Dear President Yudhoyono:

We write to congratulate you on your electoral victory and recent inauguration as the first president ever to be chosen directly by the Indonesian people. We wish you every success in the complex and important undertaking ahead of you.

We also wish to take this opportunity to outline what we believe are the central human rights challenges facing your administration.

As our recent reporting has made clear, Human Rights Watch is particularly concerned with the human rights consequences of renewed armed conflict in Aceh. We urge that, as one of your first acts, you take decisive steps to end torture, enforced disappearances, and other egregious violations by security forces. While we are aware that GAM rebels as well as government forces have committed abuses, it is a settled principle of international humanitarian law that violations by one side do not give a green light to abuses by the other.

International experience has demonstrated that abusive actions by soldiers and military units end only when commanders are routinely and promptly held criminally liable for their actions. Establishing accountability for crimes committed by security forces in Aceh will also give your administration added legitimacy when it addresses conflicts and security issues in other provinces and communities.

Human Rights Watch believes that the Indonesian military cannot become the professional force it aspires to be so long as it continues to be locally entrenched through an antiquated territorial structure, controls and is responsible for most of its own budget (creating multiple conflicts of interest and undermining civilian fiscal oversight), and is not directly answerable to the civilian ministry of defense. In numerous cases in recent years in which there has been an urgent need for security forces to be an important part of the solution—controlling the drug trade in Binjai, ethnic strife in Central Kalimantan, communal violence in Maluku, internal war in Aceh, mass public grievance in Papua, to name some of the most prominent examples—conflicts of interest and local self-dealings have at times led the TNI (and police as well) to be part of the problem.

We also share the concern of many Indonesian and international observers that endemic corruption and an ineffective judiciary are undermining economic recovery and the rule of law in Indonesia. Human Rights Watch urges your government to make a public commitment to judicial independence and ensure that no government officials attempt to improperly influence the judiciary.

Finally, we urge you, as an important step toward improved respect for human rights, to publicly announce Indonesia’s commitment to signing and ratifying major international human rights treaties including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Improving human rights practices is a difficult task that requires political will and the dedication necessary to reform often entrenched institutional arrangements and patterns of privilege. We urge you to use your mandate from the Indonesian people at the outset of your administration to make human rights progress a priority. We have summarized below the issues that we believe you should take on in your first months in office:

1. Military Operations in Aceh

Substantial evidence from several reliable sources, including Indonesia’s own National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), establishes that Indonesian security forces have engaged in extra-judicial executions, forced disappearances, torture, beatings, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and drastic limits on freedom of movement in Aceh. The past eighteen months of fighting have also caused massive internal displacement. Tens of thousands of civilians have fled their homes or been forcibly relocated by the military for operational reasons. The cumulative strain of long-term conflict on the civilian population has been significant, with serious effects on the mental health of the population.

Human Rights Watch urges you to take the following steps:

  • Immediately revoke Presidential decree No. 43/2003, which places unnecessary restrictions on access for the United Nations, international agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), journalists, and foreigners in Aceh. Human rights organizations and journalists should have unfettered access to the province.
  • Publicly condemn torture and other forms of mistreatment in detention and instruct other senior public officials to do the same. Commanders and senior officials should issue orders to all security personnel to immediately end all mistreatment of detainees, whether for the purpose of extracting a confession, to exact retribution for real or alleged support of GAM, or for any other reason. Official statements condemning torturing and other ill-treatment must be disseminated widely within the Indonesian armed forces and police service and in public media.
  • Investigate fully allegations of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law and prosecute or discipline as appropriate all officials, soldiers, and police personnel implicated in abuses.
  • Immediately remove—from any role relating to the conflict in Aceh—all Indonesian military personnel who have been convicted or indicted for serious violations of human rights or humanitarian law or for whom there is evidence of such abuse. Indicted personnel should be removed from active duty until the completion of their trial process. Officers who are convicted of serious offenses should begin to serve their sentences immediately and be subject to administrative discharge from the armed forces.
  • Invite United Nations thematic mechanisms to visit Aceh. Priority should be given to the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions and representatives from the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. Indonesia should invite the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers to investigate and report on these allegations and make relevant recommendations. Without delay, Indonesia should also implement the recommendations made by the United Nations Committee against Torture in November 2001 to address torture in Indonesia.

