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President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono
Merdeka Palace
Jakarta, Indonesia

Via facsimile, email

Dear President Yudhoyono,

Congratulations on Indonesia's election to the United Nations Human Rights Council. UN General Assembly resolution 60/251, which established the Human Rights Council, specified that members are to "uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights," and "fully cooperate with the Council." We believe it is essential that countries that are members of the Human Rights Council adhere to these criteria.

Over the course of the last decade, Indonesia has taken many important steps to move from an authoritarian state to an emerging, rights-respecting democracy. We commend your support for reconstruction in Aceh and for the anti-corruption commission's prosecution of graft cases involving government officials and public figures.

However, a number of serious human rights concerns remain, particularly with respect to the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and religion. If left unaddressed, these challenges could seriously undermine Indonesia's stability and democratic reforms.

Indonesia has made significant pledges to the UN General Assembly outlining its human rights record and voluntary commitments. In meeting those pledges and commitments, Human Rights Watch asks your government to implement the following substantive reforms to better protect and promote human rights.

Freedom of Religion
In its voluntary pledges, Indonesia said it is "underpinned by the principle of religious freedom and tolerance" and is "living proof that democracy and Islam can coexist peacefully, harmoniously and productively." However, longstanding impunity for religious violence in Indonesia has fostered larger and more brutal attacks by Islamist militants against religious minorities, particularly the Ahmadiyah community. In the worst such attack, on February 6, 2011, Islamist militants attacked an Ahmadiyah house in Cikeusik, western Java, killing three Ahmadiyah and seriously wounding five others. Twelve people are currently standing trial for the attack, however none of the accused is charged with murder, and only one is charged with assault causing death. Already, at least two witnesses, including the main suspect Ujang M. Arif, have recanted their testimonies. Lawyers for the defense have asked inappropriate and irrelevant questions of witnesses in an apparent attempt to intimidate them, with no intervention from the judges.

The Indonesian government has often failed to protect members of religious minorities from discrimination and violence. Laws and policies often contribute to this violence through criminalizing the practice of religion that deviates from the central tenets of one of the country's six officially recognized religions. 

We urge you to:

  • Revoke the national anti-Ahmadiyah 2008 decree, which bars public propagation of the Ahmadiyah faith;
  • Void provincial decrees that ban activities by the Ahmadiyah religious community, and act to block similar laws in the future;
  • Take all necessary measures to stop violence and discrimination against the Ahmadiyah and other religious minorities;
  • Hold to account the perpetrators of threats and violence against the Ahmadiyah and other religious minorities; and
  • Ensure international legal standards are met in the trial of those charged in the deadly February 2011 attacks in Cikeusik.

Freedom of Expression
In the years immediately after Suharto was forced to step down from power, Indonesia made huge strides in opening space for free expression and the media. But recent years have seen some troubling developments. Indonesian officials continue to enforce a number of laws that criminalize the peaceful expression of political, religious, and other views. These laws include offenses in Indonesia's criminal code such as treason or rebellion (makar) and "inciting hatred" (haatzai artikelen), which have been used repeatedly against peaceful political activists, including those from the Moluccas and Papua. More than a hundred such activists are currently behind bars in Indonesia for peaceful acts of free expression.

Criminal libel, slander, and "insult" laws are also problematic, as they have been invoked against individuals who have raised controversial issues concerning public officials.

Your government has pledged that, "Indonesia continues to strengthen its effort to further promote and protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of its people." To that end, we urge you to:

  • Amend or repeal laws that criminalize peaceful political expression;
  • Repeal laws that criminalize defamation and "insulting" public officials, which Indonesian authorities have used to silence anti-corruption activists, human rights defenders, and citizens who publicly aired consumer complaints or allegations of misconduct; and
  • Release the dozens of political prisoners-primarily from Papua and the Moluccas-imprisoned for engaging in nonviolent demonstrations, raising flags, and displaying pro-independence symbols.

Accountability for Abuses by Military Forces
While Indonesia has implemented significant reforms to the military in recent years, members of Indonesia's security forces-in particular, Detachment 88 and Kopassus-continue to engage in serious abuses. Human Rights Watch research has revealed a pattern of arbitrary detention and ill-treatment-particularly in the provinces of Papua and West Papua-and the failure of military courts to investigate adequately or to prosecute alleged serious human rights abuses by military personnel. In the few military trials for which information is publicly available, military prosecutors brought relatively insignificant charges, and any sentences handed down by military judges have been extremely lenient. For instance, in a recent case where soldiers tortured two Papuans for three days, some of which was captured on film, a military tribunal convicted three soldiers, but sentenced them to terms of only 8 to 10 months.

As noted in your voluntary pledges, Indonesia has taken an important step by signing the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. Your pledges state that "Indonesia national legislations and regulations are harmonized in accordance with those instruments." Under the convention, Indonesia is obligated to investigate alleged disappearances effectively, prosecute those responsible, and provide a proper remedy for victims, including the relatives of disappeared persons. We welcome your government's commitment in the voluntary pledges to "step up its national effort and internal coordination toward ratification of some remaining key international human rights treaties," especially the Convention against Enforced Disappearance.

We urge you to:

  • Ensure that those members of the Indonesian military implicated in serious human rights violations-including those involving command responsibility-are credibly and impartially investigated and disciplined or prosecuted as appropriate;
  • Revive a bill proposed in parliament that would provide civilian criminal court jurisdiction over military personnel responsible for offenses against civilians;
  • Establish an independent and credible investigation of recent allegations that members of the police, including members of Detachment 88, tortured suspected separatists in their custody in August 2010; and
  • Implement parliament's 2009 recommendation to open an investigation into the emblematic case of the enforced disappearance of 13 students in the late-1990s.

Cooperation with Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council
In its voluntary pledges and commitments submitted to the UN General Assembly, Indonesia pledged to "continue to work and fully cooperate with the United Nations human rights mechanisms." In this spirit, we encourage you to take the following steps to fulfill Indonesia's commitment:

  • Support the prompt ratification of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance;
  • Respond immediately to pending requests from special procedures of the Human Rights Council; in particular, those from the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, the special rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, and the special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions;
  • As a matter of principle, extend an effective standing invitation to all special procedures to visit Indonesia; and
  • Continue to implement recommendations from Indonesia's 2008 Universal Periodic Review (UPR), especially those related to combating impunity and eliminating torture and ill-treatment.

Human Rights Watch once again welcomes Indonesia to the Human Rights Council. Indonesia has professed its desire to support the promotion of democracy and human rights in Asia and globally as a newly elected member of the Human Rights Council. We look forward to working with the Indonesian government so that it can become a leader in the promotion of human rights internationally while addressing human rights concerns at home.


Elaine Pearson
Deputy Director, Asia Division

Juliette de Rivero
Geneva Director

H.E. Hasan Kleib, Permanent Representative of Indonesia to the United Nations
H.E. Dr. Makarim Wibisono, Permanent Representative of Indonesia to the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva

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