Friday, June 25, 2010

While Lawmakers Dawdle, Torture Remains evident in Indonesia

Today’s UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture offers us a chance to pause and consider the stilted nature of our human rights progress in recent years. The Indonesian government ratified the UN convention against torture in 1998, but this hasn’t done much to combat the prevalence of torture in the country. Indeed, 10 years after that signing the UN Committee Against Torture expressed its concern over “numerous ongoing, credible and consistent allegations of routine and widespread use of torture and ill-treatment of suspects in police custody” in Indonesia.

To combat torture, human rights activists in Indonesia have long urged the government to take several measures, including criminalizing torture, revising the Criminal Procedure Code and ratifying the Optional Protocol of the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT).

Under a draft of the penal code revision, torture is recognized as an offense. A draft of the Criminal Procedure Code further calls for a more comprehensive torture prevention mechanism. The slow pace of revision of both laws has been criticized, but we can see that the government and the House have at least made an effort at lasting change.

It is unfortunate that similar actions are missing when it comes to the government’s promise to ratify the OPCAT. Under the 2004-2009 National Human Rights Action Plan (Ranham) the government said it would ratify OPCAT by 2008 at the latest. A full year after the Ranham expired, there is still no sign of plans to ratify the OPCAT.

It is important to urge the government to fulfil its promises. And if our goal is the prevention of torture on our shores, we must recognize that much work remains even after we attain OPCAT status.

The OPCAT imposes an obligation on member nations to allow oversight bodies to visit places of detention at any time. The pressing concern of member nations is their obligation to maintain, establish and designate national preventive mechanisms (NPMs).

The question for Indonesia is just what kind of NPMs will come out of its OPCAT ratification. Considering that member nations are obligated to create a mechanism not more than one year after the ratification, Indonesia should start considering these issues now.

There are 51 countries that have ratified the OPCAT, and 32 of them have their NPMs in place. Of these 32, three offer NPM models that could provide Indonesia with some guidance.

The first involves creating a wholly new institution that would specialize in monitoring places of detention, as both France and Germany have done.

The second gives authority to an existing institution to conduct NPMs. Most of the countries using this model, such as the Maldives, entrust the authority to their national human rights commission, whereas Denmark and others use an ombudsman.

The third model is that of multiple bodies, used in New Zealand and Britain. In both countries the authority to conduct visits to places of detention is shared among several bodies who each monitor their respective area of concern. In Britain, for example, the Children’s Commissioner for England has the authority and obligation to monitor places of detention for children.

These three models have their own benefits and drawbacks. And whichever path the country chooses, it must take into account mitigating factors such as budgetary constraints, geographical conditions and available resources.

Geographical and budgetary problems potentially could be solved by using the second model. The government could choose whether to give authority to conduct NPMs to the Ombudsman or National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) both of which have representative offices in several cities and are headquartered in Jakarta.

Still, since these institutions have other mandates that require attention, it might be difficult for them to adequately focus on monitoring places of detention.

The third, multiple-bodies model seems to be the most practical for Indonesia. The government could split the authority to conduct NPMs between Komnas HAM, to coordinate the whole NPM and to monitor detention places for men); the Violence against Women Commission (Komnas Perempuan), to maintain women’s detention facilities; and the National Children Protection Commission (KPAI) to monitor places of detention for children.

Clearly, this is a difficult decision, and one that ought to be considered carefully when deciding what kind of NPM’s will be suitable for Indonesia’s current situation.

One article can’t address all the issues, but it can stand as a reminder that we should not just urge the government to ratify the OPCAT, but to also consider the long road beyond.

Answer Styannes is Indonesia Desk intern at the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong. She can be reached at

No comments:

Post a Comment