Indonesia's Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa speaks with media in Hanoi on July 20, 2010.

© 2010 Reuters

(New York) - Indonesia's signing of the international convention on enforced disappearances should encourage the government to take action to resolve ongoing cases in the country, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono released today.  Human Rights Watch urged President Yudhoyono to implement parliament's one-year-old recommendation to open an investigation into an emblematic case of the enforced disappearance of 13 students in the late-1990s.

On September 27, 2010, at United Nations headquarters in New York, Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister Marty Natalegawa signed the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

 "Indonesia's signing of the disappearances convention means it recognizes the seriousness of the crime and its obligation to investigate ongoing disappearances,"  said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.  "Now the government needs to open credible and transparent investigations into ‘disappearance' cases in Indonesia."

The convention codifies the offense of enforced disappearance, in which an individual is deprived of liberty and officials refuse to provide information regarding the victim's fate or whereabouts.  The treaty requires governments to investigate alleged disappearances effectively, prosecute those responsible, and provide a proper remedy for victims, including the relatives of disappeared persons. 

In the letter, Human Rights Watch called Indonesia's decision to sign the convention "an important step." Indonesia is the second Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) state to sign the treaty.  The deputy speaker of Indonesia's House of Representatives, Priyo Budi Santoso, said that legislators would quickly initiate efforts to ratify the convention. If Indonesia's House of Representatives promptly ratifies the convention, it would make Indonesia the first ASEAN state to do so, and could cause the treaty to enter into force.

"By signing the disappearances treaty and committing to speedy ratification, Indonesia is showing leadership among ASEAN nations," Pearson said. "Other Asian countries should follow suit and promptly sign and ratify the disappearances convention."

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 or the cases of the other 13 students.

"For an entire year, President Yudhoyono has been noticeably silent in the face of the recommendations by Indonesia's legislature to set up a court on the student disappearances," said Pearson.  "Yudhoyono should seize the momentum of Indonesia's signing the treaty by directing the attorney general to open an immediate investigation into the student disappearances."

Human Rights Watch noted that a number of enforced disappearance cases remain unresolved in Indonesia, including that of Aristoteles Masoka, a driver for traditional leader Theys Eluay, who was kidnapped and killed by Indonesian special forces (Komando Pasukan Khusus, or Kopassus) soldiers in November 2001.