INDONESIA: Human rights merely acknowledged, not yet protected

On the occasion of international human rights day, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) observes the major human rights issues of concern in Indonesia. Impunity and a fragile criminal justice system have let down victims of human rights abuse and those seeking justice. According to research by the Indonesian Legal Roundtable (ILR), Indonesia’s rule of law index is five, under the minimum score of six. Rule of law is key to human rights implementation and enjoyment.

The following are the major human rights issues facing Indonesia: 1# past human rights abuses remain unpunished; 2# serious crimes such as torture occur widely and are largely unpunished; 3# land grabbing still contributes to human rights violations; 4# discrimination and freedom of religion; 5# freedom of opinion and peaceful assembly.

Past human rights abuses

Up until the present, seven cases of past human rights abuses have been submitted by the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) to the Attorney General (AG): 1# 1965-1966 massacre; 2# student shooting in Semanggi 1998-1999; 3# enforced disappearances of student activists 1997-1998; 4# Talangsari massacre 1989; 5# Mysterious shooting 1981-1983; 6# Tragedy of 13-15 May 1998; 7# Wasior Wamena, Papua 2001 and 2003.

The main obstacle to addressing these cases is the Attorney General, who is unwilling to conduct further investigation and prosecute the cases. In fact, the AG strongly rejects bringing past abuses to the ad hoc human rights court, as regulated under Law No. 26 of 2000 on Human Rights Court. The President has also not taken any steps to ensure that the AG obeys the law in this matter.

Aside from the above mentioned cases, the AHRC notes other abuses that have also remained unaddressed, such as the enforced disappearance of Mr. Aris Toteles Masoka, the driver of prominent Papuan activist Mr. Theys Hiyo Eluay, who was killed by Special Armed Forces (Kopassus) in 2001. The human rights violations that occurred in Aceh during the military emergency in 1989 and 1998, as well as in 2003 have also not been dealt with. Similarly, past abuses which occurred in Papua, take for example the case of 1977-1978 in Puncak Jaya Papua, also remain unaddressed.

Widespread torture

Despite ratifying the International Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Indonesia has no law against torture. The country’s Penal Code (KUHP), does not explicitly recognize torture as a crime; it is merely seen as maltreatment, under article 351.

In the last three years, the AHRC has reported and documented various cases of torture, most of which involve police officers attempting to extract confessions from suspected criminals. On 7 April 2017, there was a case of torture and forced confession committed by police officers of the Jakarta metropolitan police office regarding a motorcycle theft. Earlier, in 2013, there was the case of Mr. Aslin Zalim, who was forced to confess and tortured to death in the custody of Bau Bau police resort (Polres Bau Bau), South East Sulawesi province. In 2014, there was a case of torture against Mr. Oki Saputra, a suspect of motorcycle theft. In 2015, police officers of the Widang Police Sector (Polsek Widang), Tuban Regency, East Java Province tortured Fiki Arfindo (13) to confess. Further, in 2016, Mr. Siyono, a terrorist suspect, was forced to confess and tortured to death by the Anti-Terror Police Unit (Densus 88). There has been little progress in investigating these cases of torture. A few of them resulted in light punishment without guarantee of remedy for victims or family of victims. 

Land grabbing

Based on data from the Land Reform Commission (KPA), a national NGO documenting land conflict, throughout 2014 there were 472 agrarian conflicts in Indonesia, involving over 2,860,977,07 hectares and 105,887 households. These conflicts, as documented by the KPA, are a direct result of the government’s policies. In 2015, the KPA notes 252 cases of agrarian conflict, with total conflicted land reaching 400,430 hectares, and involving 108,714 households. While infrastructure development was the biggest cause of agrarian conflict in 2014, in 2015 the highest numbers of such clashes occurred in the plantation sector: 127 cases, with 70 cases in infrastructure development, 24 cases in the forestry sector, 14 cases in the mining sector, and four cases in the coastal and marine sectors. In 2016, total land conflict involved 1,265,027 hectares.

The large agrarian conflicts as mentioned above are due to the expansion of large scale investments in Indonesia, in line with government policy to develop massive infrastructure to boost economic growth. The AHRC’s documentation of land grabbing has revealed the inevitable violation of other rights, including torture, violence and deprivation of liberty. The forced eviction of 502 local residents of Bukit Duri indicates the brutal pattern of forced eviction and land grabbing in Indonesia. The police in that instance also attacked a lawyer present, who was trying to explain to the police that the community had just submitted a lawsuit in the administration court. Recently, the court decided that the forced eviction was illegal.

Discrimination and freedom of religion

The AHRC notes that discrimination and violations of the right to freedom of religion remain serious problems in Indonesia. The major perpetrators are intolerant groups such as Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and other groups promoting intolerance against minority religion groups. Cases of discrimination against Indonesia’s Ahmadiyya congregation continue, as the government takes no steps to protect minority groups. The government failed to settle religious conflict targeting the Shia community in Sampang Madura, as a result of which for more than five years, the Shia community have been living in a public camp. Similarly, the Amhadiyya congregation remains living in the public building in Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara province, because the government failed to find a solution for them.

Freedom of opinion and peaceful assembly

Anti-communist elements in Indonesia have significantly attacked peoples’ rights to freedom of opinion and peaceful assembly. On numerous occasions, these mobs have attacked and forcibly dispersed public events such as movie screenings, workshops, and seminars, accusing them of propagating communist ideology. One key such incident occurred in September 2017, when human rights groups organized a series of discussions about history and past human rights abuses in the Jakarta Legal Aid building. The discussion mainly focused on seeking the truth of the 1965-1966 massacres. The anti-communist mob forcibly entered the building, tried to pull down the fence, threw stones at the building and broke windows. Approximately 1,000 protesters surrounded the building.

Besides anti-communist elements, the AHRC also documented several instances of the police violating the right to freedom of opinion and assembly. Recently, police brutally attacked journalists in Banten province and Papua. Earlier in October, the police forcibly dispersed peaceful protesters demanding the protection of the environment in Slamet mountain.

Taking into account the above mentioned human rights concerns, the AHRC calls on the government of Indonesia to seriously evaluate its policy related to the protection and fulfilment of human rights, as there is a clear gap between rights promotion and rights fulfilment. Despite the government having issued some important documents to accelerate human rights implementation in Indonesia, for instance the Presidential Regulation No. 75 of 2015 on Human Rights Action Plan 2015-2019 and the National Mid-Term Development Plan (RPJMN) 2015-2019, these documents have yet to bring any contribution to the realization of human rights.

The government should also work towards enhancing the professionalism of the police, military and civil service police unit, all of which are frequently involved in rights violations. The government should also seriously reform the criminal justice system, to ensure that the system is able to efficiently enforce the rule of law, which in turn will address human rights protection. All legal and justice reform must be in line with international standards.

[1] Indonesian human rights organization working on research and policy advocacy on national legal system