INDONESIA : Victims and Justice Seekers must be included in the Sustainable Development Goals

“No one left behind” is the main principle of implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Will the principle apply in Indonesia? Will the Government include victims and families of victims of human rights violations in the implementation of SDG’s?

In the Indonesian context, we can see a strong relation between SDG Number 1 on poverty and SDG Number 16 on Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions. To prove the link, this note will share important instances from Indonesia, as follows:

Poverty and Past Human Rights Abuses

In Indonesian history, Suharto was President of the Republic of Indonesia for 32 years. He left many legacies. A few of them are gross violations of human rights, a weak Judiciary System and regulations. The regulations were not in favor of poor people, and vulnerable minority groups.

Under Suharto, various cases of gross violations of human rights occurred. Some nine (9) examples are: student shooting at the University of Trisakti and Semanggi, 1998-1999; kidnapping and enforced disappearance of Student Activists in 1997-1998; Talangasari Massacre in 1989; the 13-15 May Tragedy; mysterious shooting 1981-1983; Tanjung Priok case in 1984; the 1965-1966 Massacre; Military Emergency in Aceh in 1989 to 1998 and 2003 and human rights violations in Papua.

On average, victims and family victims of past human rights abuses live in poverty. The causes of poverty are land grabbing and forced eviction by the Government on behalf of development. Moreover, in many cases, husbands as the backbone of the family, disappeared or were killed by Security Forces. Young boys were shot or forcibly disappeared. There was discrimination, continuing impunity because of no justice or remedy, and no attention from the Government to provide or support the basic needs of victims and their families.

Many victims and families of victims of past human rights abuses do not have jobs and do not own land. Meanwhile, they are not young anymore and do not have enough money to develop a business. So, they live with poverty and illness. Even after Suharto stepped down in 1998, many of them still live in poverty.

Poverty and Labor Unions

In Indonesia, the Labor Unions still face serious problems, such as threats against freedom of expression, assembly, association, and freedom of opinion. The Labor Unions frequently become targets of criminal charges under the Indonesian Penal Code, in particular, the Article of Criminal Defamation.

As COVID-19 came around, Labor Unions faced more difficult circumstances. Many members of the union lost their jobs due to companies and factories closing and reducing employee numbers significantly. Unfortunately, the Parliament enacted a controversial law known the Job Creation Law without sufficent public hearing. Labor Unions do not have opportunities to organize peaceful protests against the enactment of the Law. Why? Because the Government prohibited all forms of public protests during the pandemic COVID-19. Labors did not have any choice. They lost their jobs and are without enough capital to start a new life. The number of poor people in Indonesia increased during the pandemic COVID-19. Based upon the National Statistical Body (BPS), poverty numbers increased in September 2020; the number of people in poverty is 27,550 million with an increase of 1.13 million people in March 2021.

Indonesia is one of the countries which still applies the National Law which regulates Criminal Defamation in the Criminal Code. The Electronic Information and Transaction Laws are frequently enforced to prosecute human rights activists and opponent groups, including labor activists.

In practice, there is no clear boundary between the right to freedom of expression on the one hand and criminal defamation on the other. Therefore, human rights activists in Indonesia still face criminal charges under the law regulating criminal defamation. The Law should be abolished because it is in violation of international human rights standards and principles.

Poverty and Minority Groups


Indonesia has not yet fully become home to minority groups, ethnics and religious minorities. Discrimination, persecution, and restrictions on freedom of expression are still major problems for Papua. The indigenous Papuans still experience various acts of violence and torture. This includes not only people who are living in Papua, but also Papuan students in dormitories outside of Papua Island, such as Surabaya, Yogyakarta and several cities in Indonesia.

The basic problem in Papua is that impunity and a weak Judicial System still remain. Various behavioral patterns such as torture are still taking place. Look at the case of Michael Ipnun, an indigenous Papuan. He was tortured to death by four members of the Civil Service Police Unit (Linmas). Michael was found dead with his hands tied behind his back.

Another example is that of the case of Army personnel Yonif 755 / Yalet. He was unlawfully arrested and detained. Isak tortured him to death in Kimaam, Merauke Regency, Papua Province.

Shia Minority Religions

Besides the problem of ethnic minorities, there is also the problem of minority Religions, namely the Shia congregation in Sampang Madura Regency of the East Java Province. In 2012 they were forcibly evicted from their homes. They lived in flats for many years without sufficient support from the Government. They were forcibly evicted from their hometown, their houses were burned, and their land was confiscated by the residents. As a result the Shia Congregation lived in poverty. The children did not have enough food and lacked an education. Up until the present, the Judiciary failed to prosecute the perpetrators and failed to ensure Justice for victims and their families.

The Ahmadiyya Minority Religion

The Ahmadiyya Minority Religion is in West Nusa Tenggara Province. In 2018, they were forcibly evicted from their hometown in Grepek village, West Nusa Tenggara Province. Law Enforcement Agencies and the Judiciary failed to ensure justice for the Ahmadiyya Congregation, whereas the offenders enjoyed impunity even now. A similar case occurred in 2004. The Ahmadiyya Congregation was forcibly evicted from their hometown and lived more than 10 years in public buildings.

Most of them live in poverty because do not have proper jobs and do not have land for cultivation. They depend on voluntary aid from the Community or Human Rights Organizations; at times the Government provides aid for them. The Judiciary has failed to prosecute the perpetrators who attacked the Ahmadiyya Congregation, whereas the offenders enjoy impunity.

In this regard, the Asian Human Rights Committee would like to draw to the attention of the Indonesian Government the following action–seriously implement the Sustainable Government Goal, DG No.16. It should be the center of all SDG’s. Without seriously promoting and implementing SDG-16, the other number of SDGs are difficult to achieve.