U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Indonesia
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||30 January 1998|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Indonesia, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa7b10.html [accessed 2 September 2015]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
INDONESIADespite a surface adherence to democratic forms, the Indonesian political system remains strongly authoritarian. The Government is dominated by an elite comprising President Soeharto (now in his sixth 5-year term), his close associates, and the military. The Government requires allegiance to a state ideology known as Pancasila, which stresses consultation and consensus, but is also used to limit dissent, to enforce social and political cohesion, and to restrict the development of opposition elements. The judiciary is effectively subordinated to the executive and the military and suffers from corruption. The primary mission of the 450,000-member armed forces, which includes 175,000 police, is maintenance of internal security and stability. Despite a decrease in the number of active or retired military officers in key government positions, the military retained substantial nonmiltary powers under a dual function concept that accords it a political and social role in developing the nation. The military and the police continued to commit numerous human rights abuses. The currency crisis that hit the region in the middle of the year slowed the expansion of the economy which had been vigorous and rapid in past years. The benefits of economic development are widely dispersed and living standards have risen significantly, but a large segment of the population remains poor. Pervasive corruption remains a problem. Sporadic unrest led to stronger demands that the Government act more effectively to address social and economic inequities. In rural areas, discontent often focused on the grievances of small land owners--especially those forced off their land by powerful economic and military interests. In some regions, exploitation of natural resources has entailed significant environmental degradation with adverse social consequences. The Government continued to commit serious human rights abuses. Rising pressures for change from political activists and opponents met tough government reactions prior to the May general election. The Government demonstrated that it would not tolerate challenges to the fundamental elements of the political system by arresting and placing on trial some of its critics. The authorities maintained their tight grip on the political process, and in the May parliamentary election, as in the previous five held since 1971, denied citizens the ability to change their government democratically. The structure of the political system continued to ensure victory for the ruling GOLKAR party, which secured its biggest win ever. The Government did not permit the ousted Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) leader Megawati Sukarnoputri and her supporters to run in the general election or to make common cause with the Muslim-oriented United Development Party (PPP). The election and campaign were marred by credible allegations of fraud as well as by sporadic, yet significant, violence between parties, including the government-sponsored GOLKAR organization. Security forces continued extrajudicial killings, including of unarmed civilians, disappearances, torture and mistreatment of detainees, and arbitrary arrests and detention. In practice legal protections against torture are inadequate. Prison conditions remained harsh. The judiciary is pervaded by corruption, and remains subordinated to the executive branch, which uses the courts to prosecute government critics and political opponents. Most courts refused to hear the lawsuits filed throughout Indonesia by Megawati Sukarnoputri and her supporters protesting her ouster as PDI leader, although a few at a preliminary level accepted the case and ruled in her favor. Security forces regularly violated citizens' right to privacy. The Government continued to impose serious limitations on freedom of speech and restrict press freedom, although at year's end government critics were speaking out more boldly. The Government exercises indirect control over the press and uses intimidation to suppress hostile commentary and encourages self-censorship. Mild criticism of the Government was tolerated, but critics of the President, senior officials, or powerful local interests risked harassment or arrest. Despite these problems, the print media provided wide coverage of political issues and reports of human rights violations. Fourteen young activists belonging to, or associated with, the small, unauthorized, People's Democratic Party (PRD) were convicted of subversion based mostly on their writings, speeches, and organizational activities. Independent labor leader Muchtar Pakpahan faced subversion charges based mainly on expression of his political views but also including his labor activities. Former parliamentarian Sri Bintang Pamungkas was brought to trial in December under the Antisubversion Law for the political views and actions of his unrecognized Indonesian Democratic Union Party (PUDI). Parliamentarian Aberson Marle Sihalolo was sentenced to 9 months in prison for allegedly insulting the President and military in remarks made at a free speech forum in July 1996 at the former PDI headquarters. An assistant to the author of a book banned by the Government was brought to trial for his role in its publication. The Government continued to impose serious limitations on freedom of assembly and association. It prevented or broke-up meetings of nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) and labor unions, as well as peaceful demonstrations, sometimes violently. It brought to trial a Catholic priest and his brother for protecting political activists who in 1996 had been sought by the police. However, there were notable examples of well-publicized meetings, seminars, and gatherings on sensitive subjects, as well as public demonstrations, that were not stopped. Security forces generally refrained from using force to stop the prohibited, massive street rallies that dominated the election campaign and in most cases did not use lethal force