February 28, 2013

Key Recommendations

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has been inconsistent at best in defending the right to religious freedom. The absence of leadership has emboldened groups willing to use violence against religious minorities and the local and national officials who cater to them. Indonesia’s constitution explicitly guarantees freedom of religion, and decentralization laws leave authority over religious freedom with the central government. What is most needed is the political will to wield that authority. Despite occasional positive rhetoric, however, President Yudhoyono has responded weakly to growing intolerance and acts of violence against religious minorities, has not insisted firmly that national laws be enforced, and has often been unwilling to use his powers as president to see that the laws be enforced.

More decisive leadership is urgently needed. Human Rights Watch supports the call for President Yudhoyono to work with parliament to devise and implement a national strategy on religious tolerance and religious freedom.[3] The effort should be led by an independent national taskforce composed of experts and politically influential individuals committed to religious freedom and not beholden to the existing Ministry of Religious Affairs hierarchy. The task force should be given a strong mandate and the resources necessary to produce a plan of action. Key elements of such a plan of action should include:

  • Zero tolerance for attacks on religious minorities. Every attack on religious minority communities should be prosecuted.
  • Active measures against local officials who fail to respect court judgments guaranteeing religious freedom, including construction of houses of worship. The task force and President Yudhoyono should work to ensure that obstruction of justice is made grounds for suspending local officials from public office when new local government laws are being drafted, and should press parliament to pass specific contempt of court legislation.
  • Review of existing laws, regulations, and decrees on religion to identify provisions at odds with freedom of religion and freedom of conscience, followed by a timetable for revision or repeal of offending provisions.
  • National outreach on basic principles of religious freedom and religious tolerance, including education programs disseminated through government media and schools, and stronger policies and responses to incitement to violence targeting religious minorities, including greater clarity on when freedom of expression crosses the line into incitement to violence.

Even before a taskforce is convened and a national strategy on religious freedom and religious tolerance is adopted, President Yudhoyono should:

  • Direct the police to respond more decisively to acts of religious violence, focusing on perpetrators of violence rather than targets of the violence, with sentences for perpetrators commensurate with the gravity of their crimes.
  • Take immediate disciplinary action against all government officials, including the minister of religious affairs, who make statements or engage in actions that promote religious discrimination or condone violence.
  • Use existing presidential powers, including over central government allocation of funds to local governments, to sanction local officials who defy the courts.

[3] Ibid., p. 18.