Subject: Kontras Aims to Develop Human Rights Culture [+Munir Probe]

also: JP: European declaration provides boost for Munir murder probe

The Jakarta Post

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Kontras Aims to Develop Human Rights Culture

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The national reform movement and the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) may appear to be two sides of the same coin.

Kontras was established March 20 a decade ago, amid rising public outcry for reform. Ten years on, people have demonstrated anger the reform agenda has been hijacked by elements in the former regime, and the prominent rights group has found Indonesia still has a long way to go before it can proclaim itself a fertile ground for the promotion of human rights.

The murder of Kontras cofounder and former coordinator Munir Said bin Thalib in September 2004 proves campaigning for human rights is still a dangerous job. Intimidation of rights activists was reported by the special envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General, Hina Jilani, following her visit here in June last year.

Kontras coordinator Usman Hamid, who replaced Munir, says people in Indonesia still consider human rights "a product of the West", which suits the norms shared by mainstream groups.

"We're being dragged back into a primitive discussion of whether human rights are important or not. I think we should've moved past that by now," he said recently.

The challenges facing the promotion of human rights might explain why victims of violence have not found justice, despite legal assistance from Kontras.

"The problem with all our efforts is it takes so long to get anything done. Some victims simply cannot cope with how long it takes to get justice," he said, citing as examples the Trisakti and Semanggi cases, which have remain unresolved after nearly 10 years.

The House of Representatives refused to declare the killings in 1998 and 1999 gross human rights violations. However, the recent Constitutional Court ruling to strip the House of its power to investigate alleged crimes against humanity has revived Kontras' hopes of seeing the rights violations reinvestigated.

"Some of my contacts at the House of Representatives have repeatedly told me Kontras just never seems to go any slower than fourth gear. I usually just laugh at that, because that's what we have to do to maintain the reform momentum," said Usman.

Tetty, the mother of Elang, one of the victims in the Trisakti shooting, said Kontras had been at the forefront of her struggle for justice.

"They've really put everything they have on the line, and they just don't stop," she said.

While efforts to bring those responsible for the Trisakti and Semanggi cases to justice have yet to bear fruit, the probe into Munir's murder has yielded a significant result, although far from satisfactory. On Jan. 25 this year, the Supreme Court sentenced former Garuda pilot Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto to 20 years in prison for the premeditated murder.

"Munir's death is far from being resolved, but we have seen a lot of progress from the government. We'll continue to pursue this case, and other cases of human rights violations," Usman said.

The National Police is said to be expanding the probe into former and current officials of the National Intelligence Agency, as ordered by the court.

Kontras is currently helping the National Commission on Human Rights investigate alleged human rights violations in the Talangsari incident of Feb. 8, 1989, when military troops stormed a village in a crackdown on a militant Muslim group.

According to the military, 27 people died in the attack. Villagers, however, claim more than 300 people, including those who were not part of the militant group, were killed.

Jimly Asshidiqqie, chief of the Constitutional Court, has nothing but admiration and respect for the organization's tenacity in promoting human rights.

"I hope all citizens will learn, especially from the Munir case, how important it is to revive the humanity principle of the Pancasila state ideology, which is the spirit of our nation's Constitution," said Jimly.

Usman said Kontras would continue to push the government to solve Munir's murder, among other cases still pending on its extensive human rights calendar.

"I think the police will have a new suspect for the Munir case before the end of June or even earlier. If they have one before the end of April, that would make a great birthday present for Kontras," Usman said.


The Jakarta Post

Saturday, March 22, 2008

European declaration provides boost for Munir murder probe

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) cannot be separated from Munir Said bin Thalib, its co-founder who was murdered aboard a Garuda flight from Jakarta to Amsterdam in September 2004, say commission executives.

Though the rights group was formally established March 20, 1998, the voices of its founders have been heard since 1996 on the eve of the country's financial crisis, which eventually led to the collapse of the authoritarian Soeharto regime.

"It started out as an independent center for public complaints during the unrest. And then we started getting a lot of calls about missing persons, which lead to founding a team dedicated to finding these missing people," Kontras coordinator and Munir's successor, Usman Hamid, said.

Funded by various donors from outside and inside the country, Kontras has, since 1998, played a significant role in the investigation of human rights violations during, and after, the Soeharto period.

Apart from the 1998 Trisakti and Semanggi I cases and the 1999 Semanggi II case, Kontras has investigated human rights violations in East Timor and Aceh, and is currently investigating violations in Lampung.

For Kontras, Munir will be remembered as a leading human rights advocator and his death represents a systemic resistance to human rights in Indonesia.

Usman said the government had no reason not to arrest the culprits behind Munir's murder, especially after the European Union Parliament called for a thorough investigation of the murder.

Usman told reporters Monday the European Union Parliament had issued a written declaration dated March 13 urging the Indonesian government to resolve Munir's murder.

"This shows that there is a global awareness of human rights violations occurring here in our country," Usman said at a press conference at the South Jakarta office of the International NGO on Indonesian Development.

The declaration, signed by 412 members of the European Union Parliament, "calls on the Indonesian authorities to take all necessary actions to ensure those responsible for the murder at all levels are brought to trial and justice is delivered as quickly as possible".

According to Usman, around 52 percent of EU's 795-member parliament agreed to show their support to ensure human rights are respected in Indonesia.

"It's part of their constitution to support the defense of human rights in partnering countries," Usman said.

"We don't see this as a threat or pressure from the European Union, but rather a show of support for the Indonesian government, allowing them to be more confident when capturing the masterminds behind Munir's murder," he said.

Munir died of arsenic poisoning during a flight from Jakarta to Amsterdam, which included a stopover in Singapore.

On Jan. 25, 2008, the Supreme Court sentenced Pollycarpus Budihari Prijanto, a Garuda pilot and additional crew member on the flight, to 20 years in prison for the murder, overturning an earlier ruling by the High Court, which sentenced him to two years.

Kontras has consistently insisted that Pollycarpus is only a pawn in a larger conspiracy involving the State Intelligence Agency.

Usman said the EU declaration should prove useful for the police and the Attorney General's Office.

"The declaration was well received by the police. I have talked to them about this declaration and they said it should further legitimize their position in capturing the real criminals," Usman said.

Usman said the strength of the declaration in Indonesia was dependent on how the government responded, which includes forwarding the declaration to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and the speakers of the House of Representatives and the People's Consultative Assembly.

"Hopefully this declaration will soon reach SBY, House Speaker Agung Laksono and Assembly Speaker Hidayat Nur Wahid," he said.

"Then we'll have more support from the government to resolve this case." (anw)

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