“I’m a bit concerned with the diplomatic statements made by some countries regarding Indonesia’s progress on human rights, because it could give people the wrong perception about what’s really happening,” Haris Azhar, coordinator of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), told the Jakarta Globe.
As in previous editions, the US State Department’s annual survey on human rights pointed to concerns in Indonesia, this year including accounts of unlawful killings in violence-torn Papua along with violations of freedom of religion.
But US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while presenting on Friday the mammoth, 7,000-page global report, pointed to Indonesia as a success story.
“Indonesia boasts a vibrant free media and a flourishing civil society at the same time as it faces up to challenges in preventing abuses by its security forces and acting against religious intolerance,” she was quoted by foreign wire agencies as saying.
The survey covers the period before Islamic fanatics brutally killed three members of the Ahmadiyah sect in early February, raising questions over Indonesia’s commitment to safeguard minority rights.
The concern over Papua is primarily a reference to the torture of two civilians there last year by soldiers. They were subsequently court-martialed in January but given sentences of less than a year, a punishment slammed by the influential group Human Rights Watch as far too lenient to send a message that abuse was unacceptable.
Kontras’s Haris said both indicators presented by the US government — that Indonesia has been progressing in terms of media independence and better access for civil societies to voice their concern — were also incorrect.
“Freedom of journalism? I don’t think so. It’s still fresh in our minds that several journalists have been brutally attacked because of their reporting, some were even murdered,” he said.
“And in terms of flourishing civil societies, it’s true, non-government organizations are mushrooming, but what’s the point if human rights defenders and anticorruption activists are assaulted?” he added.
According to Kontras, in 2010 alone more than 100 human rights activists here were victimized and many of the perpetrators remain free.
And according to Reporters Without Borders, when it comes to press freedom, Indonesia ranks very low, much worse than it did several years ago when Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid was the president.
The US report in some ways echoes progress noted by New York-based Human Rights Watch in its own annual review of human rights practices around the globe, released in January. Then it noted that while serious human rights concerns remained, Indonesia had over the past 12 years made great strides in becoming a stable, democratic country with a strong civil society and independent media.
But Andreas Harsono, from Human Rights Watch, said it was perplexing that the US government would compliment Indonesia’s progress on rights.
“It’s a big joke,” he said. “Attacks against Ahmadiyah have been happening since 2008, after the joint ministerial decree was issued, and attacks against churches during SBY’s six-year tenure are even more prevalent than during the five decades in which Sukarno and Suharto ruled,” he said.
Additional reporting by AP, AFP