The latest annual report on human rights surveys by the U.S. State Department does not look too kindly on Indonesia's record for the past year. But the report does not differ all that much from those by some of our own respected human rights groups. Many, if not all, the violations the State Department cIaims were committed by Indonesian authorities, have, at one time or another, been reported by the National Commission on Human Rights, the Foundation of the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute and the Foundation for the Center for the Study of Human Rights.
That these allegations have come from a foreign government could easily invite the standard official response that it is meddling in Indonesia's domestic affairs. But these allegations exist, and with or without the State Department's reminder, they shouId still be looked at and addressed.
Although the State Department has made similar reports on the human rights situation in Indonesia over the past year, this time the situation has changed. There are signals that Washington, in its relations with other countries, will be more assertive in pressing for basic human rights to be respected. President Bill Clinton, now free from reelection worries, is expected to stand firm when it comes to human rights principles. His new Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has made it clear human rights will be a hallmark of the administration's foreign policy. Although she says overall U.S. relations with another country will not be held hostage by a single issue, we can be sure that human rights questions will be even more pronounced in the bilateral relations between Indonesia and the United States. AIready, news dispatches from Washington indicate that Assistant Secretary of State for human rights affairs John Shattuck is planning to visit Indonesia in the coming weeks.
There have also been growing pressures from the U.S. congress for a more active Washington role on the question of East Timor. It is just as well Albright has served as an ambassador at the United Nations and is therefore familiar with the current UN mediation efforts to settle the East Timor question. She has ruled out a Washington role, at least for now, but if congress pressure keeps up, Indonesia must anticipate a change in the U.S. position. Pressures also come from some states. Massachusetts' lawmakers are reportedly considering a selective purchasing bill to deny contracts to fines doing business in Indonesia.
All in all, we should take criticism from the United States as an additional inducement to step up our current efforts to improve our human rights record. After all, we are talking about universal basic rights, that cannot be deprived under any pretext, such as local cultures and conditions.
That a foreign country as powerful as the United States and also one of Indonesia's major trading partners, has expressed concern is all the more reason for us to do something. The energy and attention usually expended in denying or countering such criticism - the United States' record is not all that spotless would be more productively used acknowledging we have these problems and addressing them. The best response to the State Department's report which also acknowledges progress in some areas is to take it as criticism from a friend.