Subject: JP: The ebb and flow of human rights enforcement

The Jakarta Post March 18, 2003


The ebb and flow of human rights enforcement

Asvi Warman Adam, Historian, Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), Jakarta

The National Commission on Human Rights has become more active of late in investigating past human rights violations. A Commission of Inquiry into Human Rights Violations (KPP HAM) on the May 1998 riots has been established, for example. And learning from previous oversights, this commission will definitely go about its work in a painstaking manner.

Also, a team has been established to investigate alleged human rights by Soeharto, and its report is expected by May this year.

Indeed, there are parties who are skeptical about the efforts of KPP HAM, now led by lawyer Abdul Hakim Garuda Nusantara. Over 1,000 people died in a number of cities during the May 1998 tragedy -- and hardly any attempt has been launched to arrest the masterminds behind the violence despite the findings of the official team set up by the rights commission to investigate the matter.

Meanwhile, Soeharto is ill and likely cannot be tried, though there are likely legal breakthroughs that can be taken to deal with the case.

While the possibility for trials in these cases remains unclear, the dossiers on past human rights violations will remain the property of this nation. They will constitute an important history subject to be taught to students. Therefore, the writing of the National History Book (Sejarah Nasional Indonesia) as a new reference for school textbooks needs to be observed closely.

One of the eight volumes planned for the book pertains to the New Order regime (1965-1998). It is only fair that human rights aspects be addressed proportionately therein; if not, these books will be no different from those made by the New Order regime. We must do our utmost so that this nation does not suffer from collective amnesia.

The East Timor ad hoc rights tribunal is in process. The rulings so far have been dissatisfying to many. Only two civilians have been found guilty and sentenced, while generals were acquitted. On March 12 the tribunal sentenced former East Timor military commander Brig. Gen. Noer Moeis to five years in jail for gross human rights violations in 1999, but did not imprison him immediately -- while the law rules a minimum of 10 years imprisonment for such a crime.

As if responding to the situation, earlier news from East Timor revealed that a number of former higher ranking officials were indicted for serious human rights violations, while the nation's Truth and Reconciliation Commission has begun its role in revealing alleged rights violations since 1970.

The important thing is at least that first, the truth should prevail -- whether the perpetrators will be brought to justice is another story. It is crucial not only for the sake of writing East Timor's history but also for the country's national reconciliation.

In the same token, a book titled Masters of Terror: Indonesia's Military and Violence in East Timor in 1999, published by the Australian National University (2002, 325 pages), should be translated into Indonesian and discussed at academic levels in Indonesia.

Efforts to include human rights elements in laws and regulations intensified with the "reform" era. It has not been easy but gradually human rights have been included in People's Consultative Assembly decrees and in the Constitution, which has been amended.

Yet there has been a move backward at the level of two new laws, i.e. the acts on political parties and general elections, which contradict the Constitution. The law on political parties states that parties must not adopt Marxism, communism or Leninism; whereas the law on general elections states that those directly or indirectly involved in the Sept. 30 Movement, the outlawed Indonesian Communist Party and other restricted organizations cannot be elected.

As the laws violate human rights and the principles of democracy, as well as the Constitution, the Supreme Court should function as a Constitutional Court and rule on the matter. If not, the cost and time spent on the 2004 elections could be null and void.

The war to achieve legislation and enforcement to promote human rights is not over yet. So if we move back one step, we must then progress two steps. We must not become apathetic like some people who wish to go back to Soeharto's "normal" era (the abnormal era, in fact).

In its Feb. 27 issue, the editorial of Kompas on East Timor indictment of the generals said, among other things, that "this country has been overwhelmed with problems. This country needs tranquility to do all its homework so that we all can exit from this depressing crisis".

Economic recovery can and must be in line with law and human rights enforcement. Neither can be sacrificed for the sake of the other. In this transition period, the judiciary, legal products and human resources are still very weak. Legal reform is in disarray and the judicial mafia is as prominent as ever.

Therefore, "transitional justice" is the most we might expect, through the form of a long overdue truth and reconciliation commission, the bill for which has been drafted by the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, in collaboration with Elsam, a non-governmental organization working on law and human rights.

This bill should be discussed immediately at the legislature so that this nation can resolve its past problems and get over its past trauma. For instance, the commission would have to deal with long past, wide-scale, human rights atrocities such as the killings around the Sept. 30, 1965 coup attempt.

We need to encourage the Directorate General for Human Rights at the above justice ministry to be more proactive. The ministry's human rights research and development bureau should be working hand in hand with NGOs dealing in advocacy programs. These NGOs have more field data on human rights violations.

Victims and survivors are still waiting for justice and law enforcement, and the defenders of human rights cannot give up.

Dr. Asvi Warman Adam is a member of the ad hoc team investigating former president Soeharto's alleged human rights violations. The team was set up by the National Commission on Human Rights.

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