Asian Centre for Human Rights

Dedicated to promotion and protection of human rights in Asia


[Special Issues for the 61st session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights]

Embargoed for 19 January 2005

Indonesia: Restore trust

The election of H.E. Makarim Wibisono, Ambassador of Indonesia to the United Nations in Geneva on 17 January 2004 as the Chairperson of the 61st session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to be held in Geneva from 14 March to 22 April 2004 provides an opportunity to Indonesia to reiterate her commitment to democracy, good governance, human rights and fundamental freedoms. Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, H.E. Ambassador Shaukat Umer, reportedly sought permission from Islamabad to chair the 61st session of the CHR. Although India’s Ambassador H.E. Hardeep Puri was one of the most serious candidates, New Delhi, which has been a member of the CHR without any interruption since 1947, does not want to play a prominent role on human rights issues at international level.

The election of Ambassador Wibison is not without its pitfalls. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) was reportedly preparing a legal opinion on the judgement of the Indonesian courts acquitting the persons responsible for the crimes perpetrated in East Timor in 1999. Twelve of the eighteen defendants were acquitted. Four defendants who were found guilty received nominal sentences but all these sentences were overturned. Only two Timorese were found guilty by the appeal court but one of the verdicts of


the appeal court too was overturned by Indonesia’s Supreme Court in November 2004. Effectively, Indonesia's domestic mechanisms have failed to address the crimes in East Timor. With Indonesia as the Chair, the legal opinion of the OHCHR on the issue is unlikely to be made public. Similarly, the ongoing criminal investigation into the murder of one of Indonesia’s most outspoken and respected human rights defenders, Munir, under suspicious circumstances on a plane to the Netherlands is unlikely to be completed before the 61st session of the CHR. The post mortem of November 2004 confirmed that Munir had died due to arsenic poisoning in the flight.

Late High Commissioner for Human Rights Sergio Vieira De Mello sought to promote development of “certain minimum standards” for membership to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. De Mello referred to ratification of all core human rights conventions, translating those into national legislation and extending a standing invitation to all special procedures (Special Rapporteurs, Working Groups and Independent Experts) which are created by the very Commission on Human Rights.

While most governments oppose such ideas, Indonesia can take the lead to restore the credibility of the CHR.

There is no better person than President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY), the first directly elected President of Indonesia to convey the message. President SBY should address the High Level Segment of the 61st session of the CHR to reiterate Indonesia’s irreversible road to democracy and announce the ratification of core international human rights instruments and to extend open ended invitations to the Special Procedures of the CHR. Indonesia has already ratified the Convention Against Torture (CAT) and there is no reason as to why other core instruments such as International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and Optional Protocol to the CAT should not be ratified. Given the ill-treatment of its migrant workers in Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and other countries in the Middle East, Indonesia should also ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

Undoubtedly, President SBY needs to do some homework to receive the applause of international community should he address the 61st session of the CHR. And it is already underway.

The tsumani disaster forced informal cease-fire agreements between Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, GAM) and the Indonesian government. The cease-fire should not be temporary only to mean to facilitate distribution of aid and reconstruction of destroyed Aceh. Rather, efforts should be made to utilise the opportunity to find a solution to the crisis in Aceh through dialogue. The statement of Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda today i.e. 19 January 2005 that formal talks with GAM may be held at the end of this month is encouraging. Should progress be made on formal cease-fire and subsequent dialogue with the GAM, the release of five Acehnese leaders - Sofyan Tiba, Muhammad Usman Lampoh Awe, T. Kamaruzaman, Nashiruddin bin Ahmed and Amni bin Ahmad Marzuki –who took part in peace negotiations with the government and were arrested immediately after a truce broke down and convicted for subversion, could be an important confidence building measure.

The implementation of the Papua Special Autonomy Law of 2001 will help to restore the faith of the Acehnese. On 11 November 2004, Indonesian Constitutional Court gave its ambiguous judgement on Law No. 45/1999 on the division of Papua that has been strongly opposed by the Papuans. The Constitutional Court declared Law 45/1999 unconstitutional and thus invalid as on the date of the verdict. However, in its legal considerations it provided the opinion that the Province of West Irian Jaya (West Papua), which had been established based on Law 45/1999 and the corresponding implementing legislation, is valid, unless the Court decides otherwise. Unless President SBY administration takes measures to implement the Papua Special Autonomy Law of 2001 to stop the division of West Papua, peoples of West Papua, Aceh, Molukas etc are unlikely to have much faith in the federalism of Indonesia.

The 61st session of the Commission on Human Rights is unlikely to be stormy like the previous three sessions which were dominated by the crisis in West Asia. However, within the Commission on Human Rights, H.E. Wibisono needs to prevail upon the rubble rousers who do not belong to any of the five geographical blocs of the United Nations but identify themselves as the Like Minded Group (LMG). The LMG consists of “who is who?” in the list of human rights violators - Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Vietnam from Asia; Zimbabwe, Algeria and Sudan from the African group and Cuba from Group of Latin America and Caribbean (GRULAC). The LMG has been singularly responsible for destruction of the mechanisms of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. At the 60th session, the Permanent Representative of China speaking on behalf of the LMG on the organisation of work on 15 March 2004 suggested that country resolutions under Agenda Item 9 be done away with. The Ambassador of China also suggested measures for destruction of the Special Procedures – nomination of the Special Procedures through elections, development of a code of conduct for the special procedures and development of admissibility criteria of the complaints, which most governments inherently deny.

Mexico was a member of the LMG but since the election of President Vincente Fox, Mexico has played a critical role at the Commission on Human Rights and is no longer a member of the LMG. Mexico is yet to find a solution to the problem in the Chiapas but it was the principle sponsor of the resolutions on the appointment of Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples (2001/57) and Independent Expert on protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism (2004/87).

Indonesia could also develop its own policy on human rights irrespective of the conflicts at home and disassociate herself from the LMG to restore trust across the spectrum.

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