In early October this year, hundreds of stakeholders of “human rights cities” gathered in Gwangju, South Korea. The attendants of the ninth World Human Rights Cities Forum represented local and national governments, academics, businesses and civil society organizations from around 50 countries. Representatives from Indonesia included officials from the Law and Human Rights Ministry, Semarang Mayor Hendrar Prihadi and Jember Regent Faida, who attended and addressed several sessions in the Forum.
In her speech, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said: “The role of local government in delivering state’s human rights obligation has never been more important.”
“[Human rights cities mean] working together for the common good, […] addressing the root causes of violence and social unrest — like inequality and discrimination. [Such cities can be] beacons of human rights best practices that others can follow.”
Bachelet also hailed the Jember regency in East Java for its “equal access for women to job opportunities”.
The forum has been an annual venue for stakeholders to share, learn and build networks for the promotion and protection of human rights at the local level.
The venue, Gwangju, is a city identical to human rights and democracy due to a people’s uprising in May 1980, which eventually led to the transforming of South Korea from a military dictatorship to a democracy with an advanced economy.
In 2008, Stephen P. Marks and Kathleen A. Modrowski in their book Human Rights Cities: Civic Engagement for Societal Development defined human rights cities as “community-based initiatives, locally conceived and directed by local groups […] that combine participation, empowerment and social change with international solidarity based on agreed principles of human rights education and sustainable development”.
Such principles were issued at the Gwangju annual forum of 2014. The Guiding Principles for a Human Rights City (Gwangju Principles) contains 10 points that local governments can adopt when they decide to become a human rights city.
These principles include a commitment to social inclusion and cultural diversity, participatory democracy and accountable governance and the right to remedy.
The global movement is a strategy to encourage local government leaders to race to the top in realizing the fundamental rights of their people.
While local leaders may hope for recognition, such as the annual award for Regencies and Cities Caring for Human Rights (Kabupaten/Kota Peduli HAM) from Indonesia’s Law and Human Rights Ministry, the human rights awareness and expectations of local residents of such cities have also increased.
At the Human Rights Festival in Jember, A. Taufan Damanik, chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) said that from over 1,700 complaints last year, cases involving local governments were the third-highest with 106 cases, after 394 complaints involving the police and 126 involving corporations, tempo.co reported.
Among the initiators of local administrations formalizing the promotion and protection of human rights was Wonosobo in Central Java. In 2013, then-regent Abdul Kholiq Arif attended the World Human Rights Cities Forum in Gwangju for the first time.
Since then, Wonosobo has taken serious measures, including conducting human rights training for civil servants, passing the 2016 bylaw on Wonosobo as a human rights-friendly regency and establishing Indonesia’s first Local Human Rights Committee in 2018.
As part of initial efforts in institutionalizing the local government’s commitment on human rights, in 2013, then-Palu mayor Rusdy Mastura in Central Sulawesi issued a mayoral regulation on a local human rights action plan, which included the rights to the reparation of victims of the 1965/1966 persecution and abuse of suspected communists and their sympathizers.
Rusdy also apologized to the victims and survivors of the wrongdoings of past governments.
The East Lampung regency also addressed the demands of survivors and descendants of victims of the 1989 persecution and massacre of suspected extremists in Talangsari.
Survivors and victims’ family members had demanded that the local government facilitate a formal memorialization of the crime and abolish any remaining stigma against the survivors and victims’ family members.
Then-regent Chusnunia Chalim issued a 2016 regental regulation on East Lampung as a human rights-friendly regency, among other steps, to ensure equal access to public services.
These steps by local leaders have shown the rest of the country’s national and regional leaders on what can be done despite the overwhelming legacy of Indonesia’s unresolved human rights violations and people’s rising expectations.
In their human rights city programs, the East Java regencies of Bojonegoro and Jember prioritize open governance and attempts to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including reducing poverty and ensuring access to various services for all residents.
Other cities such as Bogor in West Java and Salatiga in Central Java focus more on ensuring tolerance and the rights to freedom of religion and beliefs in their human rights programs.
Such efforts reflect the human rights city movement as an initiative to bring awareness and protection of human rights to the local level.
This is in line with the spirit of Indonesia’s Reform movement to decentralize power through regional autonomy, based on the state responsibility cited in the Constitution and related laws, including the 2014 Local Governance Law, which mandates wide authority in local administrations.
During the commemoration of International Human Rights Day in December 2015, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo acknowledged and encouraged the proliferation of human rights cities.
Nevertheless, we believe concrete political support and incentives from the central government in the form of national policies and regulations on human rights cities are imperative to better spread awareness and the protection of basic rights through a formal commitment of Indonesia’s 514 municipalities and regencies.
To that end, the International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development (INFID), Komnas HAM, the Presidential Office and the Jember regency organized the 2019 Human Rights Festival in Jember, East Java.
The local administrations cannot rely on the central government for the resources and support to ensure the fundamental rights of their residents, but local leaders in the Reform Era have shown they can start somewhere by learning from each other.
Senior program officer on human rights and democracy at the International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development (INFID), one of the organizers of the Human Rights Festival in Jember, East Java, from Nov. 19 to 21.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.