Secretary Kerry’s Trip to Indonesia Should Promote Human Rights

Washington, D.C. – As Secretary Kerry travels to Indonesia to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Bali, Human Rights First urges him to raise longstanding human rights concerns in Indonesia with President Yudhoyono, who he is expected to meet in place of President Obama. The organization also encourages the secretary to meet with a broad range of Indonesian civil society organizations and human rights defenders.

“Secretary Kerry should use his trip to Indonesia to put human rights at the heart of the United States’ foreign policy and strategic alliance with the most populous Muslim nation in South East Asia,” said Human Rights First’s Neil Hicks. “He should engage with President Yudhoyono so that the United States can help improve, not enable, human rights abuses in Indonesia.”

Secretary Kerry’s trip to Indonesia is part of an “ongoing commitment to increase U.S. political, economic and security engagement with the Asia Pacific.” Human Rights First notes that among the many human rights concerns in Indonesia the secretary should address, he should prioritize working with his Indonesian counterpart to address the lack of accountability at the highest levels in the assassination of Munir Said Thalib, the violence against religious minorities and human rights violations stemming from blasphemy laws, and impunity for abuses committed by security forces.

“The potential for backsliding in Indonesia on key human rights gains in the post-Suharto era demands a much greater level of engagement from the administration,” Hicks observed. “That engagement should take many forms, including bringing those responsible for the assassination of human rights defender Munir Said Thalib to justice, ordering local governments to cease demolitions and blockades of houses of worship and revoke discriminatory regulations against religious minorities as well as utilizing Leahy law-vetting of security units that commit human rights abuses in Indonesia to potentially suspend U.S. funding and training.”

Today, ahead of Secretary Kerry’s meetings, Human Rights First issued a briefing document that provides further detail about three key human rights challenges facing Indonesia, including:

Securing accountability for Munir Said Thalib’s assassination

Munir was poisoned en route to Holland on a state-owned Garuda airlines flight. Although President Yudhoyono quickly convened an independent investigation into the murder, support and resources for the investigation waned. The president has yet to release the report or its findings. Although two low-level players have been convicted for their involvement in the crime no high ranking government or state intelligence agency official has ever been prosecuted for their role in ordering Munir’s death beyond a sham trial. Secretary Kerry should urge President Yudhoyono to conduct an independent investigation that would lead to recommendations for prosecution of those who planned and ordered Munir’s assassination and a case review of past criminal proceedings.

Ending the increased violence against religious minorities and abuses linked to blasphemy laws

Secretary Kerry should also raise concerns about growing religious intolerance in Indonesia, including attacks against Ahmadiyah, Bahai, Christian, and Shia Muslim minorities. Local government authorities have closed down more than 400 churches since Yudhoyono came to office in 2004. Kerry should press for the government to repeal discriminatory blasphemy laws and cease demolitions and blockades of houses of worship and ensure that any assaults against people from religious minorities are properly investigated and that those responsible are brought to justice.

Addressing impunity within Indonesia’s security forces

The United States is a major security partner with Indonesia, providing military assistance and training to Indonesia’s armed forces and counterterrorism units. A recent trial of special forces soldiers for multiple murders highlighted the difficulties in prosecuting military personnel for serious human rights abuses. The military justice system in Indonesia lacks transparency, independence, and impartiality. Secretary Kerry should urge the Indonesian government to ensure that those members of the Indonesian military and counterterrorism police units implicated in serious human rights violations–including those involving command responsibility–are credibly and impartially investigated and disciplined or prosecuted as appropriate.

“While Secretary Kerry and President Yudhoyono engage in important discussions about economic and security interests, they should put human rights at the heart of their diplomacy,” concluded Hicks. “The administration has a responsibility to use every lever it has, in a more concerted and deliberate way than it has to date, to stop human rights abuses in Indonesia.”


Published on October 4, 2013


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