APSN Banner

Cook unveils plan to back human rights in Indonesia

Straits Times - August 30, 1997

Susan Sim, Jakarta – Britain yesterday unveiled a six-point initiative to support human rights in Indonesia, a move welcomed cautiously by Jakarta as more constructive than mere rhetoric and hectoring over East Timor.

"I want to develop a positive agenda for human rights in Indonesia," visiting British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook announced at a press conference.

"No one country should lecture another on its duty. But all members of the UN must work together to ensure that universal standards are observed. It is in that spirit of offering a constructive partnership with Indonesia that I announce today a six-point plan to assist human rights in Indonesia," he added.

The six points covered "practical support" for the work of the National Human Rights Commission, set up by President Suharto in 1993, and other non-government organisations (NGOs) working in the field of human rights, a programme of contacts and training involving British police and other experts, and a new focus on human rights and good governance in British scholarships for Indonesians in Britain.

His Indonesian counterpart, Mr Ali Alatas, noting that some of the proposals had still to be discussed, said: "In general, I can say that efforts in concrete cooperation between two countries, especially on human rights, are welcomed."

Speaking at a separate press conference, he said Jakarta did not expect London to offer funds to illegal groups.

Mr Cook, who arrived here on Thursday, had said that he would also discuss the proposals with the human rights commission and representatives of six NGOs, including some that Jakarta considers illegal.

In his statement, he said while respect for human rights was a major theme of his first visit to Jakarta, he had also discussed the strengthening of commercial ties and cooperation on environmental protection in his meetings with Mr Suharto and Mr Alatas yesterday.

Britain was "by a long chalk" a leading European investor in Indonesia and its exports had increased by 1-1/2 times in the last five years. An Indonesia-Britain Business Council would be launched in a month's time to foster economic partnership, he noted.

But with Mr Cook's four-nation tour of South-east Asia billed by Whitehall as proof of the Labour government's determination to pursue a more ethical foreign policy, human rights was the only issue raised at his press conference.

The talks with Indonesian leaders had taken place in "a spirit of cooperation, not confrontation", he said, while indicating that no shift in positions had occured on either side.

On East Timor, he was proposing that the European Union, which Britain would preside over from January, should send a team of ambassadors to visit the troubled province.

He had telephoned East Timor Catholic Bishop and Nobel laureate Carlos Ximenes Felipe Belo on Thursday night and was told that the military presence there was "hardening", he added.

Underlying Britain's full support for the United Nations-sponsored dialogue on the former Portuguese colony, he said resolving the long-lasting conflict was not only of immediate benefit to East Timorese but of value to Indonesia too.

"This country is the fourth-largest in the world and the largest Muslim country. It is entitled to be centre stage in international institutions, such as the UN, but it will always be more difficult for the rest of the world to accord it that role so long as Indonesia is in breach of Security Council resolutions on East Timor," he said.

Six-point proposal

Continuing support for the Indonesian National Human Rights Commission. This includes training and funds for computers so it can develop and maintain its database on individual cases of concern. Support and funds for the Legal Aid Foundation, a non-government organisation, to maintain databases. 20 scholarships each year to students whose areas of study relate to human rights and good governance. Funding for three Indonesians to go to Oxford University to attend a course on International Human Rights Law next year. Lectures by British police experts on modern policing methods to take place in Indonesia.