Subject: JP: UN Rights Chief interviewed in Indonesia

UN rights chief sees good signs in Indonesia

Last week United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour paid a five-day visit here, during which she met President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Indonesian Military Commander Air Chief Marshal Djoko Suyanto, as well as NGO communities and other officials. The Jakarta Post's M. Taufiqurrahman spoke Friday with the native of Montreal, Canada, getting her assessment of the country's human rights record.

Question: You have met with rights groups and government officials here. Have you found any discrepancies in what they reported on human rights conditions? Answer: As everywhere there are different perceptions of reality between the non-governmental organization (NGO) community and the government. But here I don't sense the kind of disconnection that I see sometimes in countries where the governments are in total denial about their own shortcomings.

First, I found here a very sophisticated NGO community, very able and very engaged in different spheres; and most of my interlocutors in the government, the President, the minister for foreign affairs, people in the military, seem to be willing to acknowledge that they still have challenges.

This is most important, not to be in a state of denial .... For instance with the Munir case, the President raised it without my having to ask. I raised it with a lot of other people. To me this is a sign of realization that this is a very serious matter and it has to move forward.

What is your general assessment of human rights conditions here?

Not surprisingly, the most difficult part is to deal with the past, to deal with questions of accountability in the distant past and in the more recent past, to inspire confidence for the present and the future.

Indonesia is not alone; in fact it was only in the past 15 years internationally that we have been preoccupied with settling accounts with our history, particularly in countries emerging either from conflict or authoritarian regimes and in emerging democracies.

There is a lot of tension between embracing the future and moving forward and yet carrying this burden of the past, and not knowing what is the right way to settle it. Is it through the idealistic form of reconciliation that may be superficial, or through a vindictive accountability process that causes a lot of damage along the way?

The country is still struggling with this and I think law enforcement, judicial infrastructure is not strong, so it is particularly difficult.

So as a fairly new democracy Indonesia is not performing too poorly?

I think so. When you consider the size of the country, the pluralism, the history of authoritarianism, the pockets of conflict, very severe armed conflicts, look at all these and look at where the country is -- if anything, it should be scared of having raised so many expectations that it may be difficult to deliver on both domestically and internationally.

This is a country that's coming across surprisingly as tolerant and already addicted to the features of democracy.

But we carry so much baggage from the past; the 1965 communist massacres, the Timor Leste rights violations, the Papua case.

I think the dialogue has to continue. I sense there are pushes and pulls in every direction for myself with respect to the Truth and Friendship Commission (CTF, set up by Timor Leste and Indonesia). I always have to express concern and so does the UN with respect to the amnesty provision.

This is not a step forward. As much as it is important to encourage a process of friendship and building a peaceful future between the two countries, it seems to me that this is not an appropriate way to go right at the outset, before all the evidence is in the public domain, to open the door to amnesties for crimes against humanity, war crimes, very serious violations of human rights.

To write off accountability, personal criminal responsibility altogether is not a step in the right direction. The dialogue has to continue, but it can't be a dialogue forever, some measures have to be put in place.

The more time passes, the more difficult it is to launch appropriate investigations and the less justice seems to bring people to account. Do you think the Indonesian Military (TNI) has changed much, given the recent shootings of civilians?

Frankly, there are not a lot of places where you have the military as a leading force in human rights advancement. So the question is, is the Indonesian Military currently in its proper place in a democratic state? I think it's probably not there yet.

But there are a lot of signs that it is being made to move and moving in that direction. For instance the separation of the police from the military is a very important feature, I think, of the disengagement of military power that ought not to have that kind of oversight and presence over civilian life.

That is a step in the right direction. I said to the TNI chief and his colleague that the Indonesian Military -- which has a lot of know-how -- should have more engagement in international peacekeeping operations. There are a lot of outlets where it can in a sense realign some of its activities and certainly disengage from the business practices that aren't compatible with the place of military in a democracy.

But there are some signs that even the military sector could be made to move in the right direction.

However reform-minded, the President is a former military general. Do you think he has the credentials to lead a human rights campaign?

I don't know a lot of presidents that I would qualify as human rights campaigners. He does not have to be a human rights activist. What you have to ask of your leaders is that they have to believe in the rule of law. And the President certainly asserted that in very strong terms to me that he wants to lead a country that is well anchored in the rule of law.

The press, the NGO community have to push the human rights agenda in a more proactive fashion, looking at individual cases, not letting anything go.

The political leadership of the President talked a lot about balancing views, moving at a pace that the society is capable of sustaining. That's the real challenge for heads of state, to listen to all these voices, move at a pace that is sustainable and will not create backlash.

About the Munir case, what will be the UN's role in resolving it?

There is certainly awareness that the whole world is watching this case, in a sense that this has become almost a symbol of the political will and the know-how and the capacity of Indonesia to deal with serious, highly visible cases.

This involves a well-known human rights defender, people that have to attract a special form of protection. We have to dedicate every possible resource to ensure that they are protected when they are alive and if something happens, every effort would be made to punish those responsible.

I was given assurances throughout my visit here that this investigation is alive and moving forward and something would be done. The international interest and pressure will not go away.

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