Subject: JP: Human rights enforcement remains a far off hope

December 27, 2004

Human rights enforcement remains a far off hope

Muninggar Sri Saraswati, The Jakarta Post/Jakarta

The year 2004 was capped by the appointment of Indonesia's senior diplomat, Makarim Wibisono, as head of the United Nation's Human Rights Commission for the next year.

Starting Jan. 17, 2005, Indonesia will officially see its representative at the helm of this prestigious commission.

Hopes that this achievement may bring with it an improvement in human rights protection back home are rather premature, with rights activists considering the appointment an insult due to Indonesia's poor human rights record.

This year did not witness any improvement in human rights protection in this country.

It's not hard to find examples of this: the acquittal of most defendants implicated in East Timor atrocities, and the government's decision to prolong the emergency status in Aceh, which is rife with rights abuses.

The country's poor record in human rights protection this year was topped off, sadly, with the death -- presumed murder -- of prominent rights campaigner Munir in September aboard a Garuda flight from Jakarta to Amsterdam. Arsenic poisoning was the cause of death, according to an autopsy performed by the Netherlands Forensic Institute.

As many activists anticipated, the investigation into the case is running sluggishly. The National Police have questioned a number of Garuda employees and passengers on the flight, but so far has not named anyone as a suspect. Another team of police officers spent over two weeks in the Netherlands to consult with local investigators, but so far this has not born any fruit.

A rights campaigner has observed that the government, as well as the House of Representatives, have deliberately chosen not to enforce the law when it comes to investigating cases of human rights violations.

Instead, the national leadership, including former president Megawati Soekarnoputri and her successor Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, have preferred taking a "softer" approach, such as reconciliation, to iron out human rights wrinkles.

"Taking firm action to resolve human rights violations may backfire on them due to the alleged involvement of government officials and legislators loyal to them," the campaigner said.

Human rights violations in the country are commonly linked to the military, police, government officials and politicians, he said.

His accusation may not be 100 percent accurate, but it's probably not that far from the truth either.

A clear example was the refusal of the Attorney General's Office to declare the Trisakti shooting incident and May 1998 riots, as well as other cases known as Semanggi I in October 1998 and Semanggi II in September 1999, as gross violations of human rights, as was recommended by the National Commission on Human Rights.

During the final year of Attorney General M.A. Rachman's tenure, the commission submitted these cases for prosecution. However, the Attorney General's Office turned down the request, citing a "lack of evidence".

After completing its second investigation, the commission handed over the cases, again, to the Attorney General's Office, which is now led by former Supreme Court justice Abdul Rahman Saleh.

To date, the office has yet to decide whether to follow up the commission's findings or drop them.

Hopes to uphold justice look remote as well in human rights violation cases in the Papuan towns of Wamena and Wasior in 2001 and 2003 respectively, which allegedly involved the military and the police. The commission has declared these cases to be gross human rights violations.

Instead of prosecuting suspects in human rights cases, the government has preferred to launch, last July, the second national action plan on human rights to improve the country's record in the field.

Under the action plan, stipulated in Presidential Decree No. 40/2004, regional administrations are to set up human rights committees that will disseminate information and educate bureaucrats and professional groups on human rights.

The national action plan for the next five years is expected to improve people's awareness and protection of human rights across the country.

The first national action plan on human rights was launched as part of the 1999 State Policy Guidelines. The action plan clearly failed with human rights abuses continuing unabated.

Both the government and the House have instead pushed for out-of-court settlements for past human rights violations. In September, the House endorsed a bill for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which would seek to resolve all cases of human rights abuses that took place before Law No. 26/2000 on the human rights tribunal came into effect.

Rights activists have warned that the commission would face an uphill climb in its efforts to facilitate reconciliation between the victims and perpetrators of human rights abuses, as the law would benefit human rights perpetrators rather than helping victims seek justice.

The establishment of the commission was mandated by a People's Consultative Assembly Decree issued in 2000, which says the commission will help boost national unity through reconciliation.

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