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Indonesia: Missed Opportunities to Protect Rights

Security Force Impunity, Increased Threats to Women’s Rights and Religious Freedom

(Jakarta) – Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s first year in office produced a mixed record on human rights that lacked major initiatives to tackle the worst abuses, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2016.

Cartoonist's depiction of Indonesian government restrictions on media freedom and rights monitoring in Papua. © 2015 Toni Malakian for Human Rights Watch

In the 659-page World Report 2016, its 26th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that the spread of terrorist attacks beyond the Middle East and the huge flows of refugees spawned by repression and conflict led many governments to curtail rights in misguided efforts to protect their security. At the same time, authoritarian governments throughout the world, fearful of peaceful dissent that is often magnified by social media, embarked on the most intense crackdown on independent groups in recent times.

“Jokowi’s first year as president was a missed opportunity to adopt urgently needed human rights measures,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director. “But there is still time for him to adjust his policy priorities to actively protect human rights rather than turn a blind eye to serious abuses.”

Jokowi released some Papuan political prisoners in 2015 and announced a vague plan to address decades of gross human rights violations, including the massacre of up to 1 million people in 1965-1966. However, Jokowi largely ignored security force impunity for rights abuses and violations of women’s rights and religious freedom. He also embraced the use of the death penalty for convicted drug traffickers, resulting in 14 executions in 2015, including a Brazilian citizen diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

There were 194 incidents of violent attacks on religious minorities in the first 11 months of 2015, according to the nongovernmental Setara Institute. These included the forced demolition by the Singkil regency, in the Aceh province, of nine Protestant churches in November, following the burning down of a church by militant Islamists on October 13.

In May 2015, Jokowi granted clemency to five of Papua’s political prisoners and in November, released Filep Karma, Indonesia’s highest profile political prisoner. But approximately 45 Papuans and 29 Ambonese are still imprisoned for peaceful advocacy of independence. And despite Jokowi’s pledge to thoroughly investigate and punish security forces implicated in the December 2014 deaths of five peaceful protesters in Papua’s town of Enarotali, the government has failed to publicly release the results of three separate official investigations into the incident.

In May, Jokowi announced the lifting of decades-old restrictions on foreign media access to Papua, but then he failed to ensure that relevant government agencies implemented the policy. Numerous senior government and security forces officials have openly resisted the policy, effectively blocking its implementation.

According to the National Commission on Violence Against Women, national and local governments passed 31 discriminatory regulations in 2015, leaving Indonesia with 322 discriminatory local regulations targeting women, ranging from compulsory hijab to tolerating polygamy. The government also failed to end the Indonesian Armed Forces’ and National Police’s documented use of abusive and discriminatory “virginity tests” for female applicants.

“The Jokowi government’s approach to human rights has been more rhetoric than reality, while serious rights abuses go unpunished,” Kine said. “Jokowi can and should take strong actions to advance justice and curtail abuses in 2016.”

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