The Jakarta Post
This week the UN scrutinized Indonesia for the first time regarding its reports on civil and political rights, eight years after we ratified the international covenant on the issue. Well before the ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, our constitutional amendments progressed dramatically with clear state guarantees on non-derogable rights including the freedom of expression, of association and assembly.
In Geneva in Switzerland, the UN Human Rights Committee heard both the government's report and that of NGOs. Both reports lauded Indonesia's progress since the end of the New Order in 1998, mainly regarding legal reform, although the NGO report was naturally more critical.
At the end of July, the committee will list its recommendations, and we can expect lots of work to do. Especially as the committee seemed unsatisfied with the answers of the government delegation on all our unresolved rights violations, from the murder of activist Munir to the harassment of the gay community.
For now let us look at how we deal with specific human-rights issues. Three cases come to mind ' the Bloody Biak (Biak Berdarah) tragedy of July 6, 1998, when at least eight Papuans were shot dead following the hoisting of the Morning Star flag, a symbol of resistance, in the coastal town of Biak Numfor. Over a 100 were reportedly detained and dozens remain missing from this incident, the 15th anniversary of which was recently commemorated.
Second, Wednesday's statement by Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali, that Indonesia is a tolerant country.
And third, the alleged rape of a journalist, whose claims the police suspect are untrue.
Biak Berdarah is one of many such unsolved crimes ' so many that not even survivors' testimonies of being tortured, raped and subjected to appalling sexual abuse, have been enough to lead to further investigations or accountability. A 'Citizens' Tribunal' at the University of Sydney on July 6 may have been the last resort for survivors seeking to gain some recognition.
Yet participants in the mock tribunal (biak-tribunal.org) expect the usual backlash ' that the event will be dismissed as just another effort by a few Papuans seeking global attention for their cause for independence, with the help of nosy Australians. It was the Papuans' own fault for violating the law on subversion or makar, many Indonesians may say.
A similar mindset explains the indifference to the many other violent incidents in Papua, whether there is a flag ceremony or not. Rights to freedom of expression, of opinion and freedom of association and assembly sound alien here when it comes to condemning makar. Of course the racial difference of Papuans to most Indonesians worsens the stigma.
Subversion ' for which the penalty is death ' is sacriledge to the national sense of harmony; that we are all one happy nation after the sacrifices in gaining independence. Papuan claims that the UN-supervised 1969 referendum was rigged, are considered mere propaganda by activists.
That civil and political rights include the right to express the wish for freedom and separation from the state, is unthinkable to many steeped in one black-and-white version of history. So our security forces have a virtually free hand in Papua, as they did in former East Timor and Aceh.
Other Indonesians assume they are hunting suspected traitors to the united Republic. Few questions are asked, similar to the 1960s witch-hunt of communists.
The second recent landmark in our human rights' record is the statement by Suryadharma that we are a 'tolerant' nation. He said that between 1977 and 2004 Indonesia saw an increase in mosques of 64 percent, while Christian churches increased by 131 percent, Catholic churches 152 percent, Hindu temples 475 percent and Buddhist temples 368 percent. Thus, he asked, why is everyone ranting about a few Ahmadis and Shiites driven out of their homes? It was the Muslim majority whose beliefs were being disturbed by their deviating principles, he said.
Yet the discrimination and violence against minorities ' with perpetrators only getting a slap on the wrist ' contradicts the minister's description of Indonesia as 'a country that respects its pluralistic society'.
Everyone is free to worship yet Jakarta allows local bans on minority faiths, based on the 1965 Blasphemy Law.
Of course the problem is not really legal misunderstandings, but the battle by conservative Islam seeking legal and formal recognition at the national and local level. Anyone needing their votes displays empathy to their aspiration to make their version of Islam the dominant religious code.
The third case further highlights the work we still have to do ' the coverage of the reporter who allegedly lied to police that she was raped last month, in order to cover up an affair. The media has largely swallowed the police line of the woman cheating on her 'tearful' husband.
She only sustained light bruises, the police said, possibly from a beating and forceful groping by her lover. Such alarming coverage shows the media has not progressed much in its understanding of the right to safety and freedom from violence.
The coverage is overpowered by the public morality code ' that a woman can only be a victim if she is a 'good' woman, and it serves her right if she isn't. This powerful morality code discourages women from reporting violence inflicted by boyfriends and husbands. Not to mention female victims in hotbeds of 'treason'.
The deeply ingrained beliefs of makar, 'deviant beliefs' and a morality code defined by a male-dominant, conservative culture, are not unchangeable ' if we can overhaul the attitude that it is acceptable to dismiss or tread on fellow citizens, torture or kill them, when they 'defy' the dominant codes of nationalism, religion and morality.
The author is a staff writer at The Jakarta Post.
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