INDONESIA: Killings continue after 10 years of reformation

The AHRC is publishing its 2008 annual human rights report on Indonesia. A pre-publication version of the report can be downloaded at

How proud can Indonesia be of its reform process? While the country has established a national human rights commission (Komnas HAM) and has also undergone wide-reaching institutional reforms since the end of Suharto’s rule in 1998, the work of human rights activists remains difficult. In crisis regions such as Papua, human rights work is a gamble with life. On October 17, 2008, Yosias Syet, a rights activist in Papua, was found dead. Wounds on his body indicate that he was murdered (please see AHRC’s Urgent Appeal AHRC-UAC-261-2008for more information).

On December 10, 1948 – 60 years ago – the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted, 10 years ago Indonesia returned to a democratic path, and on February 23, 2006 Indonesia was one of the last countries to accede to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. What has been achieved throughout all of this? What human rights standards of the 60 year old UDHR have been achieved in Indonesia? None of the reforms so far were able to prevent extra-judicial killings such as the murder of Yosias Syet or the conviction and imprisonment sentence of eight staff of Aceh’s Legal Aid Institute on August 14, 2008 for distributing pamphlets in public about alleged land appropriations with government involvement (please see AHRC-UAC-197-2008

for more information on this case).

In the case of police torture in Aceh last year, the victims were severely beaten, sexually abused and forced to urinate on each other. This outrageous case of humiliation and torture was brought to the court and Judge Sugeng Budiyanto gave the perpetrators a record light punishment of paying 1000 Indonesian Rupias as compensation to the victims, the equivalent of 10 US cents, and without any imprisonment at all. None of the reforms have prevented the judge from giving such an unbelievably leniant verdict nor would they prevent other police officers in the country from repeating such human rights violations (please see AHRC-UAU-060-2008

for more information on this case).

Have all reforms been worth nothing in Indonesia? Have 60 years of UDHR had no positive impact? Denying positive results would not be fair, given the efforts of civil society in improving the institutional framework. The national human rights commission, the Corruption Eradication Commission or the new law on witness and victims’ protection have started to transform Indonesia towards a new tradition of accountability, which can be measured by the extent to which impunity has been eradicated. But despite visible efforts, impunity for human rights abuses remains prevalent as the above cases illustrate.

Victims of past massacres including the student disappearances of 97/98 or victims of the Trisakti and Semanggi, continue to wait for remedies while the perpetrators remain free and unpunished. Not even the tragedy of the 1965 massacre — which occurred more than 40 years ago — has been properly touched by the institutions of justice. As long as impunity of the past overshadows the Indonesia of today, human rights abuses will not be prevented in the future.

The accountability of police personnel and officers in other institutions has certainly increased over the last years. This is mostly due to the very active involvement of civil society in the institutional reform process. However, in the heart of the justice system — the institutions of the criminal justice system such as the Attorney General’s Office or the judiciary — most staff and officers are not subjected to any disciplinary measures when they neglect their official duty.

Not prosecuting a case will not result in any problems for the Prosecutor. The Prosecutorial Commission may investigate problems and suggest reforms within the institutions, but it has not yet been equipped with the power necessary for issuing disciplinary measures against ignorant Prosecutors.

The situation is similar to that of the Judicial Commission. While it receives complaints against judges, investigates them and suggests corrective and disciplinary actions against them, the Supreme Court continues to ignore such suggestions for duty enforcing measures that would improve the quality of work and professionalism in the judiciary. Instead, the office of the judge remains immune.

Indonesia, more than many other countries in the Asian region, has made efforts of reformation. Much has been achieved, but paradoxically, there is also not much to applaud given the ongoing human rights violations such torture, extra-judicial killings, arrests of rights activists and the freedom that multinational mining and plantation corporations enjoy within this weak legal framework. More than four years ago, human rights activist Munir Said Thalib was killed, but the designers of his assassinations have not all been brought to justice to this day. This shows that impunity is not only a problem involving cases of the past but also continues for cases of the present. Accountability starts where impunity ends, and this goal remains only a distant dream at the present time.

The AHRC is publishing its 2008 annual human rights report on Indonesia. A pre-publication version of the report can be downloaded at

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-312-2008
Countries : Indonesia,
Campaigns : Munir Said Thalib
Issues : Extrajudicial killings,