Subject: Komnas HAM Dismisses US Praise for Human Rights Progress

Jakarta Globe

March 12, 2010

Putri Prameshwari & Ismira Lutfia

Komnas HAM Dismisses US Praise for Human Rights Progress

The National Commission on Human Rights has dismissed as "too optimistic" a US report released on Thursday that praised Indonesia's progress in protecting human rights last year.

Ifdhal Kasim, chairman of the commission, known as Komnas HAM, said on Friday that the US report did not go far enough in criticizing Indonesia's failures and lacked an in-depth understanding of human rights issues in the country.

"It's too optimistic," he said. "There has been practically no improvement in the handling human rights violations in Indonesia."

The US State Department's 2009 report on human rights in Indonesia varied little from its 2008 review, saying "the government generally respected the human rights of its citizens and upheld civil liberties."

But it listed a number of problems. These included extrajudicial killings by security forces, poor conditions in jails, corruption in the judiciary, violence and sexual abuse against women and children, human trafficking and failure to enforce labor standards and workers' rights.

It also said that while the civilian government was in control of the Armed Forces (TNI), the military continued to generate its own income.

Ifdhal said the country's mechanisms for tackling human rights violations had failed, pointing out that no cases of human rights abuse were brought to the courts in 2009.

As an example, Ifdhal said the government had done little to protect freedom of religion, particularly for minority faiths.

"Our report shows that in 2009, around 200 churches across Indonesia faced many obstacles during construction," he said.

The State Department report stated that discrimination against certain religious groups and interference with freedom of religion still occurred in Indonesia, and that local officials were sometimes complicit.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote in the report's preface that it provided a fact-based review to complement US diplomatic, economic and strategic policies over the coming year.

But Ifdhal said it would be misleading to use the report as the basis of the US relationship with Indonesia.

"The US needs to see that there are still many cases neglected by the government," he said.

Many cases of human rights abuses still unresolved, Ifdhal said, included the disappearances of student activists during the May 1998 riots; the shooting of several student protesters in the Semanggi tragedies during the fall of Suharto; the 1989 massacre of Muslim villagers in Talangsari, Lampung, in which 130 people were killed by soldiers and many more tortured; and many more cases of abuse in Papua.

"The government is not doing anything about this," he said. "So how can anyone say there has been an improvement?"

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