Human Rights and Democracy in Indonesia

Updated On: Jan 24, 2006

Indonesiais showing a mixed report card in human rights and democratization.

In some of its most problematic areas such as AcehIndonesiahas made considerable progress.  Exiled former rebel leaders of Aceh, including elderly Prince Hasan di Tiro seen as Aceh’s legitimate head of state and its unofficial prime minister in a shadow cabinet, have expressed a desire to return to Indonesia, a manifest signal of improving conditions back home. They have been living in exile in Stockholmsince professing support for Aceh independence in 1976. The separatists have already put down their arms and the government finished the pullout in Jan under the peace deal. This might be the last puzzle piece in finally putting to rest the 30-year civil war that has seen thousands killed and atrocities committed by the Indonesian military.  

The crucial step now is for trust-building in the peace process. The Aceh Monitoring Mission (AMM) comprising peacekeepers from EU and ASEAN and invited by the Indonesian government to monitor the peace process last year have been asked to stay a bit longer.  Vice President M Jusuf Kalla said the presence of the foreign observers tasked with monitoring the peace and integration process in Nangroe Aceh Darussalam (NAD) was still needed in the political transition towards democratization and to build trust between the Indonesian government and the disbanded separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM).

In Papua, where there is also growing agitation for independence, the government is dealing with the issue differently. The government urged Indonesians to return to their homelands and not seek political asylum elsewhere given that Indonesia has now adopted open and free democracy, specifically referring to the 43 people from Papua who have fled to Australia who are now based in Christmas islands waiting for their status to be processed. The Indonesian government is banking on openness and democratization as reasons to urge their return. To push this point, the Indonesian government by sending a representative in Canberrato handle the case of 43 Papuans in Australia.

Meanwhile, the Indonesian embassy yesterday discounted the nexus between the shooting of a boy in West Papuaand the arrival in Australialast week of 43 West Papuan asylum seekers, stating that it was a criminal act instead of a politically-motivated action. They are also trying to dispel fears of police questioning the relatives of the asylum seekers and possible reprisals.

The attention to Indonesia’s democratization and human rights situation is increasingly important given that East Timor presented the United Nations Secretary General an internationally funded report on 20 Jan 2006 which reported atrocities committed by the Indonesian government during their East Timor occupation. More than 7000 victims testified on human rights violations committed in East Timorbetween April 1974 and October 1999. The 2500 page ‘Reception, Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ report which took two years to put together states that 183 000 people were killed or starved to death during Indonesia's rule of East Timor. In other words, about 10% of East Timorpopulation perished under Indonesia’s rule.

The international community continues to put pressure on Jakartain 2002 to prosecute Indonesians for the killings. But so far, the trials have been less than successful with all 17 police and military commanders indicted receiving acquittals and a Timorese militia leader free on appeal. The report says that Indonesia's policy of deliberate starvation could have cost the lives of between 84,000 and 183,000 people between 1975 and 1999. Many died of hunger and illness brought about by the conscious and deliberate policies of Indonesia's military toward East Timor's civilian population. It also says troops used napalm against the population.Indonesiahas denied both charges. Indonesiaexplained that starvation might have been caused by famine brought about by scarcity in food supply while the Indonesian government was not in a position to purchase or manufacture napalm.


*GAM exiles say return to Aceh just a matter of time (The Star, Jan 21)

*Former GAM Leaders Meet Vice President Jusuf Kalla (Antara, Jan 21)

*Foreign Observers Still Needed in Aceh, VEEP Says (Antara, Jan 20)

*RI Citizens Have No Reason To Seek Politcal Asylum Abroad (Antara, Jan 21)

*RI to Handle 43 Papuans in Australia(Antara, Jan 20)

*UN East Timor report (Xinhua, Jan 21)

*East Timor's tale of misery (Melbourne Herald Sun, Jan 22)

*Army chief denies Timorkillings (BBC, Jan 22)

*West Papua killing 'not linked' to boat people

*Jakartaasked to explain 'killings' of four children (The Age, Jan 22)

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