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Indonesia: Rights Rollback for Religious Minorities, Women

Leadership Fuels Intolerance, Emboldens Abusers

January 22, 2014

(Jakarta) – Indonesian women and religious minorities faced heightened discrimination in 2013 from the government’s failure to enforce human rights protections, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2014.

Indonesia’s government under President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono should reverse course and enforce laws protecting religious freedom, Human Rights Watch said. Indonesia should amend or abolish hundreds of local bylaws that discriminate against women and religious minorities. The government should also release the dozens of political prisoners, mostly Papuan and Moluccan activists, imprisoned for peaceful dissent.

“President Yudhoyono is all talk and no action when faced with government officials and militant groups intent on curbing the rights of women and religious minorities,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Unless Yudhoyono takes decisive action in the final months of his presidency in 2014, his legacy will be marred by his failure to defend the rights of all Indonesians.”

In the 667-page World Report 2014, its 24th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. Syria’s widespread killings of civilians elicited horror but few steps by world leaders to stop it, Human Rights Watch said. A reinvigorated doctrine of “responsibility to protect” seems to have prevented some mass atrocities in Africa. Majorities in power in Egypt and other countries have suppressed dissent and minority rights. And Edward Snowden’s revelations about US surveillance programs reverberated around the globe.

Militant Sunni Islamist groups, such as the Islamic Defenders Front (Front Pembela Islam, or FPI) have frequently threatened or attacked religious minority communities with impunity. Yet Indonesia’s home affairs minister, Gamawan Fauzi, on October 25 praised the FPI as a potential “national asset.”

Indonesia’s official Commission on Violence against Women reported in August that national and local governments in Indonesia had passed 60 new discriminatory regulations in 2013 in addition to the 282 such rules already on the books. These include 79 local bylaws requiring women to wear the hijab, or head scarf. In August, H.M. Rasyid, a district education chief in south Sumatra, proposed that high school girls be subjected to mandatory “virginity tests” to tackle perceived problems of “premarital sex and prostitution.” Raysid later insisted he had been misquoted – but similar tests were also proposed in East Java.

Conditions in the easternmost province of Papua – still virtually off-limits to foreign journalists – remain volatile with the Free Papua Movement, though small and poorly organized, continuing its armed insurgency. State security forces continue to commit abuses with virtual impunity, including excessive and at times lethal use of force against peaceful proponents of independence.

In July, the parliament enacted the Law on Mass Organizations, which imposes unnecessary and onerous restrictions on the activities of nongovernmental organizations. The new law obliges organizations to adhere to respect for monotheism, regardless of their religious or secular orientation.

“Far too many Indonesian government policy decisions in 2013 had a negative impact on human rights,” Kine said. “The challenge for Indonesia’s next president will be to make human rights protection a top priority.”


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