Subject: JP: Relatives in Human Rights Cases Want Answers, State Has None

The Jakarta Post

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Relatives in Human Rights Cases Want Answers, State Has None

Irawaty Wardany, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Indonesia and many other countries in the world have only recently commemorated World Human Rights Day, which fell on Dec. 10.

But a question remains whether Indonesia has really succeeded in upholding and providing human rights protection for its own people.

Reality bites. Even after nine years of reforms which have given new hope to the upholding of human rights, there are still many people in Indonesia whose family members are missing or even dead and who are still waiting for justice to be upheld.

They are still waiting because Indonesia's law products cannot touch high-ranking officials -- or it is simply because of the government's unwillingness to uncover the dark side of the country's history.

Despite the recent success of Indonesia's law enforcers in a number of sectors including their uncovering of a terrorist ring, drug dealer networks and their efforts to eradicate corruption, nearly-forgotten cases like the 1989 Talang Sari shooting spree in Lampung, the 1984 Tanjung Priok riots, the 1998/1999 Trisakti-Semanggi shooting incidents, and the 2004 murder of human rights activist Munir Said Thalib, all remain a mystery.

On the other hand, relatives of the victims are still living in anxiety, waiting to find out who the people behind those incidents were.

They might not seek to punish the perpetrators, as most of them accepted the death of their relatives a long time ago -- they just need an answer, and it is their right to know who is responsible for the incidents that took their relatives' lives.

Isn't it the state's obligation to protect the rights of its people?

Unfortunately, of all the unsolved human rights violation cases, Munir's murder is the only one that has shown any progress so far.

The Attorney General's Office has sent two new suspects -- former Garuda President Indra Setiawan and secretary to Garuda's Chief Pilot Rohainil Aini -- to court and is waiting for the Supreme Court's decision on the case review filed against the main suspect in the case, Pollycarpus Budihari Prijanto.

Munir, known as a vocal critic of the Indonesian Military (TNI), had suspected the military's alleged involvement in several rights violations in the troubled provinces Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam and Papua.

He was found dead after being poisoned with arsenic on Sept. 7, 2004, on board a Garuda flight to Amsterdam, which included a stopover in Changi Airport, Singapore.

The announcement and trials around new suspects in the case, however, does not really meet his family needs. Even if those people were really involved, they were not the key actors behind Munir's murder.

At this point, the main actor behind the case remains a mystery. And this is despite a recorded telephone conversation between Pollycarpus and Indra played in one of Pollycarpus' court sessions. The tape recording highlighted the involvement of top State Intelligence Agency (BIN) officials and high-ranking government officials.

However, the alleged perpetrators remain untouchable.

Both the National Police and the fact-finding team established by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2004 expressed their intention to summon the BIN officials, but they have yet to prove it.

Fortunately, Munir's case will keep rolling on, due to the persistence of Munir's wife and his friends in the Commission of Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras). They have continued to struggle for a conclusion of the case.

In their ongoing efforts to push the government to finish the case, in March they took their fight to the United Nations Human Rights Council in March.

International pressure on the government to finish this case has increased ever since.

Munir's case has become a "challenge" for the government to prove it is serious about handling human rights cases in Indonesia.

A successful identification of the brain(s) behind Munir's murder will be a good precedence for law enforcement and human rights protection in Indonesia, as most past rights cases have yet to be settled.

Latest cases around the Lapindo mudflow and the Alas Tlogo shooting, both in East Java, have added to the list.

Around 600 families have lost their homes and thousands of children have been forced to move to other schools or even attend classes in emergency tents because of the mudflow, blamed on PT Lapindo Brantas' oil and gas drilling activities in Sidoarjo.

This is not to mention the thousands of workers who have lost their jobs.

But regardless of the devastating impact of the mudflow, there has been no firm action taken by the government against Lapindo.

Their one effort was the issuance of a 2006 presidential decree on the National Mudflow Mitigation Team. This obliged the company to pay a 20 percent downpayment to compensate the residents' losses.

Regardless of the decree, however, the problem has not been solved. The facts show most of the people have yet to receive a payment because of administrative problems.

Other than the Lapindo mudflow, the May 31 shooting incident by Marine officers in Alas Tlogo, Pasuruan, that took the lives of four residents, should also be noted.

The incident was triggered by a land ownership dispute between Alas Tlogo residents and the Navy.

Despite the reasons that have been made available, they cannot however justify the officers' actions or their shooting of residents.

If past human rights cases cannot be solved, there will be more cases in the future, because Indonesians seem to have become used to human rights abuse cases and they no longer consider them extraordinary.

However, despite all these shortcomings in upholding human rights, Indonesia has secured respect from the international world on its rights protection commitment.

The recent visit of three United Nations human rights commissioners -- UN Special Representative of the Secretary General on Human Rights Defenders Hina Jilani in June, High Commissioner on Human Rights Louise Arbour in July, and Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak in November -- were considered a notable achievement in the country's human rights sector.

The Indonesian government showed its commitment to human rights by giving these visitors the freedom to visit and meet anyone during their visit. Such freedoms might have been difficult to secure before the reforms.

These freedoms left a positive impression with them.

However, any international recognition around the government's effort to promote human rights cannot mean a thing if Indonesians have yet to feel secured in their own country. They don't need a good image, the need some proof.

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