Indonesia improving on human rights but stronger steps needed – UN expert

12 June 2007Human rights defenders in Indonesia’s province of West Papua continue to face torture, arbitrary detention and harassment from the country’s police, military and security forces, an independent United Nations expert said today after wrapping up a week-long visit to the Asian archipelago, which she said had also taken some positive steps in the legal realm. Hina Jilani, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on the situation of human rights defenders, said she had received “credible reports” of such activities, as well as attempts to interfere with defenders’ freedom of movement.Ms. Jilani “was also informed of cases where human rights defenders were threatened with prosecution by members of the police and the military,” she said in a statement. “It was alleged that when defenders have attempted to register their complaints, this has been denied and the defenders threatened.”The Special Representative added that defenders working in the environmental field “frequently receive threats from private actors with powerful economic interest, but are granted no protection by the police.”Other defenders who allege there have been abuses of authority are “labelled as separatists in order to undermine their credibility,” she said.The Special Representative recommended that existing mechanisms be strengthened to ensure the police, military and intelligence apparatus faces more credible oversight, and the creation of special complaint cells to register incidents involving harm or threats to human rights defenders.In today’s statement Ms. Jilani said that while the harassment and intimidation was not confined to West Papua province, she was “greatly encouraged” by the situation in Aceh province at the opposite end of the country, where the Government and separatists signed a peace deal in 2005.Human rights defenders in Aceh now have much greater scope to conduct their activities and their participation in peace-building initiatives was also being sought, although Ms. Jilani said she was also informed of some cases where defenders were subject to surveillance or interference.Turning to the case of Munir, the prominent human rights defender who was killed in 2004, Ms. Jilani said she was “deeply concerned at apprehensions expressed by defenders that the course of justice may be influenced to protect the perpetrators of this crime,” despite recent developments indicating the Government had made efforts to bring those perpetrators to justice.The Special Representative met senior Government, judicial and parliamentary officials, as well as human rights defenders and civil society groups, during her visit, which took in the capital, Jakarta, and West Papua and Aceh.Overall, the prospects for promoting human rights within Indonesia have advanced considerably recently, she said, but the country has yet to take concrete steps to enact laws, create institutions or set up procedures to protect rights defenders or ensure accountability for any harm carried out against them.Ms. Jilani welcomed the “several positive steps” taken to strengthen the laws and institutions that try to protect human rights, including constitutional changes in 2002 and the establishment of the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) and the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan).But some of these institutions and organizations face serious constraints on their ability to function, partly because of a lack of inter-agency cooperation and the difficulty of changing long-held attitudes that have helped to maintain impunity for some rights violations.Ms. Jilani also expressed concern at the lack of formal measures taken to protect human rights defenders, saying the only initiative she knew of was the programme on female rights defenders created by Komnas Perempuan.She recommended the setting up of mechanisms to probe complaints of violations committed against rights defenders as they work, and the removal of restrictive Government regulations that can impede defenders’ right to freedom of assembly and association.The Special Representative said she was particularly worried about the lack of protection for defenders working with socially sensitive issues, such as public awareness of HIV/AIDS or the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons.Ms. Jilani will report to the UN Human Rights Council later this year on her Indonesian visit, and said she looked forward to a sustained dialogue with Jakarta on the issues raised by her trip. read more