On May 27, 2021, European Union and Indonesia held the 9th Human Rights Dialogues through videoconference with Indonesia as host. This dialogue was launched in 2009, aimed to intensify exchanges on questions of mutual interest, particularly human rights. Both sides recognized that the pandemic situation consequently affected the citizens, particularly the persons in vulnerable situations. A wide range of human rights topics was discussed in this dialogue.
The Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) sent a briefing paper to the EU before this dialogue. We highlighted how human rights violations continue to occur in Indonesia despite the Covid-19 pandemic and how it resulted in a further shrinking space for civil society. The military presence has increased in Papua, and the authorities have used excessive and unnecessary force to disperse public assemblies. The situation is getting worse where the government created a cyber police unit to monitor social media and failed to prioritize vulnerable groups in handling the pandemic.
We appreciate the EU’s initiative to raise our concerns, such as the rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly, death penalty, and extra-judicial killings. The rights to freedom of expression are at stake, especially related to freedom of expression online. The civilians who criticize the government on social media will be targeted by the cyber police, a newly established unit to prevent cybercrime. The cyber police will issue warnings to the accounts to take down their posts. As of mid-April 2021, the cyber police had issued warnings against 329 social media accounts.
In this pandemic situation, the civic space is shrinking with the unnecessary force used by the police. They arrested many people during recent public assemblies for alleged violation of the Covid-19 health protocol. In the Labor Day rally in Jakarta, some students were beaten and arrested, while in a rally commemorating National Education Day, nine people were charged for not complying with the Covid-19 health protocol. The pandemic situation also does not stop the government from imposing the death penalty. As of January 2021, there were 364 death row prisoners in Indonesia, and there was no progress towards abolishing the death penalty. The extra-judicial killings in Papua also do not show any human rights commitment in resolving conflicts in Papua. The recent designation of Papuan armed groups as terrorists will implicate the increasing number of human rights violations in Papua that cannot be solved with violence.
Indonesia stated its commitment in the dialogue to implement a public policy that ensures civil, political, and economic rights as well as social justice and at the same time to maintain public order and security with due regard for civil rights and fundamental freedoms. The representative of Indonesia in the dialogue also shared some national programs to mainstream human rights, such as the 5th generation of the National Human Rights Action Plan, Human Rights City, and Forum for Religious Harmony. As a UN Human Rights Council member, Indonesia also encouraged the international community to ensure health rights for all, including equal and affordable access to vaccines.
We regret that Indonesia could not be more transparent regarding the human rights situation within the country. While they discussed their concern on the increasing trend of acts of racism, xenophobia, hate speech, discrimination based on religion or belief, in reality, many people from religious minority groups are forced to flee from their homes, have to live in refugee, and cannot build their place of worship. At the same time, Papuan are stigmatized as separatists and receive hate speech and watch their family or relatives died and their homes burnt to the ground.
The response to Covid-19 has been inadequate, particularly concerning the vaccination phase. The government adopted an independent vaccination policy that charges fees to register for inoculation, and it could lead to unequal distribution of vaccines and the exclusion of vulnerable groups. The vaccination process in Indonesia takes a long time, especially for vulnerable groups who do not know how long they have to wait for the vaccine before they get infected by the Covid-19 first.
The topics above raised by the EU should be a lesson for the government of Indonesia that they still have many rooms for improvement. The exchange between two entities at the international level must be very important for Indonesia to maintain Indonesia’s good name. Indonesia is always seen as a big and diverse country that actively participates and contributes to any international human rights situation. However, it should be important for the government to implement human rights values in every policy they execute.
From this dialogue, we expect that Indonesia can learn more from the EU on the improvement of human rights, and we also expect that the EU can further pressure Indonesia to implement its commitment to human rights better. The status of UN Human Rights Council members means nothing if Indonesia does not reflect on the in-country situation of human rights and be accountable and transparent for the violations done in the past and present. Maintaining a good name and upholding human rights shall be on the same priority list. A bunch of human rights dialogue, UN Human Rights Council member status, and other international human rights contributions will work to maintain Indonesia’s good name, but it will never work to negate the fact that the human rights situation in Indonesia has not been improved well. To improve the human rights situation, Indonesia has to acknowledge that human rights commitment comes with a big responsibility to implement the commitment not only at the international level but also at the domestic level.
Jakarta, June 11, 2021
The Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS)