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Prime Minister Tony Abbott had the opportunity to restart his "more Jakarta, less Geneva" foreign policy when he attended  the inauguration of Indonesia's new president, Joko "Jokowi" Widodo yesterday. Abbott now also has a rare and vital opening to engage on human rights issues.

Such engagement is crucial for Australia to maintain a strong and sustainable bilateral relationship with its northern neighbour. Indonesia's human rights situation has deteriorated over the decade of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's presidency, and Australia can and should play an important role in encouraging Widodo to act quickly to end increasing abuses.

The alarming rise in religious intolerance and related violence in Indonesia should be a priority in Australia's engagement with Widodo and his government. Yudhoyono was reluctant to act against Islamist militants who attack religious minorities, or to revise discriminatory regulations. Those targeted include Muslim sects such as the Shia and the Ahmadiyah as well as Christians and adherents to nativist beliefs. According to the Setara Institute, a non-profit think tank monitoring religious freedom, incidents of religious violence increased from 91 cases in 2007 to 220 cases in 2013. Widodo himself has made a good start by stating that he will protect the constitutional rights of the country's minorities.

Since 1963, successive Indonesian governments have blocked international media form visiting Papua -including Australian media - to allow only those foreign reporters who get special official permission. Two French reporters, detained in Papua since August 6 for "illegal reporting," are the most recent victims of Indonesia's Papua censorship obsession.

Widodo visited Papua on June 5 and told reporters that if elected president he would open access to Papua for foreign journalists and international organisations. On October 1, the Australian Senate passed a motion calling for Indonesia to release the two journalists as a sign of Jokowi's "commitment to a more open" Papua. Abbott should support Widodo's intention to lift restrictions on foreign journalists from freely reporting in Papua.

The Australian government should also support redress for Indonesia's many victims of abuses committed by government security forces over the years. Ten years ago, outspoken Indonesian human rights advocate Munir was murdered. Despite evidence implicating Indonesia's domestic intelligence agency, the masterminds of his killing have evaded justice. Munir is one of many victims of a culture of impunity rooted in Indonesia's three decades of authoritarian rule where successive Indonesian governments have failed to prosecute the worst offenders or provide redress.

Widodo has publicly committed to investigating the arrest, torture and enforced disappearance of dozens of pro-democracy activists by security forces in the dying months of the Suharto regime. The Australian government should impress upon Widodo that the rule of law requires a meaningful and transparent accounting of all serious abuses.

The Australian and Indonesian governments also have an opportunity to work together to address their mutual failings in respecting international standards of protection for refugees and asylum seekers. In 2013, the Australian government introduced pernicious policies designed to deter asylum seekers, including mandatory offshore processing of asylum seekers arriving by boat, "enhanced screening" or fast-tracked deportations after cursory interviews, and withdrawing government-provided legal assistance to asylum seekers. Australian defence officials charged with the asylum-seeker response now regularly refuse to answer questions from journalists, citing vague "national security" concerns at the expense of the public's right to information.

The Indonesian government likewise has a dismal record in respecting the rights of migrant and asylum-seekers, including children. Hundreds of migrant and asylum-seeking children are detained every year in sordid conditions, without access to lawyers, and sometimes beaten. Others are left to fend for themselves, without any assistance with food or shelter.

The Australian government should respect its obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention, which it ratified in 1954. The Indonesian parliament should ratify the convention as soon as possible to ensure that refugees and asylum seekers, including children, receive the convention's protections.

Addressing Indonesia's human rights problems demands that President Widodo allocate no small amount of political capital and sustained political will. Abbott can play an important role in the success of those efforts by signalling his support for Widodo's moves to make universal rights a key part of his administration.

Andreas Harsono is Indonesia researcher for Human Rights Watch.

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