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Human rights begin at home

Jakarta Post Editorial - April 5, 2023

Jakarta – Securing Indonesia's reelection as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for another three years and, more importantly, demonstrating that we are serious as a nation about enacting the council's long list of recommendations should be top priorities for the government this year.

As Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said in a speech at the UNHRC's recent annual meeting in Geneva, the government must show that it truly intends to contribute to the global effort to end wars and conflicts in countries such as Myanmar, Ukraine and Afghanistan.

But it must also prove that human rights activists at home and abroad are wrong to say that Indonesia is seeking another term on the council only to conceal its rampant human rights violations at home. The government must make it clear that it has no intent to abuse the position to deflect criticism.

Indonesia is widely regarded as the world's third-largest democracy, behind India and the United States, but in terms of human rights, we still fail to meet many of the standards set by liberal democracies.

At the UNHRC's annual meeting, which ended on Tuesday, the council adopted Indonesia's fourth cycle Universal Periodic Report (UPR), which addresses the country's progress in advancing human rights. Of the 269 recommendations submitted, Indonesia supported 205 of them, but 59 of them were simply noted. The government added qualifications to five other recommendations.

The council recommended that Indonesia ratify and make available international instruments such as the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which the country still opposes. Additionally, it called for Indonesia to take stronger action to advance environmental human rights, equality and non-discrimination, the elimination of torture and other forms of cruelty, the administration of justice and fair trials, the freedom of expression and access to information.

The council advised the country to address issues of human trafficking, modern-day slavery, social security rights, the right to an adequate standard of living, human rights and poverty, as well as issues of violence against women, discrimination against people with disabilities and the right to health.

Freedom of speech, conscience and religion, as well as human trafficking and modern slavery, are some of the most prominent examples of serious ongoing issues in the country. We continue to struggle to protect religious and racial minorities and eliminate discrimination based on gender.

However, Indonesia rejected a proposal on the right to self-determination, which the government likely felt would have provided support for the independence aspirations of Papua. Many Papuans do not feel like Indonesian citizens or part of Indonesia. This alienation will keep growing so long as the national and local governments maintain their oppressive and discriminatory policies.

There have been requests from within the country for the Foreign Ministry to do more to fend off outside criticism and convince the world of Indonesia's human rights bona fides. But the truth is that Indonesia's diplomatic efforts to this end will be ineffective as long as human rights violations remain rampant in the country. No matter how skillful or smart our diplomats are, their work will be useless if domestic conditions continue to deteriorate.

The world won't be persuaded until Indonesia demonstrates real improvement on a number of fundamental issues, including the protection of minorities, the freedom of religion and expression and freedom from state coercion and intimidation. Despite the fact that the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, minority religious groups still face difficulties in building their places of worship and practicing their beliefs, as demonstrated by recent incidents in Kulon Progo regency in Yogyakarta and Purwakarta regency in West Java.

Indonesia should be able to walk the talk and prove at next year's session that it has made significant progress in implementing the council's recommendations.

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/opinion/2023/04/04/human-rights-begin-at-home.htm