Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Human Rights Concerns Follow Obama's 2nd Trip to Indonesia

Washington. President Barack Obama has embraced Indonesia as a crucial U.S. ally in Southeast Asia, but rights groups and critics in Congress say the administration is too eager to trumpet Jakarta as a democratic success story.

Ahead of Obama's trip later this year to Indonesia, the second of his presidency, they want the U.S. to press Indonesia harder over its weak response to recent sectarian attacks by Islamic hard-liners and abuses by the military in remote West Papua.

Those demands clash, however, with U.S. strategic interests in the moderate Muslim nation of 240 million people that has assumed growing importance for Washington as it deepens its engagement in the Asia-Pacific region. In November, Indonesia will host a summit of East Asian leaders, the first attended by a U.S. president.

"It seems now the administration's policy is to be nice to Indonesia for fear it would come under the umbrella of China. ... That's the sense of where we are headed," said Eni Faleomavaega, ranking Democrat on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Asia-Pacific subcommittee. The Samoan delegate is a longtime advocate for Papuan rights.

Indonesia, where Obama lived four years as a child, has come a long way since the 1998 overthrow of longtime dictator Suharto and the bloody military crackdown in East Timor in 1999 that led the U.S. to sever military ties for several years. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has consolidated a decade of democratic reform while other countries in the region, like Thailand, have suffered political instability.

Indonesia's international standing has climbed, as a counterterrorism partner and regional leader. Under Indonesia's chairmanship this year, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has mediated in a violent Thai-Cambodia border dispute and advanced efforts for a code of conduct in the volatile South China Sea.

Still, Yudhoyono has a patchy record on religious freedom, failing to prevent attacks on the minority Muslim Ahmadiyah sect that have worsened since a 2008 government decree that the sect's practitioners can face up to five years in prison. A victim of a recent mob attack received a stiffer sentence than some of his assailants.

Obama - please take this list to the Indonesian President when you visit
All of the following has occurred since he entered office.
JAKARTA (Compass Direct News) -- Islamic extremist groups and local governments in Indonesia closed 110 churches from 2004 to 2007, according to religious and human rights organizations.
The Wahid Institute, a moderate Muslim non-governmental organization, along with the Communion of Churches of Indonesia (Persekutuan Gereja-Gereja di Indonesia), the Bishops’ Conference of Indonesia (Konferensi Waligereja Indonesia) and the Indonesian Human Rights Commission reported that discrimination and violence against churches was most common in the provinces of West Java, Banten, Central Java, South Sulawesi and Bengkulu.
Radical Muslim groups attacking churches included the Islamic Defender Front (Front Pembela Islam, or FPI), the Indonesian Mujahidin Council, Hizbullah Front, Muslim Clergy Members Forum (Forum Ulama Umat Islam) and the Muslim Safety Forum (Dewan Keamanan Masjid).
Some of these groups coerced local governments to send letters to churches prohibiting any activities. When churches did not comply, they would be burned or otherwise damaged, as happened last December to Jakarta Baptist Christian Church (Gereja Kristen Baptis Jakarta, or GKBJ) in Sepatan, Tangerang province. Muslim extremists from the FPI kicked out the windows and doors of the home of pastor Bedali Hulu and threw out his belongings.
Local officials subsequently asked the pastor to leave the area until tensions cooled, and activities at the church came to halt even though it originally had a permit and was registered with Religious Affairs authorities.

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