2. Papua

The Indonesian military continues to respond to low level attacks by the Free Papua Movement (Organisasi Papua Merdeka, OPM) with disproportionate reprisals against civilians and suspected separatists. Arbitrary detention, torture, disappearances, and arson are widespread in this region of Indonesia. Recent moves to split the province into more than one province have undermined the intent and the implementation of the special autonomy bill for Papua, leading to widespread discontent in the region.

Human Rights Watch urges you to:

  • Take all steps necessary to ensure that Indonesian military and police forces operating in Papua act in full accordance with international human rights and humanitarian law.
  • Discipline and/or prosecute as appropriate all officials, armed forces, and police personnel implicated in abuses.
  • Follow recommendations by Indonesia’s National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) for prosecutions following their investigation into security forces abuses in Wamena and Wasior. Provide the Attorney-General’s office with all resources necessary to ensure swift and credible prosecutions of perpetrators of these abuses.

3. Impunity and Past Abuses

Your appointment of Abdul Rahman Saleh as Indonesia’s new attorney general, because of his reputation for integrity and independence, has sent a positive signal that your administration will take justice issues seriously. The resolve of the attorney general is particularly important as past failures of justice in Indonesia have stemmed in part from poor performance by prosecutors, reflecting lack of political will to move aggressively against politically well-connected suspects. We urge you to give the attorney general all resources necessary to fulfill his considerable responsibilities.

Indonesian military and police officers implicated in human rights violations have frequently been promoted rather than prosecuted. We urge you to review these promotions and to initiate transparent and credible prosecutions of officers with histories of human rights abuses. Cases meriting priority attention include: Retired General Hendropriyono, named National Intelligence Chief under President Megawati despite serious allegations that he was responsible for atrocities in Lampung in 1989 and played a role in funding militias responsible for killings of civilians in East Timor; Major-General Sjafrie Syamsoeddin, named to the key post of military spokesman in 2002 despite evidence that while serving as Jakarta military commander in May 1998, troops under his command committed serious abuses when up to a thousand people were killed in days of demonstrations and rioting; and Major-General Mahidin Simbolon, promoted in 2001 to Regional Commander for Papua despite a notorious record in East Timor of helping create and directing militias responsible for multiple attacks on civilians.

Despite considerable domestic and international support, the ad hoc courts for East Timor and Tanjung Priok have failed to provide accountability for the gross violations they were created to address. As a result, domestic confidence in the judiciary and international support for reform have suffered.

Human Rights Watch urges you to:

  • Provide all needed support and resources to Komnas HAM to document and investigate past abuses.
  • Support the initiative of the U.N Secretary-General to establish a Commission of Experts to assess the justice mechanisms in Jakarta and Dili for crimes committed in East Timor in 1999.
  • Ensure that all files already handed to the Attorney General’s office are pursued immediately.
  • Give support to investigations and prosecutions into the killings of students at Semanggi, Trisakti I, and Trisakti II in 1998 and 1999 before and after the fall of former President Soeharto.
  • Investigate and prosecute the gravest crimes committed during the Soeharto era, including atrocities in Aceh and Papua during previous military operations in the two provinces, and the massacres of 1965-67, in which an estimated one million civilians were killed in anti-communist purges.

4. Freedom of Expression

Human Rights Watch is concerned about growing restrictions on the press and free expression in Indonesia. In particular we are concerned at the use of the judiciary to silence dissent and penalize the media for critical reporting.

After the fall of Soeharto, Indonesia for a time was considered a center of media freedom in Southeast Asia. Critical reporting and commentary emerged on a scale unimaginable in the Soeharto era. However, the trend more recently has been toward a more restrictive environment, symbolized in 2004 by continuing far-reaching restrictions on and intimidation of journalists in Aceh and by the one-year prison sentence imposed on Bambang Harymurti, editor of the prominent independent weekly newsmagazine Tempo, for an article alleged to have defamed well-connected businessman Tomy Winata. In addition, private business interests and military officers increasingly file lawsuits and rely on a corrupt judiciary to influence coverage and in some cases impose potentially crippling monetary judgments on independent news providers.

