The Limits of Openness

Human Rights in Indonesia and East Timor

For the last few years, the watchword of the Indonesian government has been “openness.” It was both a policy — the Indonesian equivalent of letting a hundred flowers bloom — and a prescription, from President Soeharto himself, for a dynamic, developing society. In the name of “openness,” controls on the press were relaxed, demonstrations became more frequent, student activism flourished, nongovernmental organizations grew in numbers and influence, and criticism of the government became both more frequent and more trenchant. The policy of ”openness” abruptly ended, however, with the closing of three news publications on June 21, 1994. Reacting to international and domestic outrage, President Soeharto simply redefined the concept: ”Openness does not mean unlimited freedom, even worse, freedom to be hostile, pitting one party against another and unconstitutionally imposing one's ideas.” Ideas that conflicted with the government's, it seemed, were both hostile and unconstitutional. The closures underscored the arbitrary exercise of power in Indonesia, and it is that arbitrariness, more than anything else, that affects Indonesia's human rights practices. The Limits of Openness focuses on five major issues that, through detailed examination of government actions, give a sense of the scope of human rights violations in the world's fourth most populous country. These issues include the recent crackdown on the press, the continuing problems in East Timor, the endemic use of torture, worker rights, a church conflict in North Sumatra, military interference in labor disputes, and the killing of protestors at the Nipah Dam construction site.

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