A. Muh. Ibnu Aqil, Jakarta – Indonesia was put on the defensive at a United Nations human rights review on Wednesday as countries spotlighted persistent political violence in Papua and anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) policies, among other issues.
In its national report for the UN Human Rights Council's (HRC) 41st Universal Periodic Review, Indonesia highlighted its achievements in protecting human rights amid the COVID-19 pandemic, enacting pro-human rights legislation and supporting minority groups.
The countries conducting the review at the UN headquarters in Geneva raised concerns about rights violations in Papua, citing reports of escalating violence, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and restrictions on independent observers and the press.
They recommended that Jakarta accept a visit of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to Papua and conduct investigations into extrajudicial killings and human rights violations in the restive region.
In response, the Foreign Ministry's director for human rights, Achsanul Habib, asserted that Papua was an integral part of Indonesia according to international law and that the region faced security challenges from "armed separatist groups".
"Critical infrastructure, human development, peace and security continue to be undermined by terrorist acts committed by these groups, who have intensified attacks against civilians and critical infrastructure since 2018," Habib said on Wednesday, as broadcast by UN Web TV.
Meanwhile, Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly said President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's administration had prioritized accelerating development and welfare in Papua.
Some countries recommended that Indonesia take steps to abolish the death penalty by placing a moratorium on state executions and by commuting the sentences of people on death row.
They also encouraged the country to ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Minister Yasonna said the government had responded that the death penalty was still the law of the land and that debates in the executive and legislature had shown that most were in favor of keeping it.
He noted that revisions to the Criminal Code under discussion in the legislature would introduce a "middle way" in which the death penalty would serve as an "alternative punishment" that could be commuted to life in prison following an evaluation 10 years after sentencing.
"We hope that with this middle way, our approach to the issue of the death penalty can be accepted by international society," Yasonna said during an online press conference streamed from Geneva on Wednesday.
Several countries also raised concerns over "negative developments" for the LGBTQ community and recommended that Indonesia revise laws that enshrined discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
The UN review session, Indonesia's fourth, also highlighted the country's human rights achievements, citing the enactment of the 2022 Sexual Violence Law and the 2019 revision of the Marriage Law, which raised the minimum marrying age for women to 19 years old, equal to men.
Human Rights Watch researcher Andreas Harsono said Indonesia had been "defensive" in response to concerns raised over Papua and had argued that armed resistance was nothing new in the region, as it had been going on since the 1960s. "That should not legitimize closing Papua off by making it harder for UN observers to visit," Andreas told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.
He added that Indonesia's measures against armed resistance in Papua had been "excessive" and that the division of the area into five provinces would create new problems instead of settling them. Andreas also said the government's reasoning for keeping death penalty was "unsatisfactory". "However, the fact that giving out the death penalty would be harder [under the revised Criminal Code] is still a step forward.
It's not enough, but at least there is an awareness that law enforcement can make mistakes," he said. Meanwhile, a group of civil society organizations urged the government to accept and follow up on all the recommendations it had received during the human rights review session.
"The [review] session is an evaluation of accountability of Indonesia's human rights commitments. This mechanism should not become a tool for Indonesia to create an image that Indonesia has been human rights friendly," the group said in a statement.