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Indonesia: UN experts urge accountability after violent intimidation of human rights defenders at water forum event

30 May 2024

GENEVA (30 May 2024) – UN independent experts said today they were deeply disturbed by reports of threats and intimidation towards human rights and water defenders, civil society organisations and academics that compelled the cancellation of the People’s Water Forum (PWF), a parallel event to the World Water Forum (WWF) in Bali that took place 18-25 May.

“We received reports that the local organisers of the PWF have been harassed and intimidated by several actors, including the police and the army, since the beginning of May,” the experts said.

On 21 May, masked individuals violently interrupted a PWF press conference. They surrounded the hotel where some 40 Indonesian human rights and water defenders and civil society members were staying, preventing them from leaving the premises and accessing food, water and other essentials.

“The fact that the group was able to storm the hotel and hold activists hostage, with the acquiescence of the police stationed outside the hotel, as the Special Rapporteur on safe drinking water and sanitation witnessed in person, lends particular gravity to the events,” the experts said.

The PWF was cancelled after professors and university institutions were also pressured to withdraw their offer of premises for PWF related activities. “This is the first time in 20 years that the PWF, organised by civil society, has been cancelled,” the experts said.

“It’s deplorable and we have urged the Indonesian authorities to hold those responsible accountable and protect the human rights defenders in line with human rights standards.”

The PWF, a worldwide platform for water justice movements, provides an alternative space to the triennial World Water Forum, an event attended by heads of state, international organisations, government officials, scholars, businesses and economists to address water and sanitation challenges, and which, according to the PWF, lacks plurality and democracy.

“Until now, while both forums took very different approaches, they could be held alongside with mutual respect. This balance has now been broken. Critical views should be allowed and respected in every democratic society,” the experts said.

Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, who had been invited to the PWF, also faced harassment and intimidation throughout his stay in Bali, especially when he tried to visit Indonesian human rights and water defenders held hostage in the hotel where they were staying.

“Special Procedures mandate holders should be able to implement their mandate without any fear of intimidation and get support in their effort to implement their mandate,” the UN experts said.

“We express great concern about the chilling message that harassment and intimidation send to all those wishing to express critical views.”

The experts said they were particularly concerned about the risks local organisers and academics will face now that international actors have left the country.

“It is the government’s duty to guarantee the safety of everyone, including Indonesian activists and human rights and water defenders, and to ensure that they can carry out their human rights work and exercise their rights to peaceful assembly and association.”

Special Procedures mandate holders have contacted the government of Indonesia on the issues.

*The experts: Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation; Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders ; Gina Romero, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work voluntarily; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

For further information and media requests, please contact María Acosta Lazo (marí[email protected]).

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact Dharisha Indraguptha ([email protected]) or John Newland ([email protected])

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