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Indonesia: Silence, and Complicity on Human Rights Abuses

Failure to Confront Persecution of LGBT People, Religious Minorities

(Jakarta) – Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s rhetorical support for human rights failed to translate into meaningful policy initiatives to address the country’s serious rights problems, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2017.

In the 687-page World Report, its 27th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that a new generation of authoritarian populists seeks to overturn the concept of human rights protections, treating rights as an impediment to the majority will. For those who feel left behind by the global economy and increasingly fear violent crime, civil society groups, the media, and the public have key roles to play in reaffirming the values on which rights-respecting democracy has been built. 

Two men hold the Indonesian flag as the compound of the Gafatar sect burns after being set on fire by local villagers, at Antibar village, West Kalimantan province, January 19, 2016.  © 2016 Jessica Helena Wuysang/Reuters

“Jokowi’s second year in office was distinguished by his failure to speak up in defense of human rights for persecuted minorities desperately in need of government support and protection,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Although Jokowi’s government announced long-overdue initiatives to promote accountability for the worst human rights abuses of the past, there was no official follow-through, and current abuses persisted.”

Starting in January 2016, high-ranking Indonesian officials made a series of vitriolic anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) statements and policy pronouncements, fueling increased threats and at times violent attacks on LGBT activists and individuals, primarily by Islamist militants. Jokowi failed to speak out in defense of LGBT rights until October.

The Jokowi government is proving to be all talk and no positive action in terms of meaningfully addressing Indonesia’s serious human rights problems.
Phelim Kine

Deputy Asia Director

In April, the government broke a decades-long taboo on open discussion of the state-backed massacres of up to one million alleged communists and others in 1965-1966. However, the government has provided no details of an official accountability process for the massacres. Jokowi’s decision in July to appoint as security minister former general Wiranto, indicted by a United Nations-supported tribunal for crimes against humanity, only heightened concerns about his administration’s commitment to justice.

Jokowi has issued mixed messages on his support for the death penalty. Indonesia executed four convicted drug traffickers in July, but ordered a last-minute delay in the executions of 10 other death row prisoners pending a “comprehensive review” of their cases. The government has indicated that executions will continue in 2017, but in November, Jokowi suggested that the Indonesian government may emulate European governments by moving toward abolishing the death penalty.

Religious minorities in Indonesia continue to face discriminatory regulations and violent attacks by Islamist militant groups. Religious minorities targeted in 2016 included the Gafatar religious community. Indonesian officials and security forces were complicit in the violent forced eviction of more than 7,000 members of the group from their homes on Kalimantan island.

Impunity for security forces in the provinces of Papua and West Papua also remains a serious problem, and dozens of Papuans remain imprisoned for nonviolent expression of their political views. In April, the government announced that it would seek accountability for 11 high-priority past human rights cases in Papua. However, the government has not provided any details as to when, where, and how the cases would be addressed.

Indonesia's official Commission on Violence against Women reported that as of August, the number of discriminatory national and local regulations targeting women had risen to 422, from 389 at the end of 2015. They include local laws compelling women and girls to don the hijab, or headscarf, in schools, government offices, and public spaces.

“The Jokowi government is proving to be all talk and no positive action in terms of meaningfully addressing Indonesia’s serious human rights problems,” Kine said. “Indonesians need to insist that Jokowi deliver on past human rights commitments and seek to advance justice and curtail abuses in 2017.”

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