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Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders Encouraged and Concerned on her Indonesian Visit

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The U.N. Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders, Ms. Hina Jilani, ended her working visit to Indonesia today, 13 June 2007. She was encouraged by the positive steps taken by the Indonesian government to promote and protect human rights, but she also voiced her concern on the continuing violations against human rights defenders in the country.
The working visit of the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders, Ms. Hina Jilani, to Indonesia ended on Wednesday, 13 June 2007. During her press conference on 12 June 2007, Ms. Jilani gave her observations and concerns on the situation of human rights defenders in light of the principles set forth  in the 1998 Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, and the legal framework and institutional policies for the promotion and protection of human rights in the country. 

Ms. Jilani was able to visit two critical areas in Indonesia where human rights defenders face particular risk because of their work: Papua and Aceh. Indonesia’s Papua province has been facing an ongoing brutal and violent repression by the Indonesian security forces in their efforts to stifle independent claims.  Aceh, on the other hand, was the center of the conflict between the armed opposition group, the Aceh/ Sumatra National Liberation Front or the Free Aceh Movement and the Indonesia military forces. It was also one of the areas worst hit by the tsunami in 2004. The devastation caused by the tsunami triggered a series of consolidated negotiations between the separatist movement and the government.  These negotiations led to the Helsinki Peace Agreement, which was signed on 15 August 2005.

Ms. Jilani was allowed to visit Jayapura, the capital of Papua Province for a one-day visit on 8 June 2007. She was especially requested to look into self-determination issues in Papua, as the UN briefly acted as the mediator in the controversial 1969 Act of Free Choice. In Papua, she met with provincial administration officials, military and police chiefs, and members of the provincial legislative assembly.  She also met with civil society organizations, particularly the religious leaders and the NGO community in Papua.  The meeting with religious leaders in Papua was held in the Jayapura Diocese office late in the afternoon on 8 June 2007. It was a closed meeting where 6 testimonies were presented to Ms. Jilani. Four testimonies were delivered by Protestant pastors, while two testimonies were given by their Catholic counterparts.  Five government officials from Jakarta were also present during the meeting.  The meeting with the non-governmental organizations in Papua was held in the evening at the office of the Synod of the Christian Evangelical Church in Tanah Papua. It was also a closed meeting where 6 testimonies were presented by representatives from student groups, women’s groups, non-governmental organizations, labor unions, and the tribal council.  According to reports, participants in this meeting were able to talk freely to the Special Representative since no one from the Indonesian government was present during the meeting.

From Papua, Ms. Jilani traveled to Aceh on 9 June 2007, where she visited the areas that were hit by the tsunami in 2004. She also met with the civil society organizations based in Aceh and with Aceh Governor Irwandi Yusuf.

In her statement to the press, Ms. Jilani thanked the government of Indonesia for extending her the invitation and for its cooperation during the mission. However, she also expressed regret for not being able to meet Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, but said that she hopes that the government authorities she had met during her visit would convey to the president her observations and concerns.

Ms. Jilani noted improvements on the promotion of human rights in Indonesia, but she also expressed serious concerns on continuing violations committed against the human rights defenders in the country.

She observed that several positive steps have been taken “to strengthen the legal and institutional framework for the promotion of human rights.” She particularly pointed out as examples the Constitutional changes in 2002, the enactment of the Human Rights Act of 1999 and the Witness Protection Act of 2006, and the establishment of the Ad Hoc Human Rights Courts, the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM), the National Commission on Violence Against Women, and the adoption of the National Plan of Action. She sees these as positive developments in the promotion and protection of human rights in Indonesia. However, she noted that many of these organizations are faced with serious constraints  that affect their ability to effectively fulfill their mandates.

From her discussions with authorities in Jakarta, Jayapura, and Aceh, she gathered that there is little commitment to removing impunity for past abuses. She noted with concern that she has communicated many cases to the government in the past six years, yet she does not see any progress on these cases.

Ms. Jilani also found it encouraging that many human rights measures have been undertaken by the government to create awareness on the role of human rights defenders and to facilitate their work. However, she is concerned that these measures do not address the serious issue of the protection of these human rights defenders. In her statement, she said, “No concrete initiatives have yet been taken to enact laws, to create institutions, and to institute procedures that deal directly with the protection of human rights accountability for any harm or arbitrary action against [human rights defenders].”

She particularly finds disturbing the numerous testimonies she received alleging harassment and intimidation by police and military authorities of human rights defenders. There are also several reported cases too on police an military authorities restricting human rights defenders from gaining access to victims and sites of human rights violations.  This trend, she observed, is more prevalent in the West Papua, where she received testimonies and reports of torture, arbitrary detention, harassment through surveillance, and interference on freedom of movement and to monitor human rights violations by human rights defenders.

Ms. Jilani further notes the complaints she has received from human rights defenders working on issues pertaining to the environment, land rights, and natural resources. There are allegations that these human rights defenders often receive threats from private actors with power economic interests, but they are not accorded protection by the police authorities. She is also concerned that many of these human rights defenders, after exposing abuses or violations committed by the authorities, are often labeled as separatists in order to undermine their credibility.

With respect to her visit in Aceh, she was encouraged by the improvement in the situation for human rights defenders in the area. In her statement, she said, “[G]enerally, there is more scope now for the defenders to carry out their activities and that defenders’ participation in peace building initiatives was sought, even though it is still as a formality.” She still, however, received reports of violations of rights of human rights defenders in Aceh, especially those from women human rights defenders who said that their safety and activities have been adversely affected by new laws, policies, and a social environment which restricts their freedom of movement and expression.

Finally, she took particular interest in the progress of the case of Munir, a prominent human rights defender who was murdered while he was traveling to Amsterdam in 2004. She welcomed the Indonesian government’s efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice, but she is deeply concerned with the apprehensions expressed by many of the defenders in Indonesia that “the course of justice may be influenced to protect the perpetrators of this crime.”

As a consequence of her observations during her visit, Ms. Jilani made several recommendations for the improvement of the protection and promotion of human rights, particularly those of human rights defenders, in Indonesia. One of these recommendations is for the establishment of mechanisms to investigate complaints of violations committed against human rights defenders. She also suggested that procedures be instituted to prevent prosecutions of human rights defenders as a form of harassment to impede them from conducting their activities. She also said that better coordination and support within Komnas HAM would enable this institution to effectively fulfill its mandate of promoting and protecting human rights.  Ms. Jilani believes that “legal and institutional arrangements for protection of defenders must be a priority so that they are able to play their vital role for sustainable peace and development.”

Ms. Jilani will be presenting her full report to the U.N. Human Rights Council, including her detailed recommendations to the government.