Subject: JP: Indonesia rights body rues lack of support

Jakarta Post

December 11, 2004

Rights body rues lack of support

Tiarma Siboro, The Jakarta Post/Jakarta

Uncooperative lawmakers and law enforcers remain a persistent hurdle that the National Commission on Human Rights has to clear in upholding human rights in the country, the commission says.

The lack of support from the two key groups has discouraged the commission's efforts in the protection of human rights, commission member Hasballah M. Saad stated prior to International Human Rights Day, which falls on Friday.

Hasballah recalled the move by the Attorney General's Office to scratch two high-ranking Army generals, including Gen. (ret) Wiranto, from the list of officers it deemed responsible for the atrocities in East Timor in 1999. In addition to the overall legal process of the case where not one person was held accountable in the end. All suspects that stood trial for the mayhem were acquitted either in a lower court or after appealing.

Hasballah also said political interests had driven the House of Representatives to obstruct justice as demanded by the families of victims of the Trisakti University and Semanggi incidents in 1998.

"The Trisakti, Semanggi I and Semanggi II incidents taught us a dear lesson on how rights abuse cases are sacrificed for political interests," he said on Thursday.

Law No. 26/2000 on the rights tribunal says the lawmakers determine whether a crime can be classified as a crime against humanity or not.

Hasballah said the commission was also powerless in monitoring the course of a court hearing, which finally delivers the verdict, even if it is far from fulfilling the public's sense of justice.

"The recent trial of military and police officers accused of committing rights abuses during the Tanjung Priok shooting has resulted in disappointing verdicts. But what can we do about it since we are powerless to encourage judges at the court to do more?" Hasballah wondered.

Due to the absence of power, the commission members are demanding a revision to Law 39/2000 to enable the rights body to conduct formal investigations into allegations of human rights abuses.

Hasballah said the rights body wanted similar authority to the anticorruption commission, which could take over an investigation from the police and Attorney General's Office and bring suspects to trial.

"We also ask the lawmakers to deliberate on the bill on witness protection. It is very crucial, given the fact that most witnesses worry about their safety after testifying," Hasballah said.

A strained budget is another problem facing the rights commission, Hasballah said. The commission reportedly has proposed Rp 90 billion (US$10 million) for the next fiscal year to run its daily activities and procure housing and vehicles for its members.

Another human rights organization, the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (Elsam), marked International Human Rights Day with a call on the government to provide protection for rights defenders, including activists, journalists, students and lawyers.

Elsam executive director Ifdhal Kasim said the country should learn a lesson from the death of rights campaigner Munir, who died of arsenic poisoning.

"The death of Munir has sent the country to the lowest ebb of efforts to uphold human rights," Ifdhal said.

Elsam said it had records over the past six years, which show that most cases of violence against rights defenders occurred in 2001 and 2003, but nobody could guarantee if the violence would subside then.

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