Defensive response to US report bodes ill for human rights in Indonesia

CNN Indonesia – April 18, 2022
Secretary Blinken on release of the 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (State Dept)

Jakarta – The government has responded to a report on human rights practices in Indonesia that was released by the United States with a counter attack. This attitude is seen as a bad sign of the state of human rights in Indonesia.

The US government released its annual report titled, 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Indonesia on the official US Embassy website for Indonesia. The report discusses a number of cases of human rights violations in Indonesia in 2021.

A number of cases were highlighted including the killing of six Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) members, internet restrictions in Papua, the summoning of the University of Indonesia Student Executive Council (BEM UI) over a tweet calling President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo the King of Lip Service, the criminalisation of human rights activists by Presidential Chief of Staff Moeldoko and Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan and the involvement of Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) Deputy Commissioner Lili Pintauli Siregar in the Tanjung Balai corruption case.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to the report with insinuations. Ministry spokesperson Teuku Faizasyah questioned the US record on human rights violations. "Are there no human rights cases in the US? Serious", Faizasyah said to CNN Indonesia the other day.

Coordinating Minister for Security, Politics and Legal Affairs (Menko Polhukam) Mahfud MD also commented on several cases covered by the report. One of these was the government's monitoring of citizens through the Covid-19 tracing app PeduliLIndungi (Care and Protect).

Mahfud responded with claims about the government's achievements in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic in Indonesia saying that it has performed better than the US.

"If by parts of the world, Indonesia is included as very good, far better than America in dealing with Covid", said Mahfud in a video recording on the Menko Polhukam YouTube channel.

Unwilling to accept criticism

Al-Azhar Indonesia University political observer Ujang Komarudin views the counter attack by the government as being because it is unwilling to accept criticism from foreign parties. He said that the government feels that it is being dictated to by the US through the report.

According to Komarudin, the government wants to save its authority in the eyes of the public and because of this strong denials were conveyed to the US.

"They made these denials in order to safeguard the government's credibility which is currently being questioned by the public", said Komarudin on Sunday April 17.

Komarudin also believes that the government does not feel that it is at fault in cases of alleged human rights violations. He believes that this kind of political communication is a bad sign for the state of democracy and human rights in Indonesia.

"Because it's as if there's no problem, as if there's nothing wrong. This is what is currently being done by our officials", he said.

Government denials

Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) Deputy Coordinator Rivanlee Anandar says that every year the government responds to reports on human rights violations released by the US with denials.

With these denials, Anandar suspects that the government wants to cover up the human rights violations which have occurred. He is concerned that this response is a reflection on the handling of human rights cases in the future.

"This shows an insensitivity to the report, trying to cover up the problems in Indonesia by throwing the issue back at the US. We're concerned that this will only worsen the situation", said Anandar when contacted by CNN Indonesia.

Anandar said that the report should be used as material for a proper evaluation by the government. He is of the view that the government should reflect upon the report.

Especially since this report will be a reference for countries which are concerned about human rights in reading future trends. According to Anandar, other countries will view Indonesia based on this report.

Anandar gave as an example the cases of violations of civil freedoms which were marked by repression by the police. In the report, the US says that these violations were trigged by government policies which gave rise to massive protest actions.

"That is the pattern which can be seen and in the future must be fixed by ensuring that there are no more discriminative policies", he said.

Not obliged to respond

National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) Commissioner Beka Ulung Hapsara meanwhile says that the report represents the US's way of looking at problems related to human rights in Indonesia. According to Hapsara, the government has its own resolution and rehabilitation mechanism which can still be used.

"It requires an official response but not as an obligation. The government and all of us can of course use the US foreign affairs report for an evaluation but not as an obligation", Hapsara told CNN Indonesia.

Hapsara said that several of the cases cited in the US report have come to the Komnas HAM's attention such as the shooting of the FPI members and cases involving the Information and Electronic Transaction Law (ITE).

"Several cases have been of concern to the Komnas HAM and Komnas HAM has been actively involved in them, both in terms of monitoring and investigations as well as other efforts", he said. (dhf/fra)

[Translated by James Balowski. Subtitles added during translation. The original title of the article was "Laporan HAM AS dan Upaya Pemerintah Jaga Kredibilitas".]