The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog

Indonesia, the UNHRC and domestic rights issues

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on May 31, 2011

In response to Indonesia’s recent election onto the UN Human Rights Council, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister, Marty Natalegawa said it reflected ‘international appreciation of Indonesia’s role and leadership in fighting for human rights…in regional and global forums’. This statement is prescient, if not for all the right reasons. Indonesia is clearly committed to a human rights agenda externally; however its explicit foreign policy agenda is not trickling down to policies that demonstrate commensurate concern for domestic protection.

On 6 February 2011, in the latest indictment of a country seemingly unable to turn the tides on growing religious violence, 3 Ahmadiyah followers were killed in a horrendous attack (caution: graphic footage) in Cikeusik, West Java, while authorities stood by passively. OHCHR is alleged to have since expressed concerns over the ‘widespread violence and discrimination reported against the Ahmadiyya… [including] the state-sanctioned closing of…mosques, the burning of homes and places of worship, and…physical violence and murder’.

The violence has arguably been facilitated by actions and sentiments at the national level. In 2008, an anti-Ahmadiyah decree was issued by president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, paving the way for further decrees outlawing Ahmadi practices at the local and provincial levels. Yet, rather than the national decree promoting more peaceful relations – in accordance with the official line – the Setara Institute recorded a parallel increase in violent attacks against the Ahmadis; from 3 in 2006 to 50 in 2010.

While one commentator rightly suggests it is a fear of having one’s own way of life threatened rather than inherent religious intolerance that is the catalyst for such violence, this may not leave much room for a solution. It remains that the Indonesian state has grown less capable or willing to prevent and punish acts of religious violence. Implying or resigning to the fact that religious violence may be an inevitable fact in a diverse nation – particularly a society imbued with democratic freedoms – is a moot point unless and until the Indonesian state takes steps to reassert the value of religious freedom contained within the state ideology, Pancasila, and the Constitution.

Clearly, processes of democratisation and decentralisation have made this a huge challenge. (One commentator notes how radical mass organizations have become ‘a new political order in the era of regional autonomy’, often used – and indulged – to achieve regional political ends). Nonetheless, calls by the Minister for Religious Affairs to ban the Ahmadiyah faith altogether, to a legislator’s suggestion they be shipped off to an uninhabited island, have arguably been unhelpful. In light of the recent attacks, several steps are advocated by HRW and others: revoke the national decree, void related regional and local laws, and use the notable trial of 12 Cikeusik suspects to begin reversing the culture of impunity that fuels the violence.

The president and heads of key state institutions recently pledged to strengthen the Pancasila ideology and counter growing radicalism. However, whether this constitutes more than lip service, and there exists the will or support at the national level to attempt to turn the tide, has yet to be seen.

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