Censored coverage of the conflict in Aceh has exemplified re-emerging practices of political pressure on editors, intimidation of journalists, and self-censorship.

Over the last five years the government has also imprisoned at least forty-six people for peaceful expression of their views—thirty-nine of them since your predecessor, Megawati Sukarnoputri, became president in July 2001.

We urge you to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally release all persons detained or imprisoned for the peaceful expression of their political views.
  • Drop any outstanding charges against individuals awaiting trial for their non-violent political activities, and make a public commitment to ensuring that there will be no further arrests of individuals engaged in the peaceful expression of their beliefs.
  • Propose the repeal of articles 134, 136, and 137 of the criminal code criminalizing insulting the president or vice-president and anyone who "disseminates, demonstrates openly or puts up a writing or portrait containing an insult against the president or vice-president," as well as articles 154, 155, and 156 criminalizing "public expression of feelings of hostility, hatred or contempt toward the government" and prohibiting "the expression of such feelings or views through the public media."
  • Remove immediately and unconditionally the prohibition on direct news gathering and reporting from Aceh by the Indonesian and foreign media.
  • Conduct a complete review of defamation laws with a view to repealing criminal defamation altogether, and to bringing the civil defamation laws into line with international standards of respect for freedom of expression.
  • Ensure that the special rapporteur of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, to whom Indonesian authorities have already extended an invitation, is able to carry out his visit promptly.

5. Protection of Migrant Workers

Human Rights Watch is increasingly concerned about the plight of migrant workers worldwide. In recent months, we have conducted studies of conditions for such workers in Saudi Arabia and Malaysia. What we found is appalling, with the situation of female domestic workers—many of whom are effectively prisoners in their employers’ homes—particularly troubling.

Migrant workers, critical to Indonesia’s economy, continue to endure abuses by labor agents and to confront corruption at every stage of the migration cycle. Recent measures have failed to implement protections necessary to prevent workers from falling into human trafficking networks, getting locked in overcrowded pre-departure “training” centers for months, or if abused while abroad, from obtaining adequate support services from Indonesian diplomatic missions. In both Indonesian training centers and in Malaysian workplaces, women migrant domestic workers often suffer severe restrictions on their freedom of movement; psychological and physical abuse, including sexual abuse; and prohibitions on practicing their religion. Pervasive labor rights abuses in the workplace include extremely long hours of work without overtime pay, no rest days, and incomplete and irregular payment of wages.

To avoid a human rights tragedy like the deaths of dozens of migrant workers in Nunukan in 2002, Indonesia must provide logistical support and human rights protections to the hundreds of thousands of Indonesian migrant workers who will soon be expelled from Malaysia. These workers should be screened to identify trafficking victims and workers who have suffered abuse. In its diplomacy with Malaysia, Indonesia should strongly advocate for Malaysia to respect migrants’ human rights during the expulsions.

Human Rights Watch urges you to:

  • Amend recent legislation on the recruitment and protection of Indonesian migrant workers so that it provides full human rights protections in compliance with Indonesia’s international obligations as a party to the International Labor Organization’s core labor conventions.
  • Establish mechanisms for regular and independent monitoring of labor agencies and streamline recruitment practices to avoid opportunities for corruption and deception.
  • Adopt improved regulations for pre-departure training centers to clearly delineate minimum health and safety conditions, protect women workers’ freedom of movement, and create enforcement mechanisms that include substantial penalties on agents who abuse workers or otherwise violate the guidelines.
  • Provide a range of expanded and higher-quality services for returning migrants and trafficking victims, including health care, legal aid, counseling, and reintegration programs. Indonesian embassies and consulates should ensure these services are available in foreign countries for Indonesian migrants who have suffered abuse.
  • Ensure that the Memorandum of Understanding on domestic workers currently being negotiated with Malaysia contains a standard contract with provisions on their hours of work, rest days, and pay; systems for monitoring training centers and places of employment; and plans on cooperation to provide services to survivors of abuse. This agreement should also protect domestic workers’ rights to freedom of movement and freedom of association.

Human Rights Watch wishes you success as president. We urge that you make meaningful human rights reform a central objective of your new administration.

Yours Sincerely,

Brad Adams
Executive Director, Asia Division
Human Rights Watch