Commentary: Mr. President, No More Delays of Justice, Please

An activist stages a pantomime protest in front of the Presidential Palace in Jakarta. The text on his t-shirt reads: 'Resolve cases of human rights violations.' (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)

By : Usman Hamid | on 4:06 PM September 27, 2017
Category : Opinion, Commentary

September is almost over, but the pain it has caused to the families of victims of human rights abuses does not end. It has been worsened by the fact that those responsible for the deaths of their loved ones still enjoy impunity.

"Today, 13 years ago, my husband was cruelly poisoned to death with arsenic. Hopefully, the president remembers it, because the murderers are still free," said Suciwati, the widow of rights activist Munir Said Thalib, who was murdered on Sept. 7, 2004.

Wanmayetti has been waiting even longer than Suciwati, as Sept. 12 marked 33 years of her seeking justice over the disappearance of her father, Bachtiar Johan. Along with 22 other people, Johan disappeared during a mass protest in Tanjung Priok, North Jakarta, in 1984, in which 24 were killed.

In 2006, 12 convicts in the Tanjung Priok case were freed by the Supreme Court.

"Jokowi [President Joko Widodo] has never said whether the Tanjung Priok case was over or not. The only thing that we need is the truth and justice from the state about the rights abuses," Wanmayetti said.

The case of Munir and the Tanjung Priok tragedy are only two of many grave human rights violations that took place in Septembers.

The pilot who poisoned my human rights mentor Munir was sent to jail. But a National Intelligence Agency (BIN) official accused of being the mastermind of the killing was acquitted in 2008.

Other September abuses include the shootings in Jakarta's Semanggi, in which 12 were killed, after a student protest on Sept. 24, 1999, and the state-sponsored anticommunist purge that started on on Sept. 30, 1965, in which 1 million people perished and hundreds of thousands were arbitrarily detained for decades.

The violent mob attack on the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI) office in Jakarta on Sept. 17, has brought further misery to the families of the victims of the 1965-66 massacres, who were trying to host a seminar on those events.

What Does It Mean?

It means that the more the government with its blatant inaction delays justice to victims of human rights violations, the more vigilante groups feel emboldened to participate in blocking all attempts to reveal the truth about killings and abuses that mar our past. Sadly, while impunity persists, the right to gather peacefully to express opinion and share knowledge about the past is now also under serious threat.

The survivors of the 1965-66 massacres fear to talk about those events. None of those responsible for the killings has been brought to justice.

September has become "Dark September," which the victims of rights abuses observe every year as the month of human rights violations.

Mr. President, under both national and international laws, the Indonesian government is obliged to ensure that human rights violations are investigated thoroughly and independently, that perpetrators are brought to justice, and their victims are compensated.

Unfortunately, your vows and political commitment to resolve the cases of rights violations have so far seen no real action. In the past three years of your presidency, the human rights agenda from your electoral promises has not been a priority. Many of us believed it was one of your key policies. Soon you might join your predecessors in failing to fulfill the commitment to human rights.

While perpetrators enjoy impunity, thanks to their close ties with those in power and in the army, human rights violations become something people are no longer surprised of. Present and future perpetrators will not hesitate to commit abuses. This is what the term "cycle of impunity" means.

Inaction to end it may have contributed to the recent attacks on anticorruption activists across the country and persecution of indigenous communities that defend their traditional lands — 100 cases have been recorded lately by the Indigenous Peoples' Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN).

Farmers in Kendeng, Central Java or in Banyuwangi, East Java, have been criminalized and intimidated for trying to prevent their lands from being used by industries that harm the environment.

As of now, the police have failed to investigate the attacks against anticorruption activists, farmers and indigenous people.

It's been five months that the police are trying to solve the acid attack on senior antigraft investigator Novel Baswedan. Instead of stepping up their investigation, they are processing five reports that can see Novel himself being prosecuted.

One of the reports, charging Novel with defamation, was filed by Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) investigations director Brig. Gen. Aris Budiman, after Novel told Time magazine that "a police general" was involved in the acid attack against him.

The police said Novel was "not cooperative" in helping them identify the assailants, apparently to justify the failure in finding them.

What bigger conclusion can we make from all these? The government's attempts to reform the police and the military, the two bodies that are frequently linked to human rights violations, have been unsuccessful.

It's been three years since you took office. And yet human rights violators are still untouchable under your administration. The cycle of impunity prevails.

You have less than two years to break this cycle, fulfill your human rights promises and deliver justice to Suciwati, Wanmayetti and thousands of others. It's high time to reprioritize your human rights agenda.

You have the will, the power and the resources. You must act now Mr. President, before September becomes forever Dark September. Please, don't delay justice any longer.

Usman Hamid is the director of Amnesty International Indonesia.

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