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Dispatches: EU Should Greet Indonesian President with Rights Message

Indonesia’s President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo will be in Europe next week to discuss trade ties and intelligence sharing with European Union officials and his counterparts in Germany, Netherlands, United Kingdom and Belgium. The critical issue of human rights shouldn’t get lost in the diplomatic mix.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo gestures during an interview with Reuters at the presidential palace in Jakarta, Indonesia February 10, 2016. © 2016 Reuters

Human rights abuses, past and present, remain a serious problem in Indonesia, impacting victims’ families, women, and ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities. Jokowi’s interlocutors in Europe need to keep these issues front and center in their meetings.

That includes expressing support for the Indonesian government’s tentative first steps toward accountability for the mass killings of 1965-66 that claimed at least 500,000 lives. A government-supported symposium on April 18, 2016, may seem unremarkable, but it’s an act of political courage that European leaders should praise.

Indonesian women are counting on European leaders to express their outrage at the government’s failure to stop abusive “virginity tests” women are forced to undergo when applying to the National Police and the military. Indonesia’s dozens of political prisoners – mostly peaceful activists from Papua and the Moluccas also need European leaders to tell Jokowi that they are not forgotten despite their long imprisonment.

European leaders should speak out for sexual and religious minorities who are vulnerable to local-level threats and violence. Government officials have recently jumped on the Islamist bandwagon to make increasingly hostile remarks against Indonesia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) population. Public rhetoric against Indonesia’s religious minorities, including the Ahmadiyah, Shia, and some Christian congregations, has for a number of years been accompanied by serious violence against these communities. Jokowi may be following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, by failing to protect religious minorities from Islamist and other militant groups.

Jokowi also needs to hear the concerns of European leaders about the Indonesian government’s chokehold on the access of foreign media, academics, and nongovernmental organizations to the country’s easternmost island of Papua. These restrictions defy Jokowi’s May 2015 declaration that Papua was now open to foreign media.

The measure of success of Jokowi’s European trip will be its balance of meaningful engagement on human rights issues with discussions on economic and security ties.

Let’s hope EU leaders are prepared to make the trip a success.

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