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Human Rights Watch Slams Indonesia for Minority Rights

Human Rights Watch Slams Indonesia for Minority Rights, Imprisoned Activists

Hayley Davis

January 31, 2013
Indonesia must do more to defend minority rights and free imprisoned activists to set an example for other consolidating democracies in the wake of the Arab Spring, New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a report released Thursday.

The annual World Report, which reviews progress on human rights in over 90 countries, identified religious violence, discriminatory local by-laws and the imprisonment of Papuan and Moluccan peaceful activists as inhibiting Indonesia’s path to becoming a “rights-respecting democracy.”

HRW deputy Asia Director Phelim Kine said the issue called for strong leadership from the Indonesian government.

“Violence against religious minorities will only get worse so long as the Indonesian government encourages or ignores attacks by Islamist militan­ts,” he said.

Religious discrimination is not limited to acts by Muslim groups in Indonesia, with protests in Papua and Christian-majority areas such as Kupang in East Nusa Tenggara halting the construction of mosques as recently as 2011.

Joseph Saunders, Deputy director at HRW, called for a presidential task-force to develop a plan of action on religious violence but cautioned against involving the Ministry of Religion because it frequently exacerbated conflicts.

“[President Susilo Bambang] Yudhoyono hasn’t wanted to touch the issue,” Saunders said. “Religion remains within the authority of the central government and we want them to wield that power. Perpetrators of religious crime should be arrested and prosecuted with a punishment commensurate with the crime.”

In the report, HRW accused Indonesian police of remaining complicit with religious violence, citing the failure of police to respond to an attack on a group of Shia students and teachers in August 2012 as one example. The attack killed two people when Sunni militants set fire to houses in East Java.

Saunders said reforming the legal system and professionalizing the police and military were paramount to ensuring the continued consolidation of democracy in Indonesia.

“The legal infrastructure itself is far from perfect,” he said. “In some aspects, it certainly facilitates discrimination toward religious minorities.”
Among the necessary reforms, Saunders highlighted a need “for a provision that allows the central government to dismiss people when they fail to implement supreme court decisions. That would apply beyond religious freedom issues.”

Legislators this week called again for an ad hoc human rights court to be set up in order to probe past rights violations in Indonesia. Though Djoko Suyanto, the coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, said that the court would be discussed in a meeting with Yudhoyono on Wednesday, the president made no public commitment to its establishment.

When asked about the potential for human rights abuse cases during the anti-communist purge of 1965-1966 in Indonesia, Saunders said it would be a traumatic but useful part of the nation’s history for the government to address.

“Take the example in Latin America of the cases from the ‘Dirty Wars,’” he said. “Addressing those issues went hand in hand with building law and accountability.”

“The Act of Killing,” a documentary about the self-proclaimed Indonesian gangsters who perpetrated many of the communist killings during this period, has been selected to be screened at the 2013 Berlin Film Festival, though it has yet to pass Indonesia’s censorship board.

Acts of peaceful political expression are also being conflated with participation in armed separatist movements, according to the HRW report.

In May 2012, the Indonesian government dismissed the recommendations of 11 United Nations member states to release political prisoners including Filep Karma, a Papuan independence activist, and others serving up to 20 years imprisonment for activities such as dancing or raising separatist flags, the report said.


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