Human rights activists and civil society groups have few expectations that the first presidential debate scheduled for January 17 between incumbent President Joko Widodo and rival Prabowo Subianto will address human rights issues in any substantial way given that neither camp has shown any commitment to protecting civil and political rights or addressing past violations.
During his 2004 election campaign Widodo pledged to solve eight past human rights cases which he referred to as a historical burden. These included violations which took place in 1998, during the Suharto dictatorship and the 1965 anti-communist purge. Widodo’s administration has failed to investigate let alone prosecute any of those alleged to be responsible.
Rights activists say Widodo’s reluctance to pursue these cases is because senior figures in his administration such as Security Minister Wiranto and others Suharto era generals close to his PDI-P ruling party’s chairperson Megawati Sukarnoputri would face indictment.
Worse still, during his term in office Widodo has overseen an erosion of civil and democratic rights and an increasing tendency to criminalise those fighting for justice or criticising the government. The government has also failed to protect vulnerable minority groups and freedom of religion.
Widodo’s rival Prabowo meanwhile – a Suharto era general who stands accused of human rights violations in Aceh, West Papua and East Timor – has still not been held accountable for the abduction of as many as 23 pro-democracy activists in 1997-98 by the army’s Special Forces (Kopassus).
Then Kopassus commander Lieutenant General Prabowo Subianto – who was at the time president Suharto’s son-in-law and was thrown out of the military over the abductions – has admitted to ordering the abductions but denies ordering their torture and although 13 remain missing to this day, presumed dead, he claims they were all released alive and well.