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Dear President Yudhoyono,

Human Rights Watch wishes to express its strong support for Indonesia's decision to sign the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.  We understand that Foreign Affairs Minister Marty Natalegawa signed the convention on September 27, 2010, at United Nations headquarters in New York. This important step demonstrates your government's recognition of the seriousness of the international crime of enforced disappearance and that Indonesia has an obligation to investigate ongoing disappearances. We also write to you with some practical suggestions on how Indonesia can move forward to address existing cases.

Indonesia's prompt ratification of the convention by the House of Representatives would make Indonesia the first Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) state to do so, and could perhaps trigger the convention's entry into force. Since it was adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 2006, the Convention on Enforced Disappearance has been signed by 86 nations, 19 of which have ratified it. It will enter into force once it has been ratified by 20 states. Indonesia is also only the second ASEAN member state to have signed the convention after the Lao People's Democratic Republic, which signed the convention in September 2008 but has yet to ratify it.  We applaud you for showing leadership in ASEAN on this issue and hope that you will encourage Indonesian legislators to act quickly in ratifying the convention.

We also write today to encourage you to follow up on the positive gesture of signing the convention by taking action to resolve ongoing cases of enforced disappearance in Indonesia. In particular, we urge you to implement the House of Representatives' year-old recommendation to open an investigation into the emblematic case of the enforced disappearance of 13 student activists in the late-1990s.

As you are aware, in September 2009, Indonesia's House of Representatives, acting on a report by the National Human Rights Commission, issued recommendations regarding the suspected abduction of 23 student activists by Indonesian security forces in 1997 and 1998, in the last months of former President Suharto's rule. Nine of the activists were later released alive, one was found dead, and 13 have never been found. In 1999 a military court convicted 11 military personnel of kidnapping the activists who were later found alive, but the court did not examine the issue of enforced disappearances of the other 13 cases.

The House of Representatives recommended, in line with the report, that Indonesia create an ad hoc human rights court to prosecute those responsible for the disappearances, discover the whereabouts of the 13 missing activists, provide rehabilitation and compensation for the families of the disappeared, and become a party to the Convention on Enforced Disappearance. To date, however, neither you nor the attorney general has acted on the recommendation to form an ad hoc court. 

On the same day that Foreign Minister Natalegawa signed the convention, Indonesian police reportedly arrested approximately 30 activists and family members of the disappeared student activists, who had been holding a protest in Jakarta condemning the government's failure to form the ad hoc court. The police claimed that the protesters had failed to end their protest as required at 6 p.m., although the protesters reported that they had been approached by public order officers seeking to compel them to end their protest hours earlier.  

We urge you to show that Indonesia intends to act on its commitment to investigate ongoing enforced disappearances and order the attorney general to open a credible, transparent investigation into the enforced disappearance of the student activists.  Ongoing disappearances should be the focus of Indonesia's justice system, rather than the arbitrary arrest of peaceful protesters calling for a remedy.

We also urge you to call for the investigation of other enforced disappearances cases that remain unresolved in Indonesia.  These include the case of Aristoteles Masoka, a 21-year-old from Papua who worked as a driver for traditional leader Theys Eluay. Indonesian special forces (Komando Pasukan Khusus, or Kopassus) soldiers kidnapped Eluay in November 2001 after he left an event at their barracks in his car. According to his father, Masoka escaped the initial abduction and went to the local Kopassus headquarters to report the attack on Eluay to the ranking officer, Lt. Col. Tri Hartomo. Masoka has not been seen since. In April 2003, a military court found Hartomo and six other Kopassus members guilty of mistreatment and battery leading to Eluay's death. No one has been prosecuted for Masoka's disappearance.

Finally, we note that Indonesia has yet to become a party to several major human rights treaties, including the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which it signed in March 2007 but has not ratified; the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, which it signed in September 2004 but has not ratified; and the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, neither of which it has signed or ratified.

Indonesia said in its 2004-2009 National Human Rights Action plan that it would ratify the Migrant Workers Convention by 2005 and the Refugee Convention and Protocol by 2009, but it missed these deadlines.  We urge you to act to ensure that Indonesia becomes a party to and implements these treaties as well as the Convention on Enforced Disappearance to demonstrate a broad commitment to safeguarding human rights.

Thank you for your consideration. We would appreciate the opportunity to discuss these and other human rights issues with you and members of your administration.


Elaine Pearson

Deputy Director, Asia Division

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