The dawn of human rights era in developing countries: The case of Indonesia
They must adopt and apply vast established social principles, including human rights, in a very tight time frame, like only in a few decades — if not just several years. Whereas the West successfully developed and applied those principles after several centuries.
Many developing countries are these days focusing on integrating human rights values into their routines. These countries are set to understand and implement the principles in a speedy time especially in the era of post-colonial, which were developed arguably initially in the West within centuries. A developing country, Indonesia, is no exception as it keeps on trying to immerse most of its government processes into the human rights atmosphere. The issues of West Papua have become a significant focus of the international community on seeing whether Indonesia has been understanding and incorporating human rights principles into their government processes.
The start of the era of openness
Indonesia faced a big bang of a completely new era when the 1998 Reformasi broke out. The demand for transparency in all government processes and the acknowledgment of human rights principles were a significant agenda of the Reformasi. All of a sudden, the national authority was devolved. Indonesia also witnessed the birth of many government watchdog organizations including those of human rights advocacy groups.
One department that gained so much attention was the security forces, including the National military Forces (TNI) and the Police (POLRI). They were forced to transform from superpower, untouched bodies to become publicly accessible department where the public could monitor and evaluate their work at any time. One significant change was they were, inexorably, forced to get introduced to and to adopt the principles of human rights.
Western civilization developed the current human rights values and principles for centuries. As for now, they are considered the ones that best safeguard the principles. But, one should never forget that they were once cruelly snatched away the freedom of many nations by colonizing them. As they realized their horrific mistakes in the past, they are forcing developing countries (which are mostly ex-colonies) to catch up in understanding and navigating issues related to human rights.
Indonesia, as one of those ex-colonies, has continuously been in the global spotlight for its alleged human rights violations in many parts of its territory. The most recent one is related to issues of West Papua including the debate whether the region should be independent of its ‘hinterland’.
Many raise their opinions that the human rights situation in Indonesia is worsening concerning that violence keeps happening in West Papua and some other parts of the country. Many human rights organizations and individuals are now freely talking and uncovering the gruesome memories from the past.
Cases that happened before the Reformasi like alleged kidnappings and shootings undertaken by the security forces keep coming up, being discussed in many seminars and forums. The government and its security forces often become the ones to blame, critique and even cuss out.
The local principles of human rights
Indonesia is actually not unfamiliar with principles that uphold the current human right framework. It has Pancasila and the 1945 constitution, which guarantees freedom and justice for all. After the Reformasi, Indonesia also passed a human rights law, which also covers most of the human rights principles which are internationally admitted.
But implementation is an entirely different matter than that regulatory or policy making, of course. One should see that the presence of human rights-based laws and regulations is a significant, positive step for Indonesia to advance in the realm of human rights.
The question, then, is why a lot of entities still think that human rights acknowledgment is worsening? Why can’t they see the positive step the country already developed and worked on helping it advance?
The progressing situation in human rights in Indonesia has been acknowledged both at home and abroad. As mentioned above, the enactment of the laws and regulations and the increasing number of non-military figures taking leadership are seen as a positive milestone (AII, 2018). Furthermore, as also mentioned previously, human rights organizations are burgeoning in Indonesia. They have been part of a significant watchdog society, including the National Commission for Human Rights (Komnas HAM) and Amnesty International Indonesia.
Debates and frictions with the government are, of course, here and there. But, almost no one denies that they are now present in Indonesia, especially after the Reformasi, without being feared of potential oppression or dissolution by the government.
We emphasize the Reformasi era because it is all about the progress after that momentum. Before the 1998 revolution, Indonesia was under a dictatorial-military rule where human rights might be an agenda, but they were never a significant one. A few years after the Reformasi, violence related to human rights was still happening like a few inter ethnicities bloody conflicts and the murder of Munir, a once-respected human rights lawyer.
But as time progresses, things are becoming more open and arguably better, even though, of course, still far from perfect. Now many advocacy groups are actively advocating their communities and their pertinent issues ranging from rights of the land, child protection, to climate change and human rights.
In 2018, The United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet expressed her appreciation towards the progress on human rights implementation in Indonesia. Republika writes that the UN HR chief believed that Indonesia is a dynamic country, with active democracy practice and a substantial role in the region.
“The Indonesian government has carried out a number of positive measures in the human rights sector, including on rights of land, environmental rights, the impact of climate change on human rights, as well as the criminal code revision process that is being pursued,” as quoted by Republika (2018).
Bring up the UN HR chief’s statement above may be a bit controversial in recent times because many would strongly disagree. The main argument lies in the recent outbreaks in West Papua that have been igniting the current serious debate internationally.
In the era of open media like social media, graphic videos, and photos especially about how Indonesian security forces mistreat West Papuans circulate in a speed of light without proper research or investigation. As a result, people, especially those of the above watchdog community, keep on questioning whether Indonesia is serious in implementing and adopting the principles of human rights.
Debates over matters like whether Indonesia deliberately killed 500 thousand of West Papuans over the decades, (which the source of the number has also been debatable) and how the freedom fighters mercilessly murdered innocent civilians in the last two massacres in Nduga and Wamena, of course, do not seem to be over or seen through soon.
So, just for a moment, let us think about how Indonesian especially the security forces, can adopt and implement human rights values and principles in all their security measurements. Before going too far, let us ask a question: have these security forces been well-exposed to human rights-related understanding?
