Amnesty International USA letter to President Obama on Indonesia

Amnesty International USA letter to President Obama on Indonesia
March 2, 2010

The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

As you prepare to travel to launch the US–Indonnesia Comprehensive Partnership, Amnesty International would like to bring to your attention the human rights situation in Indonesia and urge you to press President Susilo Bangbang Yudhoyono for meaningful human rights improvements. Failure to do so would send the wrong signal: that the United States is not concerned about human rights in Indonesia.

While in Indonesia, we strongly urge you to meet with human rights defenders and the families of victims of state abuse, especially those civilians who were killed during the 1965 political turmoil. We also urge you to publicly state what role human rights will play in the US–Indonesia Comprehensive partnership and emphasize that human rights will play as important a role as trade and security. Please commend Indonesia’s leadership role in creating the human rights body in ASEAN. Encourage President Yudhoyono to continue Indonesia’s active role in this body and offer to assist their work.

Even though Indonesia has come a long way over the years in its respect for human rights, much needs to be done to protect the basic rights of Indonesian citizens. We would like to highlight our human rights concerns.

Address the Problem of Impunity
Major human rights abusers go unpunished in Indonesia. One clear example is the failure of successive Indonesian governments to bring the late military dictator Suharto to trial for the roughly half-a-million to a million people who were killed in 1965. He was also never held to account for the death of around 100,000 East Timor people. This is one of the main reasons why impunity is a serious problem in Indonesia to this date.

Make Reform a Centerpiece of US–Indonesia military cooperation
US – Indonesia military cooperation should ensure the development of a professional security force in Indonesia and should be linked to bringing those involved in human rights abuses to face trial. Of special concern are recent attempts to engage the Special Forces group “Kopassus.”

Request: Any US–Indonesia military cooperation should be linked to genuine security sector reform, including bringing a”Kopassus” officers involved in human rights abuses to trial.

Stoning to death for adultery
A new Indonesian bylaw endorses stoning to death for adultery and canning of up to 100 lashes for homosexuality. This local Islamic Criminal Code was passed by the Aceh Provincial House of Representatives in September 2009.

Request: Urge the Indonesian authorities to repeal this law.

Release Political Prisoners
Indonesian authorities continue to use repressive legislation to criminalize peaceful political activities. Violations of this right are particularly severe in areas where there has been a history of pro-independence movements such as Maluku and Papua.

  • Former civil servant Filep Karma and student Yusak Pakage are serving prison sentences of 15 and 10 years respectively for peacefully raising the Papua flag.
  • In June 2007, 22 men were arrested in Maluku province for unfurling the “Benang Raja” flag, a symbol of South Maluku identity, after performing a traditional dance in front of President Yudhoyono. All have now been sentenced to jail terms between seven and 20 years.


Amnesty International considers the above “Prisoners of Conscience” and demands their immediate and unconditional release.

Request: We urge you to demand their immediate release before you arrive in Indonesia as a mark of good will. We are confident that President Yudhoyono will take your request seriously.

Protect Human Rights Defenders
We appreciate your recent meeting with Human Rights Defenders at the White House and urge you to highlight the protection of human rights defenders in Indonesia. We are concerned that the Indonesian legal system is being used to intimidate human rights defenders rather than to ensure that they are able to carry out their important work.

For example, human rights defender Usman Hamid is the subject of criminal defamation proceedings due to his involvement in the campaign for justice for the late Munir Said Thalib, who was murdered by poisoning in September 2004. In addition to Mr. Hamid, at least six other human rights defenders faced criminal defamation charges in 2009 for their work: Emerson Yuntho, Illian Deta Arta Sari, Gatot, Suryani, Dadang Iskandar, and Itce Julinar.


  1. We urge you to press President Yudhoyono to ensure that human rights defenders are not targeted through criminal defamation suits or by any other means.
  2. We also urge you to call upon the Indonesian government to identify those at the highest level responsible for Munir’s murder and publish the report of the fact-finding team.


Establish Complaint Mechanism for Police Abuse
Despite the current reform process to make Indonesian National Police more professioal and respectful of human rights, criminal suspects living in poor and marginalized communities, in particular women and repeat offenders, are disproportionately targeted for a range of human rights violations.

Request: Urge President Yudhoyono to initiate steps to set up an independent complaints mechanism that can receive and deal with complaints from the public.

Prosecute Those Responsible for Disappearances
In September 2009, the Special Committee on Disappearances 1997–1998 of Indonesia’s House of Representatives urged the government to create an ad-hoc human rights court to try those responsible for enforced disappearances.

Request: Urge the Authorities to take immediate steps to create an ad-hoc human rights court.

Allow Freedom of Religion

Blasphemy law: Several laws and regulations continue to be discriminatory towards freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Article 156(a) of Indonesian Criminal Code, enacted under a 1965 Presidential Decree, makes “blasphemy” a crime punishable by up to 5 years of imprisonment. Amnesty International is aware of at least eight people who are currently in prison under this law.

The Ahmadiyya community continues to face intimidation and attacks. In June 2008, a joint ministerial decree instructed the Ahmadiyya community to either declare that they are not Muslims or discontinue declaring their faith.

Christian groups also face restrictions on worship and evictions. In one case, at least 1,400 Christian students were evacuated from their Setia college campus in July 2008 when it was attacked by villagers allegedly linked to the Islamic Defenders Front. There have been no arrests in relation to the attack.

Request: Urge the Indonesian authorities to allow freedom of religion.

Mr. President, Amnesty International urges you to take this opportunity to ensure that steps are taken to improve human rights in Indonesia. While in Indonesia, we strongly urge you to speak publicly and meet with human rights defenders and families of victims, especially those civilians who were killed during the 1965 political turmoil. Thank you.


Larry Cox
Executive Director