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Robin Cook holds brief meeting with Indonesian NGOs

Tapol - September 6, 1997

During his visit to Indonesia on 29-30 August 1997, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook held a meeting with representatives of four Indonesian human rights NGOs. The meeting was extremely brief. Originally, it was to have lasted half an hour but this was reduced to fifteen minutes. Even so, Robin Cook arrived late. The four who attended the meeting were: Bambang Widjojanto, director of the legal aid foundation YLBHI, Goenawan Muhamad, former edited of the banned weekly TEMPO and director of ISAI, Tohap Simanungkalit, acting chairperson of the independent trade union SBSI, and Coki Naipospos of the political reform organisation, PIJAR. The meeting was limited to four because of the brevity of the meeting.

Although human rights was billed as one of the key issues to be raised by Robin Cook during his visit to Indonesia, his meeting with the human rights NGOs was hardly mentioned at all in the publicity associated with the visit.

The following is a report of the meeting by Coki Naipospos of PIJAR:

Robin Cook started by asking two questions: what are the worst human rights violations in Indonesia at present and what can the British Government do to help bring about an improvement in the human rights situation in Indonesia.

Goenawan began by saying that the lack of freedom of association is the most serious violation, while Bambang and Tohap spoke about the new Labour Law shortly to be enacted which is much worse than current labour legislation. Coki stressed that there were a great number of human rights violations which he would have liked to raise but he focused on the many 1965 political prisoners who have spent more than 30 years in prison. He then went on to say that he thought it would be best to concentrate on what the British Government ought to be doing.

Cook than spoke about his six-point human rights initiative the contents of which have been reported widely in the press: supporting the National Human Rights Commission with books and computers, giving computers to the YLBHI, the provision of scholarships for Indonesians to study human rights in the UK, and giving training to members of the Indonesian police force.

Commenting on the British plan to train the Indonesian police, Goenawan said that this was useless because the police are part of the apparatus of violence. There is not a shred of evidence to show that training will result in any change in the behaviour of this apparatus of violence, he said. He pointed out that US training of Indonesian police officers had not made any difference. Jokingly he asked why the British government didn't consider giving NGOs training on how to conduct demonstrations. Cook then explained the British Government's criteria for the export of arms to Indonesia and other countries. His said the government would implement tighter criteria on the sale of military equipment to authoritarian governments, but he did not explain what the criteria were, only that arms exports would be reviewed if the recipient government was proven to have used them to repress the population. When he asked for comments, Goenawan and Coki said that the Indonesian people would gain nothing at all from the sale of military equipment to Indonesia and stressed that arms sales to Indonesia should be halted.

The NGO representatives also stressed the importance of the British Government giving support to civil society and the NGOs in Indonesia as a way of balancing the relations between the Indonesian and British governments. Cook did not comment on this, probably because earlier in the day Alatas had issued a warning to Britain not to give any assistance to 'illegal groups'.

After the meeting between Cook and Ali Alatas earlier that day, Indonesian journalists had pressed Robin Cook hard to explain why he was prepared to have a meeting with organisations like the SBSI and PIJAR which are regarded by the Indonesian government as illegal.