Indonesia’s ‘culture of impunity’ shaken under foreign diplomatic gaze

Updated On: Dec 01, 2006

Indonesia’s treatment of its domestic affairs vis-à-vis its foreign diplomacy came under scrutiny as critics drew attention to Indonesia’s reluctance to come to grips with its culture of impunity.  

The one case that had gripped attention was that involving the poisoning of human rights activists, Munir, on board a Garuda plane, but many other domestic problems that plagued Indonesia recently from the haze to the mudflow may also be somewhat linked to the issue of impunity.

Two years have passed since the death of human rights campaigner Munir Said Thalib.  Calls for due investigation and justice continue unabated, especially through the wife of Munir, Ms Suciwati.  Her tireless campaign in Washington, during a time of the Congress’ power shift, which signifies greater pressures on Indonesia to act.

Key suspect Pollycarpus Priyanto, an off-duty pilot during the time of Munir’s death aboard an Amsterdam-bound Garuda Airlines flight, was recently acquitted byIndonesia's Supreme Court, leaving another prime suspect, General Purwopranjono, in the fray but currently shielded from persecution.

It is not coincidental, according to a November 28 Straits Times report, that President Yudhoyono announced a day after his Bogor meeting with US President Bush, for the FBI and Dutch police to participate in the investigation, a move the report argued, that can be interpreted as taking stock of the country’s persistent culture of impunity. 

After all, President Yudhoyono has just received an honorary doctorate from the prestigious Keio University in Tokyo over the weekend, for his contributions in the Aceh peace treaty. According to Keio University dean, Tomoyuki Kojima, President Yudhoyono “contributed to securing the political stability of the nation based on the platform built upon four pillars: a more peaceful, more just, more prosperous and more democratic Indonesia”.

In return, President Yudhoyono pledged his commitment to enforcement of the law and bringing economic equality to Indonesia. Before he left Japan, both countries signed the economic partnership agreement, which included a pact to ensure the security of energy supplies for Japan.

The long-drawn transboundary haze pollution problem – with the main fire sources in the country – also saw considerable light but only through concerted pressures from sub-regional governments, NGOs and media in the five affected ASEAN states. The latest breakthrough came in the form of a MOU between Malaysia andIndonesia to control open burning in the plantation industry to tackle the haze problem.

The stickiest issue by far, remains with the mudflow disaster, which again calls attention to Indonesia’s culture of impunity.

The spotlight was on the Coordinating Minister for the People's Welfare Aburizal Bakrie.  His company, Lapindo, whose actions are blamed for triggering the mudflow problem, has yet to be punished.  Lapindo’s action are too overwhelming to be ignored at this point, especially with growing economic damages, negative health impact, forced displacement, and more recently, the gas pipe explosion that took at least 11 lives.

The mudflow problems prompted outspoken Andi Yuliani Paris, vice chairwoman of the House of Representatives (DPR) Commission II representing the National Mandate Party (PAN), to openly ask Minister Bakrie to bear responsibility. Thousands also rallied in the Porong district in Sidoarjo, East Java on November 27.

A promising prospect comes from President Yudhoyono’s response to the call for accountability – even while overseas – by asking PT. Lapindo Brantas to meet their promise to provide compensation to the Porong mudflow victims. 

"The people should not be made restless. They will be in a state of unrest if the promised financial assistance for them never became a reality," the president said in his talks with East Java Governor Imam Utomo during a flight from Tokyo to Saint Petersburg, Russia, on November 29.


Mudflow disaster stinks to high heaven (Jakarta Post, 27 November 2006)

President urged to ask Aburizal Bakrie to bear responsibility (Anatara, 27 November 2006)

Indon leader gets Japan doctorate, vows good governance (AFP/The Straits Times, 27 November 2006)

M'sia-Indonesia Accord To Control Open Burning (Bernama, 27 November 2006)

Mudflow victims rally for compensation (Jakarta Post, 28 November 2006)

Will Jakarta tackle culture of impunity? (The Straits Times, 28 November 2006)

President asks Lapindo to its promise of helping Porong residents (Anatara, 29 November 2006)