Human Rights Dialogue (1994–2005): Series 1, Number 6 (Fall 1996): The Human Rights Discourse in East Asia: Reports from the Region: Articles: INDONESIA

Sep 5, 1996

Since the alleged communist coup failed in 1965, political activities in Indonesia have been controlled by a military-dominated government. The government justifies censorship with claims that economic development requires political stability, whatever the price, and backs this up with self-serving cultural-relativist arguments. Numerus human rights violations, in the name of stability and development, have resulted. The dominant human rights discourse in Indonesia takes place on the pages of the newspapers or in courtrooms. Largely it consists of accusations by human rights groups and counterarguments by the government. I have chosen recent writings that move beyond such polemics.

The books below were selected for the important rights issues they treat. In some ways, they represent a new era in Indonesia's human rights discourse; human rights have been dealt with almost exclusively on an activist level, with an emphasis on the exposure and condemnation of human rights abuses. These books approach human rights violations on a more theoretical level—in terms of concepts and arguments. Three of the five selections were published by the Institute for Policy Studies and Advocacy (ELSAM), which is directed by one of Indonesia's leading human rights activists, Abdul Hakim G. Nusantara, and engages in publishing and public advocacy. The omission of certain issues from these writings and the dominant discourse should be noted. For example, discrimination against Chinese Indonesians in the media or other publications is rarely taken up, suggesting that such discrimination is acceptable.

Why Are We Suing? (Mengapa Kami Menggugat). Jakar-ta: Yayasan Alumni TEMPO, 1995.

In 1994, the prestigious weekly news magazine TEMPO was banned after reporting on government corruption. This was not the first time that the government shut down the media. The former journalists of TEMPO fought back with this publication, a collection of articles, both news reports and opinion pieces, that defend TEMPO and the principle of a free press.

Shadows of the Indonesian Communist Party (Bayang Bayang PKI). Jakarta: ISAI, 1995.

The Indonesian government has tightly controlled information on the involvement of the Communist Party of Indonesia (CPI) in the abortive coup of 1965. Some interpretations assert that the CPI was involved, others accuse the military, and still others the CIA. The government has prevented alternative interpretations of those events from being made public, and as a result, its interpretation serves to justify the denial of rights to ex-communists. Published by ISAI (Institute to Study the Flow of Information) which was founded by former TEMPO journalists and banned in 1996, the book cautiously reopens debate on the events of 1965 by summarizing the many possible interpretations of events and examining the pros and cons of the official story. The book is based on interviews with both government officials and critics of the present government, as well as members of the younger generation. Interestingly, many young people do not believe the official interpretation of the 1965 coup.

In the Name of Development: The World Bank and Human Rights in Indonesia (Atas Nama Pembangunan. Bank Dunia dan Hak Asasi Manusia di Indonesia). Jakarta: ELSAM, 1995.

In 1995, ELSAM published this discussion of two World Bank-sponsored projects in Indonesia: the building of the Kedung Ombo Dam in Central Java and the family planning program. The book reveals the many human rights violations that occurred during their implementation. In the case of the Kedung Ombo Dam, people were forced from their land without adequate compensation. Those who refused to move faced military intimidation. In the case of the family planning program, many women were coerced into using contraception The book also criticizes the World Bank's "good governance" criteria and recommends that the international institution stop financial aid flows to recipient countries that fail to meet human rights and other standards.

Towards the Ratification of the Anti-Torture Convention: A Study on Unresolved Cases of Torture (Ke Arah Ratifikasi Konvensi Anti Penyiksaan: Kajian Kasus-Kasus Penyiksaan Belum-Terselesaikan). Jakarta: ELSAM, 1995.

This ELSAM report documents numerous cases where torture has been used by law enforcement officials and recommends that Indonesia ratify the 1984 UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The book urges the government to sign this convention, along with: (1) a code of conduct for law enforcement officials, (2) basic principles on the use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials, (3) effective prevention and investigation of extra-legal, arbitrary, and summary executions, and (4) a declaration of the basic principles of justice for victims of crimes and abuse of power.

The Rights of Prisoners (Hak Hak Narapidana). Jakar-ta: ELSAM, 1996.

The rights of prisoners do not catch the attention of many people. Why should the rights of criminals matter? This book, published by ELSAM, argues that criminals are still human beings and possess rights, and in doing so draws attention to this important rights field. The book includes different UN documents pertaining to the rights of prisoners, for example the right to medical treatment, the right to due process of law, and the right not to be tortured. The book ends with an epilogue written by Arswendo Atmowiloto, a former political prisoner, which describes his experience as a prisoner.

The reviewer, Arief Budiman, is a sociologist and independent political observer who has been advocating human rights since 1966. Budiman, an Indonesian Chinese, recently received a 1996 Hellman/Hammets Award for "courageous writing" from Human Rights Watch in New York.

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