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Long way to go to human rights protection

Jakarta Post - December 10, 1997

Jakarta – The excessive use of force along with the neglect of civil and political rights remained a disturbing feature throughout the year, a leading rights group said in its year end assessment here yesterday.

The Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM) said in its 1997 human rights assessment that given the current climate, there was still a long way to go to better human rights promotion and protection in Indonesia. "Although high ranking officials here have acknowledged the importance of human rights, in the daily practice we must admit that there are still many violations," ELSAM's chairman Abdul Hakim Garuda Nusantara told journalists.

ELSAM's report coincides with the 49th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights today. Hakim said the violations varied from the excessive use of force by security officials to violations on the right to a fair trial and right of freedom of assembly. In a four-page report which was accompanied by a 21-page appendix, ELSAM criticized security officials' customary use of force.

Criminologist Levy who was recruited by ELSAM to help with the report said that firearms were frequently used in situations which did not require coercive measures.

"Looking at this tendency, it can be said that the use of firearms and coercive measures has become a pattern, whether it is in handling demonstrations, unrest or criminal cases," the report said.

ELSAM therefore called for the formulation of a national guideline or code of conduct on the use of firearms and assault weapons used by security officials. The report also lamented continued limitations on the freedom of assembly.

The report outlined no less than five major events which were either stopped or banned by authorities this year. Among the latest cases was the recent banning of a play on slain labor activist Marsinah in Surabaya and Bandung. "In short, this shows that the control and restrictions on the activities of societal organizations is continuing," the report noted.

ELSAM further condemned what they perceived to be a string of "political trials" such as proceedings on the 1996 Tasikmalaya riot and the trials against the student movement in support of labor demands in Jombang, East Java. "We see that in these cases there is a tendency to use the court as an instrument of deterrence, whether it is to merely embarrass the suspect or frighten the public," the report said.

Hakim said better human rights protection required a strengthening of the National Commission on Human Rights' authority. "We noticed that many of its recommendations have not been carried out by the government."

Gustaf Dupe, secretary of the Protestant Church's Working Group for Service to Prisoners, highlighted the issue of political prisoners, particularly those imprisoned for being members of the now banned Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). In a statement signed together with Bonar Tigor Naipospos of the Manusia Indonesia untak Kemanusiaun and - Mindo Rajagukguk of the Yayasan Hidup Baru, Dupe called on the government to rehabilitate the civil rights of all PKI ex-convicts and their families.