By: Our Correspondent

On December 10, the
world commemorated the 60th year of the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights. Joseph Saunders, the deputy program director of Human
Rights Watch in New York, who lived in Indonesia for two and a half
years in the 1990s, answered this question: Do human rights violators
today face more intense pressure when they trample on rights than
they did 60 years ago? The answer, he said, is a resounding yes.

However, Indonesia’s
posture in terms of respect for and adherence to human rights
principles needs to be examined critically, and, given the ominous
attacks on minority religions over 2008, the country has to look
critically at worsening intolerance on the part of hard-line

Historically speaking,
the human rights movement has come a long way and today it has become
a strong feature of most of the world’s constitutions, observed
or not. Also, many governments have created human rights ministries
and signed international treaties as supported by the United Nations
Human Rights Council and the UN Human Rights Commissioner for Human
Rights. And the establishment of the International Criminal Court in
The Hague, Netherlands is one great leap forward in protecting
fundamental human rights.

In Indonesia, the
Constitution Undang-Undang Dasar 1945 acknowledges at least 15
human rights principles: self-determination (Preamble and article 1),
citizenship (article 26), equality before the law (article 27), work
(article 27), decent life (article 27), association (article 28),
express an opinion (article 28), religion (article 29), national
defense (article 30), education (article 31), social welfare (article
33), social security (article 34), independent judiciary (elucidation
of articles 24 and 25), preserve cultural traditions (elucidation of
article 32), and preserve local language (elucidation of article 31).

Indonesia is also an
elected member of United Nations Human Rights Council among 47
members of 63 contenders, of which other 12 Asian countries are
Bangladesh, Bahrain, China, India, Japan, Jordan, Malaysia, Pakistan,
Philippines, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka. Thus it looks
good on paper.

On April 11, 2002, The
Rome Statute 1998 was ratified by 60 states which brought the
International Criminal Court being. However, Indonesia has yet to
ratify this statute, regardless of the current 56 ratifications and
62 signatures
from other states.
In 2004, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono adopted a National Plan
of Action on Human Rights, which states that Indonesia intends to
ratify the Rome Statute in 2008.

The International
Criminal Court has been making significant progress in its five years
of operation. It is the first permanent court mandated to prosecute
the perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and
“crime of aggression.” On crime of aggression, there will
be no prosecutions until the states come into an agreeable
definition. Saunders said it is expected that the first trial will
get underway this year although the court has been under attack in
recent months following the issuance of an arrest warrant for
President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan on charges pertaining to genocide
in Darfur.


While today we can see
noteworthy progress in human rights adherence and protection,
particularly after the overthrow of the strongman General Suharto in
1998, the pace of progress needs to be accelerated. One bit of
significant progress was the prosecution for the poisoning murder of
the human rights lawyer Munir Said Thalib, despite the justice
system’s failure to prove the former Indonesian intelligence
figure Muchdi Purwopranojo responsible for this high-profile

Other than that,
impunity is still the nagging keyword. Conscientious people are still
waiting anxiously to hear news on thorough investigations and
prosecutions of the greatest massacre of the 20th century, which
occurred in 1965-1966 in the name of “communist eradication”
in which an estimated 500,000 people were killed in Indonesia without
fair trials as well as the May 1998 riots in the wake of the Asian
Financial crisis, the Semanggi Tragedy I and II in which university
students were shot, the East Timor massacre and religious killings in

Freedom of religion,
also one of basic human rights acknowledged in the Indonesian
constitution (article 29), seems to be a continuing concern requiring
immediate attention. Last September, the unorthodox Muslim sect
Ahmadiyah was banned in South Sumatra with a provincial decree. In
June, Ahmadiyah followers were prohibited from expressing their
religious activities publicly or face up to five years of
imprisonment. Many Ahmadiyah mosques throughout Indonesia have been
attacked and the followers intimidated physically.

Another Islamic sect
Al-Qiyadah Al-Islamiyah has also been labeled “heretical”
and its founder Abdul Salam was sentenced for four years in April
2008, under accusations of blasphemy. In July, a 20-year old
Christian theology school was attacked in East Jakarta, forcing an
involuntary closing. In January 2008, a Hindu temple in West Lombok
was burnt down by a mob.

At this point, the
Indonesian government leadership seem to be wearing their best
tuxedos while smiling meaningfully to look good on paper and to make
strong political statements that Indonesia is a country where human
rights are guaranteed and respected. We, the people, must make sure
that those are not killers’ smiles and torturers’ faux
friendliness. The time to act is now. And it does not take a person
of Munir’s caliber to be an activist or even a dissident.

Jennie S. Bev is an
Indonesian-born author and columnist who contributes to the Jakarta
Globe and Jakarta Post. She is a former law lecturer and composition
adjunct professor.