Subject: Kontras/Usman Hamid: Promises, Pitfalls on the Path to End Forced Disappearance

The Jakarta Post April 23, 2009


Promises, Pitfalls on the Path to End Forced Disappearance

by Usman Hamid


A series of enforced disappearance cases that have occurred frequently in Indonesia in the past have not only caused mental and physical damage to victims, but also agony to our senses as human beings.

Enforced disappearance is defined as more than just incommunicado detention, torture or possible extra-judicial execution (Rodley: 2000). First, the refusal of state authorities to acknowledge this "illegal" detention will at the end of the day become a denial of responsibility.

Second, from victims' perspectives, there is a question as to whether or not they are still alive, and even if physical torture ceases, as time goes by there is growing despair because incommunicado detention permanently denies their contact with and protection from the outside world.

Third, prisoners' families also suffer unknown fates. Rodley emphasizes that by any standards they are also victims of disappearance within the ordinary understanding of the term.

Why has this issue become so important?

First, apart from the political climate surrounding the recent legislative elections, rights activists are currently organizing a two-week campaign against past disappearances. What makes their campaign more interesting now is that human rights icons Lidya Taty Almeida and Aurora Morea of Les Madres de la Plaza de Mayo have flown thousands miles from Argentina to visit Jakarta.

Recent developments in Argentina have brought hope to countries in political transition like Indonesia. The United Nations Working Group on Enforced Disappearance, which visited Argentina from July 21-24, 2008, has come to the conclusion that jurisdictional and judicial authorities in the country have the positive will to process, at least, several cases of past grave human rights violations and more than 20 verdicts have been issued against perpetrators of these abominable crimes.

The UN Working Group is expecting that the reform of the Argentine Federal Criminal Code, which defines the criminal conduct of enforced disappearance as an autonomous crime, is underway.

Second, in its plenary session held on June 9, 2008, the Human Rights Council welcomed Indonesia's commitment to end impunity and encouraged the country to continue its efforts to deal with human rights issues. It also urged Indonesia to sign the Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

A year earlier, and in response to the Convention, an Indonesian representative named Wiwiek Setyawati, the human rights director at the Foreign Ministry, delivered a speech before the Human Rights Council in its session on June 27, 2007, stating that:

"Nobody should be subjected to enforced disappearance and there should be zero tolerance for the act. The Convention would be an important standard-setting document which would provide for protection from enforced disappearance."

So far, the Convention has been ratified by only nine states, namely Albania, Argentina, Bolivia, Cuba, France, Honduras, Mexico, Senegal and Kazakhstan.

Third, in March 2008, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono expressed his support and made a promise to families of victims to find a solution, so that justice could be delivered.

Several months later, the House of Representative set up the Special Committee on 1997/1998 Enforced Disappearances against Pro-democracy activists.

The Committee was set up following the release of the 2008 final report of the National Human Rights Commission on disappearances. Its final inquiry concludes that the abduction of nine activists who were severely tortured cannot be separated from the disappearance of 13 missing activists.

Both were committed under one secret operation called "Sandi Yudha" that was carried out by the Special Forces' taskforce named "Team Mawar", which had authorization from top level authorities inside the then Indonesian Armed Forces (ABRI).

The findings also say that the main motive behind the secret operation was to protect Soeharto's power.

Led by the opposition party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) faction, the House has conducted a series of hearings with families and relatives of victims and the National Human Rights Commission. The House, however, has failed to summon key military figures, such as Wiranto and Prabowo, who are now leading the Hanura Party and Gerindra Party, respectively.

And now, PDI-P and its chairwoman, Megawati Soekarnoputri, are collaborating with Wiranto and Prabowo to contest the upcoming presidential election. What does this mean for human rights? For sure, the current political development has caused a blunder for ongoing inquiries in Parliament.

Meanwhile, all I can say is that the current visit of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo shows that the struggle for human rights has a universal language.

This group, perceived as "icons" by human rights fighters, has given inspiration to the human rights movement around the world.

In a spirit of camaraderie, the Argentinean mothers joined the Indonesian families of the disappeared in a peace rally - which is held regularly in front of the presidential palace in Jakarta, every Thursday afternoon.

The peace rally plans to adopt the same methods that were used by the Madres in the Plaza de Mayo as they staged similar rallies in front of the Presidential Palace, Casa Rosada, in the center of Buenos Aires.

The mothers - echoed by Indonesian mothers of the disappeared - have committed to saying there are only two things that will stop their protests: One, if they are all killed; or two, if the government reveals the whereabouts of their missing children, and punishes the perpetrators for what they have done."

Is that a utopian ideal? You may say so. But they believe that "the end of human rights comes when they lose their utopian end," as stated by Professor Costas Douzinas, 2000.

The writer is the executive director of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras).

Back to April Menu
World Leaders Contact List
Main Postings Menu