New human rights commissioners face uphill battle in Indonesia

Observers are counting on the new commissioners to bring major breakthroughs in the monitoring and handling of rights abuse cases, especially with unresolved violations.

Nur Janti

Nur Janti

The Jakarta Post


Human rights activists hold a rally in front of the State Palace in Jakarta, demanding justice for past human rights abuses in this undated photo.(The Jakarta Post/Dhoni Setiawan)

October 6, 2022

JAKARTA – With a backlog of unresolved human rights violations and continuing violence in Papua, the nine new National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) members approved on Tuesday have their work cut out for them.

They were confirmed in a House of Representatives plenary meeting after being interviewed and selected the day before by lawmakers on House Commission III overseeing legal affairs. Commission III had chosen the nominees out of a pool of 14 candidates previously vetted by an independent panel.

Lawmakers named scholar and women’s rights defender Atnike Nova Sigiro the chair of Komnas HAM, making her the first woman to lead the commission.

Migrant worker rights defender Anis Hidayah, legal aid lawyer Hari Kurniawan, agrarian researcher Saurlin P Siagian and Uli Parulian Sihombing, a director of an NGO focused on law, are among the new commissioners. The others are General Elections Commission (KPU) commissioner Pramono Ubaid Tanthowi, former Witness and Victim Protection Agency (LPSK) chairman Abdul Haris Semendawai, Indonesian Child Protection Commission (KPAI) commissioner Putu Elvina and Prabianto Mukti Wibowo, the assistant deputy for forestry at the Office of the Coordinating Economic Minister.

They have been appointed for a term of five years from November.

“For the chair, we agreed to choose Atnike Nova Sigiro to demonstrate affirmative action for women,” Commission III chairman Bambang Wuryanto of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) said during a meeting to select the new commissioners on Monday.

Two incumbent commissioners – Amiruddin and Beka Ulung Hapsara – were among the 14 nominees, but they failed to get lawmakers’ approval for a second term.

Human rights group the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), which kept tabs on the selection process, claimed three commissioners were “competent” to handle human rights cases, three others were “competent with a caveat” and the remaining three were red-flagged.

Atnike, one of the new commissioners deemed fully competent by Kontras, is a longtime activist and scholar with numerous publications on women’s issues and human rights. She led feminist publication Jurnal Perempuan from 2017 to 2021.

The two other commissioners who got full marks from Kontras are Saurlin P Siagian, whose career has focused on agrarian issues, and Hari Kurniawan, who is a lawyer focused on the fulfillment of disability rights. Hari himself is a disabled person.

“He is an outstanding [candidate]. He has deep knowledge and wide experience [in human rights issues],“ Rozy Brilian Sodik of Kontras said.

The red-flagged names were Pramono, who was reprimanded for an ethics violation in 2020 while he was a KPU commissioner, as well as Prabianto and Putu, whose understanding of human rights issues Kontras called into question.

House Commission III member Pangeran Khaerul Saleh of the National Mandate Party (PAN) called on the new commissioners to keep in line with their mandate.

“[They should] not look for public attention when there is a big case, especially if it’s not their duty,” he said, referring to the Komnas HAM investigation of the murder of Brigadier Nofriansyah Yosua Hutabarat, which Pangeran said was “conducting an investigation outside their duty”.

Challenges ahead

Activists and observers are counting on the new commissioners to bring major breakthroughs in the monitoring and handling of rights abuse cases, especially with regard to incidents in Papua and past violations that remain unresolved.

Ati Nurbaiti, cofounder of feminist organization Solidaritas Perempuan, said the new commissioners should seek to improve the body’s ability to handle human rights cases in Papua and ensure that the government upholds the right to information in the region and gives free access to journalists to report on Papua.

“They should improve their lobbying with the government to ensure more access to information,” she said.

She added that the incoming commissioners should maintain their independence as custodians of human rights, instead of taking sides with the government when it prioritized approaches that relied on security forces.

Kontras’ Rozy hoped that the new commissioners would make special efforts to resolve past rights violations.

Komnas HAM has declared 12 past atrocities in the country gross human rights violations but has only managed to bring one case – the 2014 Bloody Paniai incident – before a human rights tribunal. The trial over the abuses in Paniai, Papua, began late last month,

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