Subject: USDOS: Sec. Koh press conf in Jakarta on human rights
Date: Wed, 25 Nov 1998 12:21:00 -0500
From: "John M. Miller" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
*EPF110 11/23/98 TRANSCRIPT: ASST. SEC. KOH 11/20 JAKARTA MEDIA AVAILABILITY (Koh: Don't sacrifice rights for economic stability) (2190)
Jakarta, Indonesia -- Countries affected by the current global financial crisis should not sacrifice respect for democracy and human rights for economic stability, according to Harold Hongju Koh, the new assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor.
"There are two ways that you could respond to a situation of an unexpected financial crisis," he said. "One is to reassert authoritarian mechanisms, which are not respectful of democracy and human rights. And the other way, which we believe to be the right side of history, is to promote responsibility -- even in weak economies -- through the development of democratic institutions that are respectful of human rights and the rule of law."
"Human rights abuse is usually a symptom, not a cause. It's a symptom of some sort of disequilibrium in the society," Koh continued. "One way to get at the human rights abuses is to try to attack the underlying problem by opening up the society, reforming the society, and creating strong democratic institutions which respect the rule of law and human rights."
Koh, who replaced Assistant Secretary of State John Shattuck, said that he hopes the elections scheduled in Indonesia next spring "can bring this country into a new era of democracy and human rights and labor."
Koh also highlighted the importance of thoroughly investigating human rights abuses.
"In our view, one way that a society can gain confidence in itself, in the fairness of its processes, is to have a full and fair investigation and examination of human rights abuses that have happened in the past," he said.
"In some countries, this process is known as a truth and reconciliation process. It requires uncovering the facts, finding out who is responsible, invoking mechanisms whereby those who have been responsible can be brought to justice. And it seems to me that there have been efforts to begin such a process here," he continued.
Koh added, however, that "I think that that process needs to be regularized. It needs to be one in which the general population can come to have confidence."
Following is a transcript of the media availability:
TRANSCRIPT MEDIA AVAILABILITY HAROLD HONGJU KOH ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR DEMOCRACY, HUMAN RIGHTS AND LABOR U.S. EMBASSY, JAKARTA, INDONESIA NOVEMBER 20, 1998
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KOH: Good afternoon, I am Harold Koh -- Harold Hongju Koh is my name. I am the new Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. I was sworn in last Friday and this is my first trip. I'm en route to Seoul where I'll be meeting the presidential party for a session in Seoul, but I thought it was very important to come to Indonesia on my way, because my portfolio is democracy, human rights and labor and I can think of no country in the world in which those issues are more critically alive and at play. I benefited from the tremendous hospitality of Ambassador Roy and his staff. It's been a pleasure to meet them and I hope to get a chance to return here frequently. I should say that my predecessor, John Shattuck, who has now been appointed to be the U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic, visited Indonesia four times during his term in office and I expect that I will give it equivalent attention.
Let me say a little bit about myself. As you can see, I'm a Korean-American. I was born in the United States. My parents came to the United States about 50 years ago. My father, the late Kuong Lim Koh, was a democracy activist in Korea, who served the democratic government of Korea in 1960 and `61, the Chong Yun regime. His government was overthrown by a military coup and he never served the government again. And so, it's very exciting for me to be returning to Korea at a time when democracy is alive there again.
Let me also say that I have never believed that Asian values are in any way inconsistent with either democracy or human rights. In fact, the story of my life and my family's life has been the opposite. Finally, I should say that I come at this from an interesting background. I spent 13 years before being appointed to this position as a professor of international law at Yale Law School in New Haven, Connecticut. In that capacity, I taught in the international business and international trade areas, as well as teaching international human rights and doing a number of international human rights cases. As a refugee lawyer, I worked on behalf of refugees from Haiti, Cuba, and China. I brought a number of cases on behalf of victims of human rights abuse in the U.S. courts and other international forums.
In my new job, I'm engaged in, as we say, democracy, human rights, and labor. That is, promoting efforts to build democracy and the rule of law in democratic institutions around the world; second, efforts in the human rights area to engage in human rights reporting, human rights diplomacy, and human rights advocacy; and third, in the area of labor rights, to try to promote universal recognition of the right to work: the right to work without encumbrances and for no one to take an unfair competitive advantage through violation of human rights, for example, through child labor, or slave labor, forced labor or other illegal means.
Let me say finally -- and this is before taking your questions -- that the message of the Administration has sent about the Asian financial crisis is this: that is there are two ways that you could respond to a situation of an unexpected financial crisis. One is to reassert authoritarian mechanisms, which are not respectful of democracy and human rights. And the other way, which we believe to be the right side of history, is to promote responsibility -- even in weak economies -- through the development of democratic institutions that are respectful of human rights and the rule of law. That is something that is being attempted in South Korea, which is my family's homeland and where I'm now headed, and is an experiment which is being attempted here in Indonesia.
