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Indonesia President Jokowi’s Moment to Defy Impunity

Independence Day Speeches Need Clear Signal on Human Rights

Indonesia’s President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has an opportunity this week to outline clear, unequivocal policies in support of human rights in his highly anticipated Independence Day speeches.

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

Jokowi will address the national parliament on Tuesday and follow up with an address at the Presidential Palace on Wednesday, August 17, Indonesia’s Independence Day. The speeches come at a time when an unambiguous signal from the government in support of universal human rights and freedoms is sorely needed.

Jokowi should use the speeches to express his support for the rights of Indonesia’s increasingly beleaguered lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, which has come under unprecedented attack in recent months from a government-led campaign. Jokowi has maintained silence amid a torrent of abuse that has included hateful rhetoric, discriminatory edicts, and the police use of unnecessary force against peaceful protesters. Last week, presidential spokesman Johan Budi responded to a Human Rights Watch report on these abuses by stating that there was “no room” for LGBT rights activism in Indonesia. Jokowi’s speeches should reject this discriminatory rhetoric and make clear that he will defend the rights of all Indonesians, including LGBT people.

Jokowi also needs to reaffirm that an official accountability process for past gross human rights abuses remains an important government priority. Those abuses included the government-orchestrated massacres of 1965-66 that resulted in up to one million deaths, and violations by government security forces in the restive provinces of Papua and West Papua. Jokowi had assigned his security minister, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, to oversee that process. But Jokowi’s move last month to replace Pandjaitan with former general Wiranto, who was indicted for crimes against humanity by a United Nations-sponsored tribunal, has fueled doubts about his government’s commitment to the accountability process.

Jokowi should demonstrate that despite Wiranto’s appointment – a slap in the face to Indonesians seeking accountability for past atrocities in Indonesia – his government remains committed to policies that support rather than undermine the rights of the Indonesian people.

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