Poi­son­ing hu­man rights with im­punity

The Jakarta Post - - OPINION - Us­man Hamid The writer is Amnesty In­ter­na­tional In­done­sia’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor.

About 40,000 feet above Ro­ma­nia on Sept. 7, 2004, In­done­sia’s lead­ing hu­man rights lawyer, Mu­nir Said Thalib, was found dead in his seat aboard a Garuda In­done­sia flight head­ing for Am­s­ter­dam.

The iconic hu­man rights fighter, bet­ter known as Mu­nir, had felt ill since the plane took off from Changi Air­port in Sin­ga­pore. He had com­plained to a flight at­ten­dant of di­ar­rhea and a nag­ging stom­ach ache and re­ceived treat­ment from a car­diac sur­geon who was on the same flight. An au­topsy later de­ter­mined the cause of Mu­nir’s death was ar­senic poi­son­ing.

The mur­der case ex­posed se­ri­ous flaws in In­done­sia’s jus­tice sys­tem. Pol­ly­car­pus Budi­hari Priyanto, an off-duty Garuda pi­lot who met and talked to Mu­nir in Sin­ga­pore, was later con­victed and sen­tenced to 14 years in prison. In fact he only served eight years of his sen­tence and re­gained his free­dom late in Novem­ber 2014.

A se­nior State In­tel­li­gence Agency (BIN) of­fi­cial ac­cused of plot­ting the mur­der, Muchdi Pur­woprand­jono, was ac­quit­ted af­ter a trial that was marked by in­tim­i­da­tion against wit­nesses. Af­ter more than 13 years, the mas­ter­mind(s) behind the as­sas­si­na­tion have never been found.

The most puz­zling part of the game is the killing took place six years af­ter the au­thor­i­tar­ian regime of for­mer pres­i­dent Soe­harto ended and sweep­ing re­forms to­ward democ­racy be­gan.

The fact that a per­sis­tent gov­ern­ment critic like Mu­nir was in­ten­tion­ally killed over­seas, not at home, was per­haps a way for the al­leged per­pe­tra­tors to save the im­age of the fledg­ling democ­racy.

Imag­ine how the world would have re­acted if Mu­nir was mur­dered in his own coun­try that was trans­form­ing into a democ­racy.

The fact that who­ever mas­ter­minded Mu­nir’s mur­der has re­mained at large is a dark stain on In­done­sia’s hu­man rights record. To­day, Mu­nir would have turned 52 if he was still alive.

The state’s fail­ure to bring peo­ple re­spon­si­ble for his death and many other per­pe­tra­tors of hu­man rights abuses to jus­tice means that we do not have much to cheer about when com­mem­o­rat­ing In­ter­na­tional Hu­man Rights Day, which falls on Dec. 10.

Since the fall of Soe­harto, In­done­sia has seen real progress in many fields: Un­shack­ling the press, hold­ing fair elec­tions and curb­ing hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions.

But these pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ments have been held back by what Mu­nir’s death has come to rep­re­sent: An al­most com­plete im­punity for per­pe­tra­tors of hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions, par­tic­u­larly those in the mil­i­tary.

Hopes were high in 2014 af­ter a civil­ian with no ties to mil­i­tary, Joko “Jokowi” Wi­dodo, was elected the coun­try’s sev­enth Pres­i­dent. Sadly, three years later time has proven that Jokowi is no dif­fer­ent from his pre­de­ces­sors.

He is ap­par­ently un­will­ing to bring to jus­tice Mu­nir’s real killers de­spite the fact that hu­man rights were among the fo­cal points of his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign in 2014.

In 2015, the Pres­i­dent made head­lines when he stated his com­mit­ment “to ad­dress past hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions so that fu­ture gen­er­a­tions in In­done­sia would not con­tinue to bear the burden of his­tory.” In 2016, he re­it­er­ated his prom­ise, in­clud­ing re­solv­ing Mu­nir’s mys­te­ri­ous as­sas­si­na­tion.

