the National Police are now separated from the military as a consequence of the commitment to truly respect human rights in the process of law enforcement. The police have shifted their old paradigm to community and civilian-oriented police. In short, Indonesia is a shining example among developing and Muslim countries of a country which has succeeded in adopting democracy and promoting human rights.

Such improvement must be sustained. The international community has a responsibility to assist Indonesia to further promote and protect human rights. In this connection, the international community could support Indonesia's membership at the Human Rights Council.

Does Indonesia stand a good chance of being elected a member of the council?

Although Indonesia currently is a member of the Commission on Human Rights, this will not automatically help Indonesia secure council membership. When Indonesia was elected a member the commission, it won votes from the majority of the 53 member states of the Economic and Social Council. However, to win a seat in the council, Indonesia must win support from an absolute majority of the entire membership of the General Assembly (96 states). Indonesia will compete with around 20 Asian countries to fill the 13 seats on the council for Asia.

By adopting a reciprocal strategy, Indonesia can get support from 46 countries. To be elected to the council Indonesia needs 50 more countries.

Support from these countries will depend not only on Indonesia's performance in human rights, but also on cost and benefit calculations in terms of political, economic and social factors.

It should be considered that each country has different needs and interests in Indonesia. Therefore, to get support from other countries, Indonesia should apply concerted efforts and specific strategies to approach these countries.

Last but not least, Indonesia's election to the council would be a historical milestone. And it would ease the nation's burden in facing human rights issues.

The writer participated in the Specialization Program on Multilateral Diplomacy at the Graduate Institute of International Studies, Geneva, Switzerland. This article is his personal opinion. He can be reached at

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