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"The installation today of Megawati Sukarnoputri as president of Indonesia confronts civil society and the human rights community in Indonesia with new challenges, ... The commitment of Indonesia’s new president to reform remains to be seen. Her close ties with the military do not augur well for the upholding of human rights, for a peaceful solution to the conflicts in West Papua and Aceh and for the restoration of the rule of law. Far from being able to take such an agenda forward, she may soon find herself mired in the same snake-pit of political intrigue that brought her predecessor down. The struggle for human rights in Indonesia is likely to become even more difficult in the months and years to come." TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign

Statement issued by TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign

23 July 2001

Press Statement for immediate release

THE PROSPECTS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS IN INDONESIA

The installation today of Megawati Sukarnoputri as president of Indonesia confronts civil society and the human rights community in Indonesia with new challenges, after two wasted years under the presidency of Wahid Abdurrahman.

Whatever his intentions when he accepted his election as president in October 1999, Wahid soon proved incapable of achieving anything in advancing the programme of reformasi that was supposed to be the hallmark of his government.  This was because the forces rallied against him, the well-entrenched ‘New Order’ elements as well as the armed forces, were determined to sabotage such efforts.

For months before he was deposed, activists were warning that the encirclement tactics used against him were shaping up into a coup d’etat. The former president was effective only during his first few months in office when he sacked senior army officers, most notably General Wiranto, the TNI commander-in-chief who was responsible for the disastrous events in September 1999 in East Timor. By the middle of 2000, it was evident that Wahid was losing the political battle against the old forces. As the offensive against him escalated, his own erratic handling of the crisis damaged his reputation as someone who was able to run the country and resulted in a yawning vacuum at the heart of government.

Reformasi virtually became a dead letter and all efforts to bring the men responsible for past violations of human rights and crimes against humanity were frustrated by the legislature and by the executive’s failure to overhaul the judiciary, in particular the judges and the public prosecutors office.  Although the armed forces only occupies 38 seats in the People’s Assembly, they were able to block any serious reform measures.

The former president became the target of a virulent hate campaign in the free press, one of the most important achievements of the post-Suharto era. This reflects the fact that most of the print media is owned by former Suharto cronies who know that substantial reform measures will jeopardise their vested interests. Not only was Wahid portrayed as being incompetent and corrupt but also as the root cause of the country’s economic and political crisis.

The military had their own grievances against the Wahid government.

Discredited by decades of human rights violations and licking their wounds over their defeat in East Timor, they reluctantly agreed to take a back seat in political and economic affairs, and began to speak as if reform of the armed forces and the end of their dwifungsi role was on their agenda. But by the beginning of 2001, they had been able so effectively to consolidate themselves internally that they were in a position to strike back. When he tried to reshuffle the TNI leadership, they began to defy his orders, rather timidly at first but by May, they were engaged in open mutiny against their supreme commander. The main conflict was how to handle the opposition forces in Aceh and West Papua where the pressure for self-determination is strong, and the need to end impunity.

While many human rights activists and NGOs did what they could to support the flagging efforts of the president, they too were unable to turn back the tide unleashed against him and were forced to stand by helplessly as he was unceremoniously dumped by forces whose commitment to reformasi is zero.

Deteriorating human rights

There has been a marked deterioration in the human rights situation in the past year. Scores of people are now being held as political prisoners in various parts of the country. Far from repealing articles in the Criminal Code that criminalise legitimate political activities, ‘hate-sowing’ crimes and accusations of rebellion are again being used in the courts of law.

The level of killings in Aceh has reached monstrous proportions. In his efforts to accommodate his political foes, the former president agreed to issue a presidential instruction in April which provided the armed forces with a ‘legal umbrella’ to conduct military operations, ending all hope of a peaceful solution there. Numerous acts of provocation, widespread arrests and kidnaps by the armed forces in West Papua have led human rights activists there to warn that West Papua could soon become a ‘second Aceh’. Regional conflicts continue unabated and there are now more than a million internally-displaced people in Indonesia.

The commitment of Indonesia’s new president to reform remains to be seen. Her close ties with the military do not augur well for the upholding of human rights, for a peaceful solution to the conflicts in West Papua and Aceh and for the restoration of the rule of law. Far from being able to take such an agenda forward, she may soon find herself mired in the same snake-pit of political intrigue that brought her predecessor down. The struggle for human rights in Indonesia is likely to become even more difficult in the months and years to come.

TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign
111 Northwood Road, Thornton Heath, Croydon CR7 8HW, UK.
tel +44 020 8771 2904 fax +44 020 8653 0322
tapol@gn.apc.org      http://www.gn.apc.org/tapol


Paul Barber
TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign
25 Plovers Way, Alton Hampshire GU34 2JJ
Tel/Fax: 01420 80153
Email: tapol@gn.apc.org
Internet: http://www.gn.apc.org/tapol
Defending victims of oppression in Indonesia and East Timor, 1973-2001


TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign  Up-dated May 1
Defending victims of oppression in Indonesia and East Timor, 1973-2001
TAPOL - which means political prisoner in Indonesian - is a leading English language authority campaigning on the human rights situation in Indonesia and East Timor. Estab in 1973, TAPOL has depended on networking with organisations in Indonesia, with NGOs in the UK and with solidarity groups around the world.
TAPOL produces the bi-monthly TAPOL Bulletin; occasional reports and briefing papers and other publications. Australian subscribers to TAPOL Bulletin may pay in A$ to: TAPOL (Australia) PO Box 121, Clifton Hill, Vic 3068 Rates for Individuals A$45, Unwaged A$22, Institutions A$80
Email: tapol@gn.apc.org  Homepage: http://www.gn.apc.org/tapol  ET Webpage: http://www.gn.apc.org/tapol/easttimorlatest.htm


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