But Jokowi did not walk the walk when his gov­ern­ment re­fused to make pub­lic an in­de­pen­dent fact-find­ing re­port on Mu­nir’s death that im­pli­cated a num­ber of in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials. His ad­min­is­tra­tion was also re­luc­tant to open a new in­ves­ti­ga­tion into his death.

More con­tro­ver­sially, he has given in­di­vid­u­als im­pli­cated in past hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions strate­gic po­si­tions in his gov­ern­ment.

They in­clude AM Hen­dropriy­ono, who was the BIN chief when Mu­nir was mur­dered and for­mer armed forces chief Wi­ranto who is im­pli­cated in the shooting of stu­dents and forced dis­ap­pear­ances of pro-democ­racy ac­tivists in 1998 and atroc­i­ties in East Ti­mor in 1999.

Grant­ing key posts to peo­ple im­pli­cated in crimes against hu­man­ity ex­em­pli­fies the prac­tice of im­punity in In­done­sia, an an­tithe­sis to peo­ple’s high ex­pec­ta­tions for Jokowi to im­prove democ­racy.

In his state of union ad­dress in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives ple­nary on Aug. 16 the Pres­i­dent failed to men­tion hu­man rights in his speech. In­stead, he boasted of achieve­ments in in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment across the na­tion, which in fact is his sig­na­ture pro­gram.

In the last few months, the Pres­i­dent has also re­versed some of the fruits of hard-won re­forms. Fac­ing protests from hard-line Mus­lim groups that man­aged to push blas­phemy charges against his close ally, for­mer Jakarta gov­er­nor Ba­suki Tjahja Pur­nama, Jokowi signed a reg­u­la­tion in lieu of a law that au­tho­rizes the gov­ern­ment to ban mass or­ga­ni­za­tions with­out due process of law un­der the pre­text of curb­ing in­tol­er­ant and rad­i­cal ide­olo­gies en­dan­ger­ing the state.

Un­der his pres­i­dency, hard­line groups could dis­band fo­rums to dis­cuss the mass killings of 1965 at will, with­out fear­ing en­force­ment of the law.

The com­mu­nist pho­bia has been cap­i­tal­ized more than 50 years af­ter the com­mu­nist purge took place.

Mean­while, at­tacks on re­li­gious and sex­ual mi­nori­ties are ram­pant with lit­tle gov­ern­ment re­sponse.

How can one ex­plain these sad re­ver­sals?

One ex­pla­na­tion is cer­tainly a long chain of fail­ures to rid some of In­done­sia’s in­sti­tu­tions from its past re­pres­sive ten­den­cies and to pros­e­cute per­pe­tra­tors of hu­man rights abuses.

The im­punity for the mas­ter­minds of Mu­nir’s mur­der and the fail­ure to re­move the al­leged per­pe­tra­tors from po­si­tions of au­thor­ity has made it too easy for Jokowi to re­sus­ci­tate old forms of re­pres­sion and to ap­point Soe­harto-era gen­er­als to key po­si­tions.

To undo the deeply rooted harms caused by a re­pres­sive state takes more time and po­lit­i­cal will to cure. In­done­sia, al­most 20 years into its re­forms, is a cau­tion­ary tale for states strug­gling to end re­pres­sion.

This ex­am­ple is all the more ur­gent to­day when pop­ulist gov­ern­ments in coun­ties like Poland, the Philip­pines, and even the United States, are seek­ing to un­der­mine hu­man rights al­most ev­ery day.

Jokowi has dis­ap­pointed those who be­lieved he would help un­cover Mu­nir’s mur­der. He must stop pre­tend­ing that the econ­omy de­serves higher pri­or­ity than bring­ing to jus­tice the mas­ter­minds of past atroc­i­ties.

He should wake up and take ac­tion be­fore it is too late. He must prove his com­mit­ment to hu­man rights was not just talk, in par­tic­u­lar as his pos­si­ble re­elec­tion cam­paign in 2019 is fast ap­proach­ing.

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