Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Vice President Boediono salute the national flag during an Independence Day ceremony in Jakarta.

(New York) - Indonesia should use its election to the United Nations Human Rights Council to implement reforms on the rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and religion, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. While Indonesia has in recent years moved toward being a rights-respecting democracy, unaddressed human rights concerns could seriously undermine its stability and democratic reforms, Human Rights Watch said.

"Indonesia's election to the Human Rights Council should be an impetus for rights reform at home," said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "If Indonesia wants to be a global leader on human rights, it should start by protecting religious minorities and allowing peaceful protests by political dissidents."

Indonesian laws and policies that obstruct the right to free expression have been used repeatedly against peaceful political activists from the Moluccas, Papua, and other regions. Other laws contribute to religious violence by criminalizing religious practices that deviate from the central tenets of the country's six officially recognized religions. Longstanding impunity for religious violence has fostered larger and more brutal attacks by Islamist militants against religious minorities, particularly the Ahmadiyah, who consider themselves Muslims but are seen by some other Muslims as heretics. Human Rights Watch also urged Indonesia to address impunity for abuses by the security forces.

To demonstrate its commitment to human rights, the Indonesian government should follow through on the pledges it submitted ahead of its election to the UN Human Rights Council on May 20, 2011, Human Rights Watch said. These include responding without delay to outstanding requests to visit by UN human rights experts such as the special rapporteur on religious freedom, and ratifying core human rights treaties, including the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

"Indonesia has proudly expressed its commitment to human rights as a member of the Human Rights Council," Pearson said. "Indonesia should now back those commitments with real reform at home."