Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Indonesia

Political context

Indonesia has made significant progress in human rights matters since the fall of Suharto's authoritarian regime in 1998, even if much remains to be done, especially in the areas of reinforcing the state of law and the fight against impunity. The legal and institutional framework for the promotion and protection of human rights was strengthened following constitutional changes in 2002, the adoption in 1999 of the Human Rights Act and of the Witness Protection Act in 2006, and ratification, in 2006, of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Similarly, the establishment of ad hoc human rights tribunals, of the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) and the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) has been an important development in terms of protection and promotion of human rights, providing a framework in which defenders may carry out their activities.

However, these efforts have seen no subsequent concrete improvement in the human rights situation. In particular, the significance of military power has been notable since President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono came to power in 2004.

One of the major problems confronting Indonesia is the impunity of those responsible for human rights violations, especially violations committed under the reign of President Suharto, who died in January 2008 without being prosecuted, and also violations committed in Timor-Leste in 1999, in Aceh and in East Papua. It is therefore regrettable that the Constitutional Court decided, in December 2006, to annul Law 27/2004, which mandated an Indonesian Commission of Truth and Reconciliation. Rights activists had challenged provisions allowing amnesty for perpetrators of severe human rights violations and limiting victims' ability to obtain compensation. However, the Court ruled that the whole law should be repealed as some of its articles violated the Constitution, and the annulment of individual articles would render the rest of the law unenforceable. The annulment of the law left victims of past human rights violations without a compensation mechanism.

Human rights activities may be made criminal offences in the future

The State Secrecy Bill and a State Intelligence Services Bill were under consideration at the end of 2007. The State Secrecy Bill, which defines confidential information as any information that jeopardises state sovereignty or safety, could be used in particular to silence criticism of Government policy. The Bill on the State Intelligence Services (BIN) would extend the role played by BIN agents, allowing them to arrest any person "suspected" of being directly or indirectly involved in activities deemed to be a threat to the nation, although the notion of a "threat to the nation" remains very vague. The draft law is of concern since human rights defenders regularly come under pressure from BIN and civil groups linked to the armed forces.

Furthermore, whilst the Constitutional Court issued a ruling in December 2006 that declared as unconstitutional Articles 134, 136 and 137 of the Criminal Code, which punished insults to the President or Vice-President with a prison sentence of up to six years; and whilst, on July 17, 2007, the Court also declared as unconstitutional Articles 154 and 155 of the Criminal Code (defamation against the Government), the Government introduced certain restrictive articles into the Bill on the right to information that was discussed in Parliament at the end of December 2007. Amongst other provisions, the bill imposes severe penalties, including imprisonment, for those "abusing" their right to information. This could have a dissuasive effect on defenders.

Impunity for crimes committed against defenders

Crimes committed against defenders generally go unpunished. As an example, Mr. Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, expressed his concern in March 2007, following the acquittal by the Indonesian Supreme Court in 2006 of the main suspect in the death of Mr. Munir Said Thalib, co-founder of the Commission for Disappearances and Victims of Violence (KONTRAS), who was killed in 2004.1 Likewise, in June 2007, Ms. Hina Jilani, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders, recalled that this case was a test of the Government's willingness to protect defenders in the country.2 Therefore, it is to be regretted that, although on January 25, 2008, the Supreme Court again sentenced the main suspect to twenty years' imprisonment, the responsibility of former senior executives of the State airline Garuda and high-ranked officials of BIN in this death has still not been recognised.3

A particularly critical situation for defenders in Papua

Whilst the situation of defenders has considerably improved in the Province of Aceh since the 2005 Peace Agreement between the Government and the rebels of the Aceh Liberation Movement (GAM), a very strong separatist movement exists in West Papua, where defenders continue to face risks inherent to the heavy militarisation of the province. Thus, they frequently face death threats, judicial proceedings for defamation because they denounce violations, but also accusations of treason, rebellion, links with the separatist movement or of being separatist and "selling human rights for OPM" (Free Papua Movement, a separatist group) to discredit them. Some members of local human rights associations have sometimes been forced to leave the province after being subjected to intimidation because of their activities.

After her visit to Indonesia from June 5 to 12, 2007,4 Ms. Hina Jilani expressed her regret that human rights defenders working in Papua continued to be the focus of "acts of harassment and intimidation by the police, the army and the security forces in the country". Ms. Jilani also expressed her concern that "defenders working for the preservation of the environment and the right to land and natural resources frequently receive threats from private actors with powerful economic interests, but are granted no protection by the police". She also spoke of being disturbed by the fact that defenders who expose abuse by the authorities or the security forces were "labelled as separatists in order to undermine their credibility".5

In addition, in 2007, a real campaign of systematic intimidation of defenders in Papua was set in motion, targeting especially those who had met with Ms. Jilani during her visit, to inform her of their working conditions, and also following the appointment of Colonel Burhanuddin Siagian as head of the army in the Jayapura District. The latter would indeed have declared on May 12, 2007 that he would not hesitate to "destroy" any person who continued to "betray the nation".6 It is against this background that Mr. Yan Christian Warinussy, Executive Director of the Institute of Research, Analysis and Development for Legal Aid (LP3 BH) in Manokwari,7 was placed under surveillance at his office and his home the day after his meeting with Ms. Jilani in Jayapura on June 8, 2007.8 Following his meeting with Ms. Jilani on June 10, the Director of the National Human Rights Commission for Papua, Mr. Albert Rumbekwan, received numerous telephone messages threatening him and his family with death. Several men have also kept him under surveillance at his home and his office.9

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders is a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).

1 See United Nations Press Release, March 28, 2007.

2 See United Nations Press Release, June 12, 2007.


4 During her visit, Ms. Jilani travelled to Jakarta, Jayapura (Papua) and Banda Aceh.

5 See United Nations Press Release, June 12, 2007.

6 In 1999, Colonel Burhanudd in Siagian had publicly threatened to kill separatist supporters from Timor-Leste and gave the order to kill seven men in April 1999. Although on two occasions he was found guilty of crimes against humanity in Timor-Leste and was named a suspect by the commission appointed by Indonesia to enquire into human rights violations carried out in Timor at that time, Colonel Siagian has never been brought to trial.

7 LP3 BH frequently provides legal support to local activists involved in land-related disputes with foreign companies.

8 See "Imparsial".

9 Idem.


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