Human Rights Defender Profile: Haris Azhar of Indonesia
Human Rights First is running a series of profiles on human rights defenders we work with in various countries. These profiles help to explain their work, motivations, and challenges.
Haris Azhar has worked for KontraS, a nation wide human rights NGO based in Jakarta, since 1999. He started as a volunteer for the Advocacy Division and continued as a staff member of the Monitoring & Research Bureau before going on to become Head of Documentation Research Bureau, Head of Research, Investigation and Database Bureau, and then the Vice Coordinator of KontraS before becoming the Coordinator in 2010.
Haris earned a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Trisakti in 1999, and a Master of Art (MA) in Human Rights Theory and Practice, University of Essex, UK in 2010. He also studied a Magister Degree in Philosophy from the University of Indonesia from 2000-2003. He also holds a Diploma in Transitional Justice after completing a Fellowship Program at the International Center of Transitional Justice in Cape Town/New York.
Haris has experience, interest and expertise on Indonesian human rights and constitutional law, security sector reform, NGO governance, transitional justice, conflict resolution, and ASEAN relations. His work in human rights includes litigation, fact-finding missions, analysis, research and casework.
Haris Azhar is the Coordinator of KontraS and is responsible for ensuring that KontraS achieves its strategic plans which are to contribute to and build the human rights community in Indonesia through three pillars: 1) by building awareness for state accountability, especially on certain human rights issue such as seeking justice and truth for past abuses; 2) protection of minorities and human rights defenders, judicial accountability of civil liberties, advocacy on the (post) conflict areas plus advocacy; and 3) to establish wider engagement with diverse social entities and networks.
How do you perceive the current situation in Indonesia with respect to human rights?
The situation is quite ambiguous and inconsistent. On one hand we have done quite well in developing a human rights norm in setting a domestic standard but the situation is getting worse especially under the current government with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY), as they rarely take any initiative to protect or solve the situation. SBY’s government just uses the development of the minimum standard as evidence of human rights development to show to the world. The other situation is the double standard, where the government becomes very offensive like in Papua or the War on Terror but on religious minority issues they are very weak and fail to protect the rights of the people. KontraS still perceives human rights abuses as an ongoing problem and recurring issue.
Do you see yourself as a Human Rights Defender?
I guess I am a human rights defender but I rarely acknowledge it in my daily life. I just do what I believe in to defend peoples right to a better life.
What motivates you to continue the work you do at KontraS?
Firstly, I am motivated by the daily interactions I have with so many dedicated people to the struggles involved with human rights, which are usually the primary victims or survivor groups of those missing persons who are always trying to achieve justice and find out the truth. Secondly, my interest is in the knowledge of human rights itself with the interpretation to real life conditions not only in Indonesia but also in the world more generally as well.
What do you want – outcome based?
I just want the world to respect human rights and their future. Humans are frail beings so entities like state/government should consciously understand how to fulfill the interest of pursuing a decent life for all human beings and their future. Indonesia is seriously confronted with this situation, which is what we call ‘uncertainty’. Here, violence is not something that happens everywhere or everyday, but once it does happen, there is no guarantee that there is any redress or whether it will be solved unless the victim has a political position or connections and the economic abilities to pay their way through the system. So, I am hoping that through my work I can contribute to building a better culture in Indonesia with less impunity from the state towards disadvantaged members of society, such as the indigenous people who are threatened by the business occupation, survivors of the massive past abuses and minority groups who are constantly persecuted.
What risks, if any, do you see posed on your everyday life?
There are many risks working in this kind field or profession. The risks range quite a lot from the individual to the general or group being targeted. Personally, I have been physically attacked, received threats via Facebook, through mobile phone text messages and even through online news comments. Many times, as part of the team at KontraS, I have witnesses various threats to KontraS, where government officials have pressured some of my friends whilst they were conducting official advocacy projects and KontraS has been targeted by low explosive bombs and attacked by a gang and paramilitaries.
What is a normal day in the life of…Haris Azhar?
Well, I spend most of my time working. I love to engage on human rights issues, so KontraS has become almost like a second home to me, but for having a proper bed in the office! In the office my friends and I do many things besides working for human rights advocacy where we chat, hold informal meetings with friends and some small parties. I also do a few other things, I love to go cycling, play futsal and of course watch the football, especially Manchester United and Barcelona. I also love to go to rock concerts, where in the last year alone I saw Iron Maiden, the Cranberries and Helloween when they had a concert in Jakarta. At the moment I am starting to prepare a business plan to start my own small business to supplement my income, as we know that working for human rights in Indonesia, especially as a frontline advocate, is not sufficiently well paid.