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USGov: Testimony of Deputy Asst Secy Baer

USGov: Testimony of Deputy Asst Secy Baer At Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Hearing

Deputy Assistant Secretary Baer at the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Hearing on Indonesia, May 23, 2013

Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Daniel B. Baer

Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Hearing on Indonesia, Washingon, D.C.


Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing and for the Committee’s interest in Indonesia. I’d also like to pay tribute to the late Tom Lantos and his constant engagement on human rights issues around the world. We share in the Commission’s mission “to promote, defend and advocate for internationally recognized human rights,” and I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you. It’s a pleasure to testify today with Susan Sutton.

State Department officials both in Washington and in Indonesia have clearly communicated that the United States believes that respect for universal human rights is essential to Indonesia’s strong future. Under Secretary Wendy Sherman was in Jakarta earlier this week and discussed a broad range of important issues including human rights.

During the rollout of the International Religious Freedom Report this past Monday, Secretary of State Kerry said religious freedom is “a core American value” that “is not an American invention” but rather “a birthright of every human being.”

Indonesia has enjoyed a reputation for respect for religious pluralism. However, an increase in societal attacks by extremist groups and violence towards members of religious minorities, along with ineffective government responses, are threatening to tarnish that image. The Setara Institute reported 226 cases of interference with religious freedom by non-state actors in 2012, compared to 194 in 2011.

The 2008 Anti-Ahmadiyya Decree freezes certain activities of members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community and bans proselytizing by members of the group. In 2012, a number of regional governments enforced decrees limiting or banning the free practice of the Ahmadiyya Muslim religion. In 2011, three Ahmadiyya Muslims were beaten to death by a mob of more than 1500 while police failed to intervene; ultimately the convicted perpetrators received light sentences of four to six months while an injured Ahmadi victim was sentenced to seven months for allegedly provoking the attack.

Another disturbing trend is the increasing number of closures of churches and Ahmadiyya mosques, an issue that is – again – exacerbated by restrictive laws. The 2006 Decree on the Construction of Houses of Worship requires religious groups to obtain at least 60 signatures from other religious groups in the community before they can build a house of worship. This law is not meant to be retroactive, but has often been used by extremist groups to encourage the closure of religious buildings established prior to 2006.

Approximately 50 churches were forcibly closed across Indonesia in 2012, one church was demolished in March 2013, four Ahmadiyya mosques were closed in April 2013, and one more was closed this week.

Blasphemy laws used to restrict freedoms of religion and expression are also part of the problem. After a Shia cleric was sentenced to four years in prison for “deviant” teachings, approximately 300 of his followers were resettled to a sports complex in Sampang. About 200 followers remain at the complex, and local authorities are pressing for permanent relocation. Our Embassy and Consulate continue to press local officials in Madura, East Java to allow the Shia to return to their homes.

While some instances of violence occur along sectarian lines, the underlying causes are often more complex, including rule of law issues, political manipulation, and land disputes. Even in areas where the provincial legislature has codified certain interpretations of Sharia law, such as Aceh, those laws are unevenly and inconsistently enforced. To tackle increasing intolerance towards members of religious minorities, these underlying issues must be addressed. Although extremist groups are loud, they speak for a small, narrow minority. The majority of Indonesians support religious tolerance and mutual respect.

In terms of other civil and political rights, Indonesia is headed in the right direction. The vast majority of Indonesians are able to say and publish what they want, to criticize their government, to peacefully change their leaders, and to assemble and associate as they see fit. However, significant challenges remain. Some of the laws governing online expression are vague, and can be interpreted in ways that violate human rights. The government continues to apply treason and conspiracy statutes to criminalize non-violent political speech that it deems “separatist,”. Over 80 individuals remain in jail, some serving lengthy sentences and many suffering harsh treatment, on these kinds of political charges. In 2012, during Indonesia’s Universal Periodic Review before the UN Human Rights Council, we called on Indonesia to end enforcement of, and to repeal, the relevant provisions of its criminal code.

Consensual same-sex sexual activity is illegal in Indonesia, and many local regulations specially criminalize it along the same lines as prostitution. A local Jakarta ordinance allows police to classify any transgender person as a sex worker. Members of the LGBT community are harassed by police and coerced to pay bribes to avoid detention, and as is often the case in Indonesia, police and local officials routinely defer decisions on physical protection, investigations of crimes, and protection of rights, to extremist groups.

The human rights enjoyed by most Indonesians are less well protected in conflict-affected and ethnic and religious minority areas. We have encouraged the Indonesian government to engage in good faith dialogue with indigenous and other ethnic and religious minority groups.

In Aceh in Indonesia’s far west, the significant progress spurred by the 2005 Helsinki peace agreement could be accelerated if national and local authorities established the truth commission and human rights courts provided for in the 2006 Aceh law.

In Indonesia’s far east, historical grievances and deliberate social and economic marginalization continue to fuel a decades-old, low intensity insurgency in Papua and West Papua provinces. Armed insurgents, unarmed civilians, and members of the security services are routinely injured and killed in sporadic violence.

The past commission of serious human rights violations by Indonesian security forces in Jakarta, East Timor, Aceh, Papua and elsewhere has been widely publicized. Today we see that Indonesia’s defense and police establishments have broken with that model and are transforming. Professionalization and accountability are improving but not complete, and backsliding is a real possibility. Today the human rights violations committed by the Indonesian military and police are not command driven or widespread.

In recent years, we have seen several cases of small groups of low-ranking personnel committing very serious crimes including murder and torture. The government investigates those cases and, in a break from the past, has prosecuted some perpetrators. We welcome these steps, although it is important to note that accountability is incomplete, because in most cases the perpetrators are charged with a minor offense and do not receive a sentence commensurate with the actual violent crime committed.

We’ve seen recently the government’s willingness in some cases to court-martial the perpetrators after they have completed their prison sentence. We are watching very carefully the military’s investigation of the March 2013 attack on a prison in central Java in which several guards were injured and four prisoners were executed. Eleven KOPASSUS personnel have been arrested, and the conduct of the investigation and the trial and punishment of the perpetrators will speak volumes about the cultural shift underway within the military.

Indonesia is poised to be one of the most important countries of the 21st century­if they continue democratic progress. Many democratic changes are irreversible, and the overwhelming majority of Indonesians and most government officials want a rights-respecting, peaceful, and inclusive society However, many reforms are works in progress and backsliding on some of the most critical advancements is possible. Indonesia has many partners and friends including the United States. And of course, as elsewhere, the strongest partners of the Indonesian government come from within­the civil society organizations and advocates, journalists, and others who, by pushing the government to do better, help to cement the considerable gains made by and for the Indonesian people. I thank you again for exploring these vitally important issues and for the opportunity to testify today. I welcome your questions.


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