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Opening remarks by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein at a press conference during his mission to Indonesia

Jakarta, 7 February 2018 

I would like to begin by thanking President Joko Widodo and the Government of Indonesia for inviting us to visit this remarkable, diverse country. Inviting us is, in itself, a testament to how seriously a State takes its human rights obligations. It demonstrates an openness to constructive dialogue and the willingness to collaborate to ensure the promotion and protection of the human rights of all. All countries have human rights obligations and many have achieved a great deal but all, without exception, have human rights challenges to grapple with.

During my visit, I have listened attentively to voices from across Indonesian society. I had the honour of meeting President Widodo and several other high-level officials, national human rights institutions and civil society members working on a wide range of issues in this vast archipelago of more than 17,000 islands.

I am also grateful to the robust and dynamic representatives of civil society, some of whom travelled long distances to share their experiences and raise their voices in defence of their rights and those of their communities.

The farmer who spoke about her rights to land and her fear of dispossession due to extractive industries. The father from Papua whose son was shot. The wife of a human rights defender who was poisoned in 2004 but the authors of his murder remain at large. The minority worshippers who want their place to pray. The mother who, 20 years after she lost a child during the 1998 violence in Jakarta, still pines for him. The elderly woman who is fighting for justice 53 years after she was imprisoned and stigmatised as a “communist” during the 1965 tragedy. And the lawyer who has seen up close the judicial injustice that is the death penalty. They all asked me to help amplify their voices, and I thank them for their tenacity and grit and salute their courage.

I have raised in my meetings with the Government all of the situations they highlighted and will share with you in a moment my observations and recommendations.

But first, let us take stock of the achievements of the people of Indonesia. Indonesia has come a long way in a short time. Having emerged from more than 300 years of colonial occupation, followed by decades of restricted civil liberties, Indonesia has, since 1998, managed to transition to democracy and couple it with strong economic growth. Today, Indonesia is one of the most progressive States in the region on human rights. Its active engagement regarding the plight of the Rohingya Muslims is commendable and much needed.

The Government has embraced the Sustainable Development Goals, incorporating them into its National Human Rights Action Plan. Indonesia also has made considerable progress on the realisation of the right to health, expanding universal health coverage. And it has provided the space and resources for Komnas Ham and Komnas Perempuan to be strong, independent national human rights institutions. I encourage the Government to ensure that the important recommendations made by these institutions are implemented.

There are two important pieces of draft legislation that have been introduced to parliament that recognise and protect the rights of indigenous people and provide essential protection for victims of sexual and gender-based violence. I urge parliament to pass these important bills.

Indonesia has enjoyed continuous economic growth for several years and has a wealth of natural and human resources. However not all Indonesians have benefited from the dividends. The true measure of development and economic growth should be its impact on the most vulnerable, those who have the least to begin with. The President has taken many positive steps towards social equity. Nevertheless, gaps remain in the protection of the economic and social rights of Indonesians. Severe malnutrition has been reported in remote areas of the country, including in the highlands of Papua, and many still struggle with poverty and preventable diseases.

Civil society actors have told us how, from the islands of Sumatra to Papua, mining and logging by large corporations have been a source of serious human rights violations against farmers, workers and indigenous communities. By and large, these projects are approved and implemented without meaningful consultation with the local communities. Land grabbing, environmental degradation, contamination of water supplies and resulting health hazards have ensued. Having lost control over their natural resources to corporations that wield enormous power, people spoke to me about their great frustration. There is a clear need for inclusive dialogue and consultation and such projects must not be undertaken without the free, fair and informed consent of the affected communities. Civil society estimates suggest that some 200 land rights and environmental defenders were facing criminal charges as of August last year.

As I said at the Jakarta Conversation regional human rights conference on Monday, development can certainly bring with it access to fundamental services and goods that vastly improve many people's well-being. But if they cannot voice their concerns and participate in decisions, the resulting development may not increase their welfare. I urge the Government of Indonesia and the corporations involved in the extraction of natural resources, plantations and large-scale fisheries, to abide by the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights by ensuring that business activities are not carried out in violation of people’s rights.

I also appeal to the Government to ensure the protection of human rights defenders, in particular those advocating on land and environmental issues, and to see to it that they are not penalised or prosecuted for their exercise of the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

I am also concerned about increasing reports of the excessive use of force by security forces, harassment, arbitrary arrests and detentions in Papua.

