Shedding a tortuous legacy

Shedding a tortuous legacy

The Jakarta Post

To get clean water, move to another cell and pay up. To get your wife to visit, pay to use the front room. To get a permit to boil water and light a match, pay again.

These are the common secrets of prisons around the city, which have circulated for decades. What happens in detention centers miles away from here? No one knows, and even less care.

This is the main challenge for the convicts and the few human rights advocates who do care; in this case those hollering right now about allegations of torture behind bars near the capital of Papua, Jayapura.

In early May, the Human Rights Watch reported a few dozen cases of abuse in the Abepura prison, in which over 200 inmates are mostly those charged with involvement in the rebel movement, such as being caught waving the flag of the Free Papua Movement.

The government "needs to put an end to this disgraceful behavior, punish those responsible," Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in reference to the alleged abuse.

Access to information about Papua is not easy. Foreign monitors and journalists are not allowed; in March representatives of the International Red Cross were thrown out. The main reason why these circumstances continue is the above – that few care about it. There is not an inch of curiosity or rage about Papua that can match that displayed by the uproar when a young wife is thrown in jail for her email complaining about a hospital just outside the capital. No matter how many thousands of fellow citizens may have been killed in the past by military operations against suspected rebels.

Foreigners wonder why Indonesians show little interest in human rights violations in Papua. They are oblivious to the fact that our "patriotic" education has led many of us to notice only when a rebel flag is reportedly flying impudently in the face of our soldiers and law enforcers, dispatched to out-of-the-way locations, to watch out for any perceived threat to the sacred heritage of the nation state. Many of us remain ignorant of the various international human rights conventions ratified by our own lawmakers, so we stick to the outdated mindset that any foreigner with nothing better to do than shout about alleged abuses, probably only has the single purpose of trashing our good name.

Within a bullying culture, civilians here have also been brought up to appreciate heavy handed measures to anyone "who deserves it". Thus we sneer at the brouhaha over Guantanamo, under the auspices of the United States, supposedly the world’s human rights champion. We fight passionately for the rights of relatives in prison – only when detainees and convicts are one of our own.

Even the knowledge that we ratified the United Nations Convention against Torture 10 years ago would likely invite a mocking glance, meaning that many of the fine legal instruments we have introduced are considered to be political must-haves to win respect in the global community. Still, ratification is the first step.

A generation or two later, hopefully Indonesians can be truly known as people who have gone through reformasi – reforming themselves out of a brutal culture, masked by those famous smiles for the tourists.

Shedding this legacy would also mean being able to understand that no-one deserves torture for expressing a wish to separate from us, and knowing why we amended the Constitution to protect freedom of expression.