NGOs urge UNHRC to be critical of RI


United Nations Human Rights Council member states should be critical of Indonesia, which has reportedly let the number of human rights violations continue to increase, at the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), say non-governmental organizations.

“Countries should be asking Indonesia hard questions about why, over the past four years, violence and discrimination against religious minorities is getting worse, and why Indonesia continues to imprison peaceful activists,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) deputy Asia director Elaine Pearson said in a press statement jointly released on Tuesday with the Commission for “The Disappeared” and Victims of Violence (KontraS).

“The UPR should put Indonesia on the spot to adopt specific reforms rather than dancing around the issues.”

The quadrennial review, scheduled for May 23, would allow governments to review the human rights record in Indonesia, which has been the council’s member for three consecutive periods, and make recommendations for improvements, the statement said.

The Indonesian government has submitted a report to the UN for the review, claiming it has taken numerous concrete steps to put into effect seven recommendations it accepted from its last review in 2008, the statement said.

These recommendations included the development of human rights education and training, signing and ratification of various human rights instruments, support of and protection of the work of civil society, a fight against impunity by security forces, revision of the Penal Code and development of systems to improve and share best practices to support human rights, the statement said.

However the government’s report only paints a partial picture of the serious challenges that remain, especially regarding religious freedom, free expression, and accountability for serious abuses committed by security forces, HRW and KontraS said.

Quoting the human rights watchdog Setara Institute, HRW and KontraS said the number religious attacks had increased from 135 in 2007, to 216 in 2010 and 244 in 2011.

Indonesian authorities have consistently failed to adequately address increasing incidents of mob violence directed by militant Islamist groups against religious minorities in Java and Sumatra, including against the Ahmadiyah, Bahai, Christians, Shia Muslims, and smaller spiritual movements, the statement said.

In the worst attack, Islamist militants killed three Ahmadiyah followers in Banten in February 2011, and the attackers who were prosecuted served, at most, six months in prison, the statement said.

In another attempt to practice religion freely, Christian churches have also successfully sought court orders to permit them to open, such as in the case of the GKI Yasmin church in Bogor and HKBP Filadelfia church in Bekasi.

But local authorities have refused to carry out the court’s rulings, and the national government has failed to intervene, the statement said.

“The Indonesian government claims it is protecting religious harmony, but countries shouldn’t be fooled when Christians and Ahmadis are under pressure every day to close their places of worship,” said KontraS coordinator Haris Azhar.

“Revoking discriminatory laws and upholding basic rights would be the best way of ensuring religious harmony.”

A US government report released last year also noted that discrimination happened not only to Ahmadiyah followers and Christians, but also to Muslims in regions where they were a minority, such as in Papua and North Sulawesi.

In regard to the freedom of speech, HRW and KontraS highlighted a recent incident, in which liberal Canadian Muslim activist and lesbian Irshad Manji had to abruptly end or cancel her discussions about her book, Allah, Liberty and Love: The Courage to Reconcile Faith and Freedom in Jakarta and in Yogyakarta.

Manji, who claims to be a Muslim reformist and criticizes the Koran while at the same time using some of its verses to support her arguments, drew anger from members of hard-line Islamic groups when she was delivering her book discussions.

Police have also given in to Islamist militants who tried to block public events they considered to be immoral, the statement said.

“Authorities are too willing to use the excuse of public order to shut down debate over sensitive topics,” Pearson said.

Mustaqim Adamrah

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