INDONESIA: Pledge must be followed by action as Indonesia bids for Human Rights Council membership

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) notes that the Government of Indonesia is bidding for membership within the United Nations Human Rights Council. Elections are to be held on May 9, 2006. Indonesia has made a voluntary pledge and commitments to human rights as part of its bid, but the AHRC considers that the country needs to take specific action beyond its words. The international community should evaluate Indonesia’s human rights record based on its actual implementation of its pledge, whether the country is elected to the Council or not.


Indonesia has made commitments to “do its utmost to ensure the effective promotion and protection of human rights at the international level.” It has also pledged to “continue to implement its second National Plan of Action on Human Rights 2004-2009,” which includes the ratification of international instruments, the harmonisation of national laws and the application of norms and standards. Furthermore, Indonesia has pledged to do its “utmost to fully implement all international human rights instruments to which it is party.” The AHRC considers that Indonesia needs to take concrete steps to back its claims as its human rights record is marred by serious human rights violations, significant lacuna in the country’s institutions and domestic laws, failure to implement recommendations made by UN human rights bodies as well as widespread impunity for perpetrators of violations.


Human rights are ultimately protected and defended by domestic laws, and it is precisely here that the Indonesian government has failed its people. It has been paying lip service to local and international bodies when it comes to human rights standards and procedures. It has thus far failed to comply with the recommendations made by the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) for the creation of national legislation that includes a definition of torture that is in line with that found in the CAT and that contains appropriate punishment for perpetrators. Through its failure to comply with these recommendations regarding torture, the state is ensuring the impunity of torturers. This has been substantiated by Indonesia’s failure to conduct investigations into human rights violations committed by state actors or by meting out forms of punishment that are not proportionate to the gravity of the acts committed.


A culture of impunity has permeated all state institutions attached to the country’s justice dispensation mechanisms. Concerning the massacre of 1965, in which an estimated half million unarmed citizens were killed, the victims or their families have been systematically denied any form of redress in spite of the passage of four decades. After years of lobbying, both at the local and international levels, a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” has been created, ostensibly to provide justice and bring about national reconciliation. However, it has become apparent that the Commission intends instead to have the victims grant forgiveness to the perpetrators, reinforcing their de facto impunity.


Of serious concern with regard to Indonesia’s rights record is the failure on the part of the state to investigate the crimes committed by the members of the security forces or para-military forces aligned with the former in East Timor. The same applies to cases of killing and other grave abuses that are continuing to be perpetrated in West Papua.


In addition to the 1965 massacre, massive violations that have been committed more recently have not been properly investigated or prosecuted, such as the Tanjung Priok or the Trisakti and Semangi cases, where police opened fire on demonstrators calling for Soharto’s resignation. Despite the fact that the National Human Rights Commission has conducted its investigations into the Trisakti and Semangi cases and handed over their findings, the Attorney General is refusing to proceed with the prosecutions on grounds that these incidents have not been declared crimes against humanity by the parliament. The Indonesian state has not shown any serious commitment concerning the protection of the rights of victims in these cases and is allowing its security forces and the police to continue to violate rights without obstacle.


The denial of rights by the state is due in great part to the absence of functioning institutions to uphold the rule of law. For example, the prosecution system in the country is ineffective and lacks independence. All the institutions that form part of the judicial system are plagued with corruption, inefficiency and a lack of skills. Failings and inconsistencies in the judicial system have been witnessed in the high-profile trial into the killing of human rights defender Munir Said Thalib. The judge states in his judgement that other persons were involved in the killing besides Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto. While Pollycarpus was sentenced to 14-years imprisonment, no further investigations have been launched with regard to these other actors. Similarly, in the case of the three victims sentenced to death for inciting violence in Poso, they were denied the right to a fair trial, with the court not taking into account the testimony of the witnesses of the accused. Furthermore, while the Supreme Court in April 2006 decided to review the judgment, the Attorney General has threatened to proceed with the executions.


Recently the Indonesian government ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. This action is welcomed and represents an opportunity to test Indonesia’s commitment to implement the instruments to which it is party. How far the state is willing and active in examining the country’s existing laws and procedures in light of these international covenants, and in revising them to ensure compliance and consistency with international standards should be monitored. Indonesia’s participation in the UN’s apex human rights body should be conditional on it making tangible efforts with regard to this and to points mentioned hereafter. The AHRC hopes that Indonesia will rapidly be subjected to the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review system and that the implementation of commitments made as part of its bid are evaluated under this procedure, in order to establish whether it should be a member of the Council.


The AHRC considers that the following steps need to be taken in order for Indonesia to convince the international community that it is in fact committed to human rights:


1. Investigate all allegations of human rights violations and ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice and that the victims are provided with adequate reparation.

2.  Ensure that its Human Rights Court be allowed to hear all crimes against humanity committed in the past, both in Indonesia and East Timor. The present practice of the parliament being called upon to determine the nature of the crime (whether or not it is a crime against humanity) must be done away with, and the Attorney General must be provided with the criteria to determine whether cases qualify as being cases of crimes against humanity.

3. Amend domestic legislation to ensure that it contains a definition of torture that is in line with the Convention against Torture as well as appropriate sanctions for perpetrators.

4. Immediately abolish the death penalty.

5. Reform the police to ensure that it is completely independent from the military.

6. Reform the judiciary, the police and the prosecution in order to tackle widespread inefficiency and corruption.

7. Concerning the prosecution in particular, launch reforms in order to ensure that it supervises investigations, prosecutes and proposes new laws to enable the establishment of the rule of law.

8. Complete forthwith the revision of the Penal Code, which has been ongoing for almost a decade.

9. Pass the victim and witness protection law and ensure that it functions independently from the police.

10. Guarantee that regional offices of the National Human Rights Commission are allowed to conduct impartial investigations and to make recommendations to the Attorney General.

11. Ensure speedy justice for the victims of the 1965 massacre – bring to justice the perpetrators of the massacre, including former leader Suharto.

12. Revise the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to ensure that the perpetrators of the 1965 massacre are not granted de jure impunity (currently they enjoy de facto impunity).

13.  Pass legislation to end all forms of discrimination on the basis of religion. The national ID card should not indicate a person’s religion. Formal recognition must be granted to religions other than the five currently recognised within the constitution.

14. Legislation should also be passed to ensure protection against discrimination on the basis of political affiliation. Currently, ex-tapol members (political prisoners) in most cases are not granted ID cards that senior citizens are entitled to and are not allowed to stand in national elections.


The Asian Human Rights Commission urges the government of Indonesia to take these measures without delay. The AHRC urges the international community to monitor the implementation of these measures. Indonesia should only be considered for membership if it acts upon its stated commitments to human rights, in particular with regard to the suggestions made above. The credibility and effective functioning of the Human Rights Council depends on its membership, who must display the highest human rights standards. Without addressing the above issues, Indonesia falls short of these standards. Regardless of whether Indonesia is elected to the Council on May 9, 2006 it should make substantial efforts with tangible results concerning the commitments it has made as part of its pledge to the international community.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-099-2006
Countries : Indonesia,
Campaigns : Munir Said Thalib
Issues : International human rights mechanisms,