National

Rights groups seek pressure
by Obama on RI

Indonesia's human rights groups expressed hope Sunday that President-elect Barack Obama would put more pressure on Indonesia to resolve its major human rights cases.

Positive changes and increased pressure should come from the future Obama administration related to Indonesia's democratization process and human rights advocacy, compared to the outgoing administration under President George W. Bush, they said.

"During the Bush administration and post-9/11, cooperation between Indonesia and the United States was focused more on state-related security rather than human security," said Usman Hamid, coordinator of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras).

"The two countries have good relations but it has a policy imbalance with Indonesia, as its priorities are its war against terror and not human rights," he added.

Usman said the U.S. decision to revoke its military embargo against Indonesia was not counterbalanced with pressure for human rights advocacy and on the Indonesian Military (TNI) to account for its gross human rights violations.

TNI has been accused of many violations in their military operations across Indonesia, including in East Timor (Timor Leste), Aceh and Papua. TNI has also been widely blamed for the Talang Sari massacre in Lampung, the Tanjung Priok mass killings and the May 1998 riots -- the latter two both occurring in Jakarta -- as well as for abducting democracy activists. However, all these cases have not been resolved.

"I hope with Obama elected as the new president, the human rights policies usually embraced by presidents hailing from the Democratic Party will push Indonesia to be more active in advocating unsolved human rights cases," Usman said.

Human Rights Watch Group coordinator Rafendi Djamin said the United States has played a huge role in pushing for rights advocacy in Indonesia because they have the leverage to build international political pressure.

"I have seen that during the Bush administration, the U.S. congress is still concerned with Indonesia's democratization and human rights advocacy, but Bush has rarely given a direct warning of the importance of human rights advocacy," he said.

Rafendi said that with Obama's win, the pressure may be greater.

"We are now expecting Obama to put more pressure on Indonesia to resolve unfinished human rights cases by directly questioning the government about them and by addressing their importance," he said.

A similar call was made by Bantarto Bandoro, an international relations expert from the University of Indonesia.

He said that if Obama and the U.S. Congress pressured Indonesia on their human rights issues and the government did not take it seriously, it could hinder their bilateral relations.

"If Indonesia does not respond positively to U.S. pressure, this could hamper their good relationship with the subsequent possibility that the U.S. would reinstate its military embargo against us," he said.

Bantarto said Indonesia must prudently manage its future relationship with the U.S. government and take serious efforts to repair the country's human rights conditions. (pmf)

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