This week at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Indonesia accepted two recommendations from UN member countries to improve the situation for sexual and gender minorities – a good step. But after 18 months of government-fueled animus against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people that has stoked a surge in violence and harassment, the government should have done better.
Indonesia had initially indicated that it would reject all LGBT-related recommendations at its Universal Periodic Review (UPR), the process in which every UN member state has its human rights record reviewed every four years. However, this week the government announced it would accept two vague proposals to “take further steps to ensure a safe and enabling environment for all human rights defenders,” including LGBT activists, and a pitch to implement freedom of expression, association, and assembly rights, and give priority to equality and nondiscrimination – including for LGBT people.
But it won’t go unnoticed that Indonesia rejected more specific calls to “repeal or revise legislation, notably the relevant provisions of the Aceh Islamic Criminal Code, which criminalizes sexual relations among consenting adults of the same sex,” as well as to “guarantee the rights of…[LGBT] persons, through effective legal action against incitement to hatred and violent acts, as well as by revising legislation that can have discriminatory effects.”
These decisions in Geneva have consequences at home.
In 2012, during its first round of peer reviews at the UN, Indonesia rejected a recommendation from Spain to repeal the local law in Aceh province that criminalizes adult consensual same-sex conduct and prescribes punishment of up to 100 public lashes for offenders. The Indonesian government claimed the recommendation “did not reflect the actual situation in the province.” This May, two young men paid the price for the government’s negligence: Sharia (Islamic law) police raided their private home, detained and tried them, and flogged them 83 times while a crowd of thousands jeered.
The government of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo stayed silent – not even a whisper from the administration that touts “unity in diversity” as a core value. Diluted pledges at the UN don’t let them off the hook, though, for abetting a campaign of hate and the officials that support it.