I am greatly concerned about the discussions around revisions to the penal code.

These discussions betray strains of intolerance seemingly alien to Indonesian culture that have made inroads here. The extremist views playing out in the political arena are deeply worrying, accompanied as they are by rising levels of incitement to discrimination, hatred or violence in various parts of the country, including Aceh.

At a time when it is consolidating its democratic gains, we urge Indonesians to move forward – not backwards – on human rights and resist attempts to introduce new forms of discrimination in law. Because these proposed amendments will in effect criminalise large sections of the poor and marginalised, they are inherently discriminatory. LGBTI Indonesians already face increasing stigma, threats and intimidation. The hateful rhetoric against this community that is being cultivated seemingly for cynical political purposes will only deepen their suffering and create unnecessary divisions.

Moreover, should the penal code be revised with some of the more discriminatory provisions, it will seriously impede the Government’s efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, and would run counter to its international human rights obligations.  In a similar vein, I have also expressed to the Government my concerns about the implementation of the ill-defined blasphemy law, which has been used to convict members of minority religious or faith groups.

If we expect not to be discriminated against on the basis of our religious beliefs, colour, race or gender, if Muslim societies expect others to fight against Islamophobia, we should be prepared to end discrimination at home too. Islamophobia is wrong. Discrimination on the basis of religious beliefs and colour is wrong. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or any other status is wrong.

My Office last year brought together a diverse group of religious scholars and other faith-based and civil society actors in Beirut who articulated a “Faith for Rights” framework to set out the role of “Faith” in standing up for “Rights”. This Faith for Rights Declaration draws upon the common commitment in all religions and beliefs to “upholding the dignity and the equal worth of all human beings”, mirroring Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It affirms that “violence in the name of religion defeats its basic foundations, mercy and compassion” and sets out the responsibilities of religious communities, their leaders and followers to ensure that no one is subjected to discrimination by anyone.

The imperative to uphold the dignity of all human beings is also crucial in dealing with the difficult issues of drug-related crimes. Drugs can destroy individual lives, entire families and communities, but shooting dead suspected drug offenders is not the way to tackle this problem. Everyone has the right to a fair judicial process. All allegations of excessive, even lethal, use of force against suspected drug offenders also must be investigated. No judiciary is mistake-free and research shows that capital punishment is ineffective as a deterrent as well as being disproportionately applied against already disadvantaged communities. I have urged the Government to halt the use of the death penalty against those convicted of drug offences. Human rights jurisprudence has repeatedly affirmed that drug-related crimes do not fall within the category of most serious offences.

I would also like to urge the Indonesian Government to take steps towards accountability for the gross human rights violations of the past. This is a delicate but crucial undertaking.

Almost all countries have an extremely difficult time dealing with the darkest periods of their respective pasts, but it must be done. As one senior official told me, Indonesia is still stuck in 1965 – unable to reckon with the terrible events that took place then, including the killings of at least 500,000 people accused of being communists, and the detention of many more. But this country can move on – through truth-telling, reconciliation, investigations and prosecutions. The national human rights institution, Komnas Ham, has highlighted nine key cases of gross rights violations between 1965 and 2003 that need to be resolved. I urge the Attorney-General to tackle these cases, in particular by bringing the perpetrators to justice and affording victims long-overdue redress as a matter of priority.

When my predecessor as High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, visited Indonesia in 2012, she said she saw a country that showed great promise in transforming itself into a vibrant democracy. In many ways, Indonesia is living up to this promise. But of course all States are fragile and all of them works in progress. This country is no exception. There are some dark clouds on the horizon but I am encouraged by the positive momentum and hope the common sense and strong tradition of tolerance of the Indonesian people will prevail over populism and political opportunism.

I hope that during this 70th year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Indonesia will go from strength to strength in advancing the rights of its people. I also hope my visit has set the stage for strengthened cooperation between my Office and the Government and people of Indonesia. In the course of our discussions over the past two days, the Government of Indonesia invited us to visit Papua and we will send a mission soon. I thank the Government for its invitation.

My representative in the UN Human Rights Regional Office in Bangkok will continue to build upon our partnership to do what we can to assist Indonesia in consolidating and furthering its human rights gains.

Thank you.