in responding to major riots. On occasion security forces were criticized for not acting in time to protect citizens and property from the largescale destruction that occurred. The rioting resulted from a combination of economic, communal, ethnic, religious and political factors. It began in 1996, continued into 1997, abated after the May general election, and erupted again in Ujung Pandang, South Sulawesi in September. Despite their reduced use of lethal force, security forces often reacted harshly to peaceful demonstrations or in disputes with citizens. The Government legally provides for religious freedom for five accepted religions; unrecognized religions are subject to restrictions. The Government did not fully investigate or resolve many cases of attacks on religious facilities and churches during riots, although it issued several public appeals for religious tolerance. The Government continued to restrict freedom of movement. Discrimination against women, the disabled, and ethnic minorities, and violence against women are endemic problems. The Government maintained its opposition to alternatives to the Government-sponsored labor movement and to the development of a free trade union movement, but permitted a very open debate over a new basic labor law. Members of the principal unauthorized labor organization cited continued instances of harassment, and security authorities shut down the organization's planned 3-day congress in September on the first day. The Government urged employers to pay on time the increased minimum wage and mandated benefits, and implemented a new audit system for worker safety and health. However, enforcement of labor standards remained weak. The Government and the International Labor Organization (ILO) signed a new memorandum of understanding on child labor to promote the protection of working children and to move progressively toward elimination of child labor. However, millions of children still work, often under poor conditions, and are thus unable to attend school. Some children forced to work under conditions of bonded labor reportedly suffer abuse. There were some potentially positive developments. For example, the Independent Election Monitoring Committee (KIPP) carried out limited, yet significant, monitoring activities during the campaign and the parliamentary election. Although the Government refused to recognize the KIPP and restricted its activities, the organization gathered information about election violations and presented it to the public. The National Commission on Human Rights, despite limited resources and occasional government pressure, undertook investigations and publicized its independent findings and recommendations, but lacked enforcement powers. The Government ignored or responded slowly to some Commission findings. The increase in private human rights monitoring in East Timor was a positive development, and the Government took some actions in response to criticism of its human rights performance; for example, a human rights and international law training seminar was conducted for the military by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). In East Timor, following massive December 1996 demonstrations in support of Nobel Peace Prize recipient Bishop Belo, in which security personnel suffered injuries and an outofuniform police officer was killed, an early 1997 campaign of harassment and detention by the security forces raised tension to a high level. During the May election period and its aftermath, East Timor's low-level insurgency intensified with guerrilla attacks that inflicted the highest number of deaths in years on security personnel and civilians. These attacks were followed by the capture and death of a prominent guerrilla commander and widespread detentions, accompanied by reports of killings, disappearances, torture, and excessive use of force on the part of the authorities. These developments exacerbated longstanding resentments on the part of the indigenous population. In November at least five students were injured when a large number of security force personnel entered the University of East Timor campus firing their weapons. One political prisoner was released when he became eligible for parole. No significant progress was made in accounting for persons missing following the 1991 Dili incident or others who disappeared in recent years. Troop levels remained unjustifiably high. The Government granted limited access to the area to foreign journalists but banned travel by all foreign human rights NGO's except the ICRC. The Dili branch of the National Commission on Human Rights, which opened in 1996, remained ineffective, but increased efforts by the Catholic Church and others, along with a better understanding of international humanitarian norms among senior military officers, improved the overall quality of human rights monitoring in East Timor. There were no reports of military personnel who committed abuses in East Timor being punished. Seeking asylum or publicity for their cause, young East Timorese mounted further intrusions into various embassies in Jakarta. In Irian Jaya, resentment among indigenous groups against government and private companies' policies that they viewed as heavyhanded and arbitrary remained. Real and perceived discrimination against native Irianese persisted. A clash between indigenous people and security forces occurred in the TimikaTembagapura area, the location of a foreign mining company, and resulted in several deaths. The company began moving forward on its plan to distribute a percentage of its profits to indigenous groups in the area as part of a regional development effort, but suspended disbursements for new projects under this initiative in August because of disputes over how the funds should be allocated. The Government's closure of certain areas of the central highlands continued during 1997, due to the military's special operations against an indigenous separatist group that had taken and executed hostages in 1996. There were reports that in the restricted areas the military had forced villagers to perform uncompensated labor, that huts had been burned in one village, and that in late 1996 there were instances of beatings and other abuse. The military denied such reports and blamed abuse on the separatist group.