Subject: IPS: Human Rights Still A Nebulous Concept in Indonesia

Inter Press Service December 27, 2000


By Kafil Yamin


After months out of the public eye, General Wiranto, Indonesia's former military chief, reemerged recently to launch an album of love songs.

It wasn't a career change, he said, but his way of raising funds for Aceh refugees and the victims of an earthquake in Bengkulu province.

The release of a record and CD again thrust him into the limelight. He appeared on TV talk shows, and was featured in magazines and other media outlets, prompting many to believe that he was trying to repair his tainted image after being booted out of the cabinet last February.

The move did not sit well with rights activists, in particular. "Violators of human rights in this country continue to feel respectable. They can show up and sing on TV without any embarrassment," said Todung Mulya Lubis, from the Center for Study on Human Rights (Yapusham).

"And many citizens do not see them as culprits because rights abuse is not a crime (here), although it is a serious crime against humanity," he said.

Wiranto is not officially under investigation for the violence that followed the East Timor referendum in August 1999, when voters opted for independence from Indonesia.

Nor is he among the 22 high-ranking military officers named by the Indonesian Attorney General's Office in connection with the orgy of killing, arson and widespread destruction that forced tens of thousands of East Timorese to flee and prompted an international peacekeeping force to intervene.

The 1998 attack at the Trisakti University, where seven students were shot dead, has not resulted in the arrest of a single policeman or military officer. The student-led protests triggered mass demonstrations, which forced Suharto to step down after three decades in power.

Human rights have not improved during the "reformasi" era, activists say. Violence continues in Aceh, Papua, Maluku and Kalimantan.

The Committee for Victims of Violence and Missing Persons (Kontras) reports that from January to Dec. 7, there have been 1,216 cases of rights violations across the country. These incidents resulted in the deaths of 2,119 people, two-thirds of whom died while in government custody, Kontras said.

The police are the top rights violators, it added, followed by the military.

President Abdurrahman Wahid had vowed political reforms, including a tough campaign against corruption and human rights violations. But fighting corruption and taking rights violators to court have been an uphill battle.

Human rights activists say that one of the biggest problems is changing the societal mindset. "Indonesians have a long-established view that rulers have rights to do what they want to do. The king and his circles can do no wrong," said Lubis.

"To many, human rights is a strange idea. It is the concept of the West, who in turn press weak countries in order to show its hegemony and supremacy," he said.

If the Indonesian Attorney General initiated the inquiry into the East Timor violence, it was mainly due to international pressure, some say.

Proof of this, they add, is the fact that nobody has been accused in the anarchy that rocked the capital in 1998. Investigations by non-government organizations point to the military as having instigated the May riots and rapes of Chinese women in Jakarta.

"Suspects in the 1998 May riots should come first," said student activist Fahmi Bambang. But he said this has been regarded as a purely internal affair that "won't cause the Indonesian military officials to go to the international tribunal."

And although many Indonesians are slowly embracing the concept of human rights, some still resist the idea of foreigners investigating the Indonesian military for abuses.

"Stop foreign intervention!" read a banner carried by a group of protesters chasing U.N. delegates at Jakarta's House of Representatives building on Dec. 11.

The rally, which turned ugly when protesters prevented a car carrying U.N. officials from leaving the compound, was to protest the involvement of the U.N. in the investigation of 22 suspects in the East Timor violence.

Indonesia signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the U.N. Transitional Administration of East Timor (UNTAET) to facilitate their exchange of information. This memorandum allows the UNTAET to have access to the Indonesian judicial process relating to East Timor violence.

UNTAET has filed dossiers containing charges of crimes against humanity committed by Indonesian troops and pro-integration militias during last year's violence in East Timor.

A U.N. press statement said the dossiers accused 11 suspects of a total of 13 murders committed in the East Timor town of Los Palos between Apr. 21 and Sept. 25, 1999.

The dossier indicated that one of the suspects is an officer of the Army's elite Special Forces. The suspect, a lieutenant, was accused of mutilating, torturing and murdering Averisto Lopez on Apr. 21, 1999 at the base of a pro-Jakarta militia group called Team Alfa.

Of the 11 accused, nine have been detained in prisons in East Timor, including Team Alfa's de facto commander Joni Marques, the statement said.

Despite the efforts of the Wahid government to inculcate respect for human rights, there is still a long way to go since this is not a "bread and butter" issue.

"In villages, people still think that the only right they possess is to work hard in order to be able to get food," said Wardah Hafidz, chairperson of the Urban Poor Consortium.

With no acceptable solution in troubled places like Aceh, Maluku and Papua, more cases of rights violations are bound to occur and Wahid's pledge to improve the country's human rights record will continue to be unfulfilled.

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