What has been happening since the Reformasi is unfortunately super poor communication and mutual understanding among stakeholders in human rights matters regarding the issues of West Papua. Collaborative work and actions are a scarce occasion.
One the one end, the security forces (the TNI and POLRI), have, in fact, been trying to understand and adopt the human rights principles on their own. After the last Surabaya incident, a few people have been arrested as they provoked racism against their fellow West Papuans. Furthermore, at least five security forces member have been detained and suspended. However, due to their prolonged, established-structural tradition, the adoption has been quite slow, as their internal transformation includes many other agendas.
On the other end, the government watchdog community keeps on developing knowledge and understanding of the progressing framework of human rights, while accusing the security forces are allegedly developing impunity. The community indeed have the most advanced measures to evaluate human rights implementation. It is believed that every person is free to express their opinion and political expression. However, these established understandings have never gotten tabled on the transformation agenda by the government, especially the security forces.
Analysis on the recent arrest at Fakfak Regency, West Papua
Let us look at the recent arrest made by the Indonesian security forces at Fakfak regency. Many people of West Papuan ethnicity were arrested as they were allegedly set to force an agenda of the Morning Star flag raising at the regent’s office. As captured, it was found that they brought along sharp weapons which were potentially to harm both civilians and security officers. These people then were stripped topless and laid down on the ground with hand-tied for questioning.
Sounds inhumane, doesn’t it? The photo of them being stripped topless and pushed to the ground circulated fast. People quickly criticized how inhumane they were treated. However, the part that they were a potential threat to social safety was not that much highlighted.
Many watchdog organizations and individuals condemned what happened to their fellow West Papuans who deserved better treatment while arrested. We also, of course, condemned it! And, every educated person would do so. Every person in this world should never deserve to be treated like that.
But with the context of Indonesia as a developing country, one should think more thoroughly to understand the situation.
The security forces, as reported by the media, argue that such a condition was very complicated, and they focused on the potential bigger anarchism which should be subdued immediately. The ‘inhumane’ measurement was taken to secure the area and the society there, as those people arrested were bringing weapons like bows and arrows.
One can see how different perspectives were used in examining the unfortunate treatment during the arrest. The security personnel seem to have little or no exposure to the principles of human rights. Meanwhile, the human rights advocators used their developed standards of human rights in understanding and judging the situation.
Help expose the government to human rights principles
As argued above, in the end, it is all a matter of weak communication and connection between people from the two different groups. If perspectives were languages, these contesting entities argued with one another using different languages that they did not know each other.
Law enforcement in Indonesia, of course, can never be compared with law enforcement in Western countries which have different social and cultural characteristics. However, a mutual connection should establish the necessary bridge to enable mutual understanding and even collaboration between those who are less and those more exposed to human rights values and principles.
Practically, human rights fighters should be willing to knock on the door and start to establish friendly discussions and forums with the government, especially the security forces. Why should the human rights people take the first step? It is merely because they are the ones that best know about human rights matter and its ramifications. Meanwhile, the security forces are weakly exposed to those principles.
We all know that talking with the government, especially bureaucrats both from civil and military sectors, is a pain in the butt. But if we would die for safeguarding the human rights principles and criticizing the government, why not work hard on developing better understanding and adoption of human rights among government officers, especially those of the security forces. This connection is essential to be undertaken in the pursuit of further human-rights-based government processes and security-related actions.
Focus on collaborative actions
Henry Kissinger (1998) wrote that post-colonial countries are continuously in a problematic, complicated political situation. They must adopt and apply vast established social principles, including human rights, in a very tight time frame, like only in a few decades — if not just several years. Whereas the West successfully developed and applied those principles after several centuries.
This piece is not and never a rationalization or justification of the many unfortunate occurrences related to human rights violations across Indonesia, especially in West Papua. As you may have read this far, it gives us a new perspective that more focuses collaborative work between the government especially the security forces and the human rights and watchdog community should be seriously considered.
Indonesia, in fact, has been a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council for the 2020–2022 term. Although, this is not the first time for Indonesia on the council, as this is the country’s fifth term at the table. Safeguarding and advocating human rights at home and abroad, of course, is part of the task.
This momentum should be seen by the watchdog community to bring the Indonesian government to friendly meetings and dialogs about how human rights in Indonesia can keep improving. The community should be very relentlessly active in developing communication with the government to help the officers exposed to human rights principles. Relevant to what Kissinger argues, the complexity within the government may as well cause the slow adoption of human rights principles. Thus, the collaborative work as discussed in this entire piece is necessary.
Indonesia has endeavored to accommodate and safeguard human rights at home, for example, by giving a full right only West Papuan natives to take the top leadership there as governors and mayors or regents. Many, though, oppose the policy because it is seen as unfair because West Papuans can also become leaders in other provinces or regions. But Indonesia is firm on this matter as the Special Autonomy, which regulates the policy, is applied in respect to the principle of equity.
In this sense, pertaining to the local complexity, West Papuans are the ones that must be granted full responsibility to regulate their own people and lands. Affirmative actions and policies are also well-provided for those who need them in Indonesia, including West Papuans. For example, scholarship opportunities are provided more for West Papuans than Javanese.
For sure, this all is a very first step to better human rights in Indonesia. It is part of, probably, thousands of other further steps that must be taken to see an Indonesia, including West Papua, that is free from any violation, especially related to human rights. (*)