INDONESIA: Refusal to cooperate with United Nations human rights mechanisms in investigation of Munir’s death



November 06, 2006


A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission


INDONESIA: Refusal to cooperate with United Nations human rights mechanisms in investigation of Munir’s death



The wife of celebrated human rights defender Munir Said Thalib, who was poisoned and died on September 7, 2004 under highly suspicious circumstances, has met with United Nations (UN) human rights experts in order to inform and update them concerning her husband’s death and her search for justice. It is reported that during this meeting the UN Special Rapporteur for Extra-judicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Professor Philip Alston, volunteered to travel to the country and suggested a joint investigation team including the UN be formed to assist the authorities in this case. There is also a reported plan for the UN to establish an independent team to review the investigations carried out by the Indonesian authorities.


National Police chief Gen. Sutanto stated on November 2, 2006 that “This is our sovereignty … we want no foreigners interfering in the process,” adding that such cooperation with the Special Rapporteur would undermine the country’s law enforcement process. The investigation and subsequent trial concerning Munir’s death have both been the subject of severe criticism by local and international human rights groups. The prime suspect in the case has recently been acquitted and those behind the alleged plot to kill Munir – believed to be members of the Indonesian authorities – have thus far escaped scrutiny and continue to enjoy impunity for their actions. Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono has also reportedly rejected the proposal for UN assistance in the investigation process.


The use of national sovereignty as an argument to preclude international cooperation is in stark contradiction with the authorities’ pledges to collaborate with the international community concerning human rights issues. The Indonesian authorities’ commitment to human rights and justice, and the government’s intentions to honour its international obligations, should be measured by their conduct in this very high profile case. It must be recalled that Indonesia is a member of the UN Human Rights Council and that it has pledged to uphold human rights to the highest possible standards and to fully cooperate with the work of the Council, which includes, inter alia, the mandate of the Special Rapporteur mentioned above. Indonesia, in its pledge to the UN Human Rights Council in early 2006, emphasized its commitment to further strengthen “good governance and the rule of law”. The government has admitted a need to improve its criminal justice system in order to fulfil its obligations to effectively protect the rights of its citizens. However, Defence Minister Juwono Sudarsono has now contradicted this in rejecting the proposal by saying that “our own legal system can handle this.” It is evident in the way that the investigation has been carried out and the highly questionable results of the judicial process, that the country’s legal system is actually failing in this case.


Munir, a known opponent of the Indonesian military was killed aboard a Garuda Air flight from Indonesia to Amsterdam on September 7, 2004. An autopsy found an excessive level of arsenic in his body. Munir criticised corruption in the Coordinating Ministry for Political and Security Affairs. President Yudhoyono, the former head of the ministry, set up a fact-finding team after the case gained public and international attention. Despite repeated requests, the team’s report has not been made public to date.


Prime suspect, Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto, a state-owned Garuda Airlines pilot, was initially sentenced by the courts to 14 years imprisonment for murder. The verdict also included the issue of the involvement of more people in the crime. Human rights groups in Indonesia believe that these persons are members of the State authorities. However, Pollycarpus was subsequently acquitted on October 3, 2006, after the Supreme Court reviewed the earlier judgement and stated that the 29 pieces of evidence listed in the first verdict are not sufficient. This decision has been highly criticised.


International actors, including the Dutch parliament, the US congress and the US Senate, have also related their concerns with regard to the way in which this case is being handled by the authorities and have expressed a will to cooperate in assisting the judicial process.


Indonesia became a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights earlier this year. Article 6 of the Covenant states that “every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.” Article 2 of the Covenant states “that any person whose rights or freedoms […] are violated shall have an effective remedy.” It is clear that the authorities have thus far failed to properly investigate or prosecute the case of Munir’s killing and have therefore failed in their obligations under the ICCPR. If the authorities are unable to deliver in such a prominent case, then there are serious concerns about their intention or capacity to respect the country’s international human rights obligations with regard to lower-profile cases. Cooperation by the Indonesian authorities with all international actors, notably the United Nations human rights experts, is vital is the government is to retain any credibility with regard to its stated commitments. This is especially important as the country is a member of the UN Human Rights Council.


Indonesia suffers from a long history of impunity that was in particular fostered by the Soeharto regime in the past. Soeharto was forced to resign as the result of a popular movement against his practices. All eyes are now on President Yudhoyono and his alleged commitment to ending the culture of impunity in Indonesia. With the statements made by the Police Chief and Defence Minister, which clearly underline the authorities’ unwillingness to cooperate with the international human rights system, serious questions as to this commitment must be raised. The authorities are hereby urged to reverse their untenable positions and invite the Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions to visit the country and participate in the investigation process concerning the case of Munir’s death. All other international offers of cooperation should also be welcomed by the authorities. Furthermore, justice must be delivered concerning this very important case, in order to break with the culture of impunity that has plagued the country’s past. In this way, Indonesia can begin to live up to its pledge, committments and obligations at the international level.