Editorial: The Human Rights Agenda

Editorial: The Human Rights Agenda
The Jakarta Post

The release of two separate human rights reports in the past
weeks could not be timelier given the fact that Indonesians will
vote for their next president next week.

Unfinished Business — Police Accountability in Indonesia, a
report by the London-based International Amnesty, and What Did I
Do Wrong? Papuans in Merauke Face Abuses by Indonesian Special
Forces, released by the New York-based Human Rights Watch,
should remind the nation that the reforms begun after the
collapse of the authoritarian Soeharto regime in 1998 must

Our claim to be the world’s third largest democracy will be
seriously compromised unless the presidential candidates address
these reports, from two credible international institutions, and
heed their recommendations.

Sadly, all three candidates and their running mates have
consistently skirted the human rights issue completely. Each
time questions have been raised about the abuses committed
during the Soeharto years, the candidates insist they have all
been resolved and that there is nothing more to be done — end of

This is sad indeed because, as Amnesty International and Human
Rights Watch reported, the culture of impunity for vagrant
abuses by powerful state institutions in this country remains in
tact. Anyone looking for examples of Fareed Zakaria’s “illiberal
democracy” need look no further than Indonesia, its living
proof, at least going by these reports. One would be tempted to
call Indonesia an illiberal and unjust democracy.

The National Police and Kopassus (Army Special Forces) that the
reports single out for their continued human rights abuses have
undergone some reforms in the last 11 years, but clearly these
have not been far reaching enough.

Granted, the victims of these reported human rights abuses are
specific groups and not the public in general, as was the case
in the past; but that does not make it right. Amnesty
International said “criminal suspects living in poor and
marginalized communities, in particular women and repeat
offenders, suffer disproportionately from a range of human
rights violations.” The Human Rights Watch report was more
specific, detailing the abuse of residents of Merauke, a town in
the southeast corner of Papua province suspected of harboring
separatists and their sympathizers.

Victims interviewed in the reports gave graphic details of the
kind of torture methods employed by the police and the Kopassus
to coerce them into giving incriminating confessions, or, in the
case of the police, to extort bribes. These interrogation
techniques are unacceptable in a democratic and civilized nation.

In the Soeharto years, reports of abuses in Indonesia were main
staples for human rights organizations; the regime simply chose
to ignore and deny the allegations. The government, and those
institutions named in the report, would be making a grave
mistake to simply dismiss these reports this time around. A
credible and independent inquiry, as both reports proposed, must
be conducted using the materials gathered by Amnesty
International and Human Rights Watch.

Since Indonesia is in election mode, now is the time to ensure
all candidates public commit to improving human rights for all
people in Indonesia.

We have three generals running for office: the incumbent
president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and vice presidential
candidates Wiranto and Prabowo Subianto (himself a former
Kopassus chief).

Given their military backgrounds, they should be more than
familiar with the human rights problems in Indonesia. They can
either end this culture of impunity once and for all, or
maintain it. Let’s hope Indonesia makes the right choice.