December 15, 2023
JAKARTA – Human rights defenders have slammed the presidential candidates for lacking to provide concrete policies to address Indonesia’s human rights problems, including the conflicts in Papua and the long-standing culture of police impunity in the country, during the first election debate earlier this week.
Tuesday’s debate marked the start of a series of five of presidential and vice presidential debates. Covering the topics of democracy, human rights and corruption eradication, all three presidential candidates – Anies Baswedan, Prabowo Subianto and Ganjar Pranowo – reaffirmed their commitment to upholding human rights. Observers, however, have deemed their statements to be little more than lip service.
“All three presidential candidates promised to uphold human rights, that’s good. But what are their concrete policies going forward?” Amnesty International Indonesia executive director Usman Hamid said in a statement on Wednesday.
Echoing Usman, rights group the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) said in a statement on Wednesday that none of the three candidates had managed to “fully explain their ideas, vision, mission and programs to resolve human rights problems, including in Papua”.
Under President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s administration, the country’s easternmost region has seen escalating tensions in recent months, sparked by the kidnapping of New Zealand pilot Philip Mehrtens by separatist groups in February.
The government has also been accused of sacrificing local communities’ rights in favor of advancing development with its national strategic projects, such as the projects in Rempang in Riau Islands and Air Bangis in West Sumatra.
“Rights violations as a result of a pro-investment approach to [economic] development at the expense of civilians […] were not properly addressed, when in fact, [all three presidential candidates] should have explained how they plan to advance social welfare through development, without sacrificing citizens’ human rights,” Usman of Amnesty Indonesia said.
Addressing the root problems
Usman went on to say that all three presidential candidates failed to address the underlying issues behind Indonesia’s string of human rights violations: the limited authority of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) and police and military impunity.
“For the past 10 years, it has been clear to see that Komnas HAM [has operated] without the support of the government or the House of Representatives. That’s why dozens of cases ended up without any clear or fair resolution, such as the Kanjuruhan tragedy and the KM 50 shooting,” Usman said.
He was referring to the death of more than 130 people in a stampede at Kanjuruhan stadium in 2022 that was precipitated by these unwarranted use of tear gas by police, and the deaths of six Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) members in a fatal shootout with the police at the Jakarta-Cikampek toll road in 2020. Two police officers were acquitted in the case in 2022.
While both events were mentioned by Ganjar and Anies during their debate segments, Kontras said that neither managed to “capture” the true extent of these incidents.
“None of the presidential candidates explained that the main problem of the two tragedies was the culture of violence within the police. Over the years, the police appeared to have resorted to excessive and brutal actions, resulting in members of the public becoming victims,” Kontras said.
One of the highlights of Tuesday’s debate, particularly regarding where each candidate stands on human rights, saw Ganjar ask Prabowo whether he had strategies to resolve 12 past gross human rights violations.
The former Army general responded that some of the cases had been solved in 2009 by Mahfud MD, who is now running as Ganjar’s VP candidate.
Ganjar was then asked by Anies about his thoughts regarding the Kanjuruhan incident and the KM 50 shooting, to which Ganjar said that a legal resolution and fact-finding process for these incidents would be possible.