Subject: HRW Urges Urged to Examine Indonesia’s Rights Record

From Joyo

The Jakarta Globe

February 27, 2010

Obama Urged to Examine Indonesia's Rights Record

by Nivell Rayda

Human Rights Watch on Friday called on US President Barack Obama to make human rights a key issue for discussion during his visit to Indonesia next month.

While Indonesian presidential spokesman Dino Patti Djalal said that strengthening bilateral economic ties would be the focus of the visit, the possibility of talks on other issues was still being discussed. Obama is scheduled to visit from March 20 to 22.

In a publicly released letter, Kenneth Roth, executive director of the New York-based HRW, urged the US president to question President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's commitment toward human rights amid several setbacks in Indonesia related to freedom of expression and religion and the apparent impunity of several military officials implicated in alleged human rights violations.

"We ask that you do this by publicly calling for the Indonesian government to make critical human rights improvement and by implementing the Comprehensive Partnership," Roth wrote in the letter to Obama, which was also published on HRW's Web site on Friday.

"President Yudhoyono has indeed demonstrated a commitment to democratic principles, but he has failed to safeguard freedom of expression and religion in a number of significant ways, leaving the foundations of democracy in Indonesia dangerously weak."

HRW criticized several laws that allowed criminal charges for defamation and "inciting hatred," which the group said had been used to silence government critics and activists, particularly those who aired complaints and made allegations of misconduct against well-connected businessmen and public officials.

The group also questioned the government's commitment to freedom of religion because it continued to defend a 45-year-old law on blasphemy. The law, which is currently being reviewed by the Constitutional Court, paved the way for serious human rights abuses and intimidation toward minority religions such as the Ahmadiyah, the letter said.

Ahmadiyah, a minority Islamic sect, was banned by the government in 2008 and its followers have faced constant harassment and intimidation by hard-line Muslim groups.

HRW said the law made authorities reluctant to protect religious minorities from attacks.

The group also criticized Aceh's Shariah Police for invading people's privacy and targeting women during roadblocks and raids to enforce the region's strict Muslim dress code.

The appointment of several retired and active military officers, alleged to have committed acts of serious crimes against humanity, to strategic government and military posts was also addressed in the letter.

Yudhoyono "has frequently declined to subject powerful public and private figures to the rule of law and to hold them accountable for serious abuses, undermining the reliability of the government's commitment for reform," Roth wrote.

He went on to accuse the president of failing to act on a recommendation last year from the House of Representatives to form a tribunal to investigate the disappearances of student activists during the downfall of former autocrat Suharto.

"President Yudhoyono, whose authorization is required for the court's creation, has yet to act on the recommendation," he wrote.

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