Sunday, April 21, 2013

Democratic Indonesia’s no-man’s-land of human rights

It has been almost 15 years since reformasi brought about a constitutional change to Indonesia, leading to shifts in various walks of life. High hopes were hedged on the comprehensive Article 28 of the amended 1945 Constitution, which promised better respect and protection for human rights, particularly for the powerless masses, prone as ever to the abuse of the powerful few.

Abuse, oppression, subjugation, torture and murder carried out under the New Order are still experienced by some. Discriminated groups, women and children have become the more soft targets of arbitrariness, while the state stays put and carries out the duties of government by omission.

We cannot help but ask from time to time whether the democratization process that was supposed to put an end to a more than three decades of authoritarianism deserves democracy as its end result. Soeharto ruled with a strong hand, always firm against those critical of his policies. Rebuilding the economy, improving the lives of the masses and helping the victims of grave misgovernment by former president Sukarno were too dear to Soeharto to let them become sidelined by intellectuals and elites, many of whom pretended to be defenders of the people.

Yet Soeharto’s economy, three decades in the making, crumbled in 1998 thanks to a world financial crisis and the internal dynamics of Indonesia’s society. It was unfortunate that reformasi governments seemed to be confronted by a stable and performing macro economy (despite some sectoral failures) that had to share the national platform with an impatient society, the majority of which resented increasingly rampant corruption and arbitrariness of louder elements of society.

Are we observing a tendency where Indonesia’s powerless masses, discriminated groups, defenseless women and children are again becoming the victims of abuse and oppression, this time at the hands of a faceless authoritarian democracy? If that indication is true, such a development would render our nascent democracy futile.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to deny that the current noisy process of democratization is heading into a dark tunnel that may well be followed by more failed Indonesian administrations.

Today, we can see three paradigms of government in Indonesia in regard to human rights. Sukarno said a definite “no” to human rights, which he cursed as a product of liberalism and capitalism.

Soeharto turned a deaf ear vis-à-vis calls to respect human rights, but to the surprise of many he single-handedly established the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) in 1993, while such a body was still absent in other ASEAN countries.

The reformasi governments have not been uniform in their stance on the issue. Former president Abdurrahman Wahid and his successor, former president Megawati Soekarnoputri both issued regulations that effected the daily lives of discriminated groups for the better. The government of current President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono officially adopted various international human rights instruments, but this has been poorly reflected in terms of what has occurred on the ground.

In the last five years, our so-called pluralistic nation has witnessed a deterioration in tolerance. The Department of Justice was renamed the Law and Human Rights Ministry, but this has turned out to be a change in name only, while the quality of its business remains poor.

Should we simply surrender to the fact that we are living in a period of Indonesian history where we will not likely see any progress? Yudhoyono recently stated that — given the general elections in April 2014 — Indonesia was now in a “political year”, as if previous years had no political meaning. Still, we can detect an atmosphere where people are placing high hopes and expectations on the next general elections.

People obviously expect a more effective government that is willing to take bold actions, not least with regard to respecting marginalized groups, women and children, as is enshrined in the 1945 Constitution, which confirms the Republic is for all Indonesians.

Should the five years following the next general elections again turn out to be meaningless in terms of bettering the lives of the masses, we must be prepared to travel deeper into that dark tunnel that ignores the lives of the people and acknowledge the hard reality that in Indonesia, the issue of human rights is rooted firmly in no man’s land.

Yet, Indonesians are entitled to demand that the next government heeds the Darwinism of civilization that calls for sensible societies to proceed to more civilized paradigms of political order. That demand should be expressed in the general elections of April 2014.

Budiono Kusumohamidjojo secretary-general of the Indonesian National Working Group for Human Rights.

No comments:

Post a Comment