INDONESIA: Democracy incomplete in 15 years of reform 

INDONESIA: Democracy incomplete in 15 years of reform

The full report is available for download at:

In commemoration of Human Rights Day on December 10, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is issuing a brief report on the state of human rights in Indonesia. Using the examples of events which took place in 2013, the report highlights three crucial subjects which have been ignored by the Indonesian government during the last 15 years of ‘reform’, namely the need for further police reform, the unreliability of the judiciary, and the restricted liberties within the country. The report may be accessed here.

As in previous years, in 2013 the AHRC documented cases on extrajudicial killings and torture by police officers in the country. Among others, the organisation documented the killing of a Papuan pro-independence activist, Hubertus Mabel, towards the end of December 2012. The AHRC also documented the shooting to death in Medan of two brothers, Kiki and Ramadhan. The brothers were suspects in a drug case. In both cases, the police made unilateral claims that the shooting was justifiable, contradicting the information from civil society that the victims were not posing any threat to the police.

The AHRC also notes with concern the occurrence of torture by police officers in Indonesia, which has been ongoing during 2013. The organisation observes that, in many instances, torture was applied by state officials in order to obtain confession in fabricated cases. A case in point is that of Ruben which came to light this year. Ruben is a 70-year old man who, along with his son, was tortured and sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit.

The AHRC believes that the appropriate response to such practice of police violence is for the government to conduct comprehensive police reform. We are aware of, and appreciate, the fact that since 1999, the Indonesian National Police has been kept separate from the military. However, we believe that police reform involves more than merely ensuring that the policing institution is not under military control. Among other measures, an independent mechanism to effectively investigate police misconduct should be established and significant changes in police recruitment and promotion procedures need to be made. The lack of advanced and modern police education is also a matter requiring attention.

The legal proceedings in the Sijunjung and Yusli torture cases were concluded this year. The officers engaged in the torture of two brothers in Sijunjung and the torture of 23-year-old Yusli were punished by the courts with 18 month to 5 year sentences. The AHRC welcomes the punishment of state officials that engage in human rights abuse. However, while examining the cases, the AHRC has learned that the courts have sided disproportionately and unreasonably with the accused police officers. The AHRC is concerned that the judges examining the two cases chose to agree with the officers’ claims that they were not responsible for the deaths of the victims. It raises suspicion of interventions in the legal proceedings.

We are also concerned with recent arrests of a number of judges, including the Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court by the Corruption Eradication Commission, over bribery allegations. While the arrests indicate attempts to address corruption, they also reflect how judicial independence in Indonesia can be easily eroded by power and money.

The third subject examined in AHRC’s report on the state of human rights in Indonesia is the limited freedoms enjoyed by individuals inside the country. The AHRC is particularly disturbed with the high number of forced and violent dispersals of peaceful protests in Papua and other parts of Indonesia. In a peaceful protest on 1 May 2013 in Sorong, for instance, the Indonesian security officers shot two Papuan protesters to death. Non-state actors have also participated in violent dispersal of peaceful assemblies – such as in end November 2013, when labour protests in Bekasi were met with violent attacks from members of Pancasila Youth (Pemuda Pancasila, PP), which led to the injury of at least three workers.

Attacks and discrimination against religious minorities also continued this year. Several Ahmadi mosques and Christian churches were forcibly closed down by the government and intolerant groups. The leader of Batak Protestant Church (HKBP) Filadelfia, Rev. Panjaitan, was reported to the police for blocking an attack directed to him.

During the Universal Periodic Review last year, the government promised the international community that it will review its laws and regulations which are discriminatory towards religious minorities. As of today, there is no sign that the Indonesian government will fulfil its promise. Among the list of such discriminatory laws and regulations is the 2008 Joint Decree of the Minister of Religious Affairs, the Attorney General, and the Minister of Interior, which prohibits the activities of the Ahmadi.

With all the changes since the fall of Soeharto in 1998, Indonesia is surely on the right track towards democracy. However, without homework on these three subjects – half-baked police reform, unreliability of the judiciary, and restricted liberties – being adequately corrected, it is premature for Indonesia to claim itself to be a democracy.

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