This is a very sensitive moment in this country because of all of the things which are at play. But I'm very hopeful -- particularly looking forward to the elections, which are scheduled for the spring, and hopeful that those elections can bring this country into a new era of democracy and human rights and labor. So maybe with that background, I can take some questions. I should caution you ahead of time that, since this is only my first week on the job, I'm better able to answer questions about my past than about my future, but I leave that to you.
Q: Have you had a chance to assess the reforms passed by the assembly here last week? Do you think they go far enough? Do you see any obstacles to their implementation?
KOH: I have to admit that I should have said that my major activity here has been getting acquainted with the various groups who are involved in the issues that I have been connected with. I have met with labor leaders, religious leaders, women's groups, lawyers and legal aid members, members of the press, election workers, and officials of the National Human Rights Commission. And I've talked to them about the particular conditions of democracy, human rights, and labor. Obviously, in the course of those conversations, the reform movement has come up and there have been aspects of that that I've discussed. I will say that, for example, the efforts to move toward the elimination of the dual function is something which I think is strongly to be supported and applauded. I've just come from meetings with government officials. I've met with the Minister of Manpower and also members of ABRI [Indonesian Armed Forces] who are all supportive of this change. I think that the reform movement is essential to the achievement of a basis for an electoral situation which I think can bring a new era of democracy and human rights here in Indonesia. One thing I've noticed, really more from my academic study than from anywhere else, is that human rights abuse is usually a symptom, not a cause. It's a symptom of some sort of disequilibrium in the society. One way to get at the human rights abuses is to try to attack the underlying problem by opening up the society, reforming the society, and creating strong democratic institutions which respect the rule of law and human rights.
Q: I just want...(inaudible)...for coming to Indonesia, because we know that the situation in Indonesia in human rights is maybe should be seen in America.
KOH: I'm sorry, I didn't...
Q: What is your special mission for coming here, especially in our situation right now?
KOH: Well, I think, as I said, my special mission for coming here is to start a process of getting acquainted with this country and the challenges that it is facing. And they are enormous. Since May, this country has been moving into a new era. We are very explicitly now in a time of transition, and it seems to me that, in many areas of the society, the effects of various kinds of transition are being examined and being promoted. It seemed to me that it was a very, very good use of my time to come and meet some of the people who are involved in that process, to talk to them, to understand the challenges that they are facing. And this includes, as I mentioned, both members of governmental organizations and non-governmental organizations, who are all working together at this particularly important time in this country's history.
Q: Do you have the feeling in your meetings here with officials, that they were serious in their intentions to proceed with investigations of past and very recent human rights abuse?
KOH: Well, we made these points very forcefully in our meetings. In our view, one way that a society can gain confidence in itself, in the fairness of its processes, is to have a full and fair investigation and examination of human rights abuses that have happened in the past. In some countries, this process is known as a truth and reconciliation process. It requires uncovering the facts, finding out who is responsible, invoking mechanisms whereby those who have been responsible can be brought to justice. And it seems to me that there have been efforts to begin such a process here. I think that that process needs to be regularized. It needs to be one in which the general population can come to have confidence. In meeting with, particularly officials of ABRI, they gave to me a commitment to try to promote such investigations and I'm very hopeful that those commitments will be carried through.
Q: During your meetings and consultations here did anybody give you any cause to worry about the timing of the election next year, that it might be pushed back for some reason?
KOH: Did they give me a cause for concern? I did meet yesterday with election NGOs who are working to try to promote the election and we ran through many of the issues that they are facing. And it's a daunting task: voter education, preservation of an independent media, acquainting people with the process of voting, at many different levels, working through the issues. They expressed to me some concern about getting it all done in time. But I think that, at the moment, full and fair elections on the schedule that is being discussed is really something we do hope can be achieved. I saw a lot of will to carry through with those dates and those deadlines.
Q: I just want to know your opinion or point of view about the dual function of armed forces in one country. Because, in Indonesia, the dual function of armed forces in social and political role causes so many human rights abuse. What is your opinion about this?
KOH: This was actually just the subject of a discussion that we had with an official of the military, who expressed his view that dual function has been a historic function of the military in this country. But I was gratified to see a full recognition on his part that we are moving into a new era in which that role must be reduced. He discussed the various means by which that transition out of the dual function will be attempted and gave a commitment to try to keep pressing on that. I do believe that, in democracies, it is very important to have public confidence in the institutions of government, and I think that's what's important to be established in this country -- no less than anywhere else.
Thank you, I hope to see you again when I return to Jakarta.
(end transcript) END