Human rights: Does Indonesia’s Jokowi walk the talk?
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Human rights: Does Indonesia’s Jokowi walk the talk?

INDONESIAN president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has been called out over his commitment to protecting human rights following a Cabinet reshuffle on Wednesday.

The appointment of retired military general Wiranto as the Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, in particular, has drawn the ire of human rights groups.

The decision to put Wiranto in such an influential position within the Cabinet is a troubling one for many, as he has been implicated in overseeing human rights abuses carried out by Indonesian armed forces in East Timor some 17 years ago.

Wiranto replaced Luhut Pandjaitan, who will take up the crucial position of Coordinating Maritime Affairs Minister amidst tensions over the South China Sea.

SEE ALSO: Indonesia: Jokowi seeks to address ‘poverty problems’ with Cabinet reshuffle

Local human rights advocates have accused Jokowi of turning a blind eye to Wiranto’s involvement in the atrocities conducted by militiamen on civilians supporting East Timor’s independence movement, which proved successful in 1999, but not without bloodshed.

Hendardi, chairman of human rights group Setara Institute, told the Jakarta Post: “Wiranto’s presence in the Cabinet will bolster the impunity of human rights violators as it will be difficult for him to resolve gross human rights violations, involvement in several cases of which he himself was suspected.”

He added that Wiranto’s remit over legal affairs heralded a dim future for ensuring fair settlement in cases involving rights violations, as the former army chief now holds power over the Attorney General’s Office and the National Police.

Al-Araf, director of Imparsial, also criticized Jokowi’s decision in choosing Wiranto, calling it a demonstration of the president’s shaky stance on upholding human rights.

The Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) said it strongly opposed Wiranto’s appointment, citing a 2003 United Nations report which held Wiranto accountable for “murders, deportations, and widespread systematic violence” in East Timor, as quoted by the Jakarta Globe.

In 2004, the Special Panel for Serious Crimes in East Timor issued an arrest warrant for Wiranto due to his culpability in the crimes, which has so far been ignored by Indonesian authorities.

Deputy Prosecutor for Serious Crimes, Nicholas Koumjian, told AFP at the time: “General Wiranto at the time was the commander of all the Indonesian armed forces including the police, and our case shows that he failed to take any measures to prevent these crimes from happening, to punish the perpetrators, although it resulted in a large number of deaths, conservatively estimated at over 1,400.”

Amnesty International also expressed its dismay at the appointment, calling it a show of “contempt for human rights”.

“This is adding insult to injury. A day after ordering a fresh round of executions, Jokowi has now decided to hand control of the country’s security apparatus to someone who was indicted for crimes against humanity by a UN-sponsored tribunal,” said Josef Benedict, Amnesty’s Deputy Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

SEE ALSO: Rights groups call for leniency as Indonesia prepares for latest round of executions

Jokowi has also been under fire this past week over Indonesia’s continued use of capital punishment after calling for another round of executions, in what will be the third during his tenure as president.

In 2015, he sanctioned two rounds of executions, which saw 14 prisoners in total put to death by firing squad.

According to Amnesty International, which has been pushing for the abolishment of capital punishment, at least another 14 people could be executed this week, most of them convicted for drug offenses.

They comprise four Indonesians and 10 foreign nationals, including a Pakistani, an Indian, a Zimbabwean, a Senegalese, a South African, and five Nigerians.

“There is no evidence to support President Widodo’s position. The death penalty does not deter crime. Carrying out executions will not rid Indonesia of drugs. It is never the solution, and it will damage Indonesia’s standing in the world.”

– Josef Benedict, Amnesty International Deputy Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific

In a report released by the human rights group last year, several defendants were denied access to legal counsel at the time of their arrest, while some claimed that they were tortured in police custody and forced to “confess” to their alleged crimes.

Despite for calls of a moratorium on executions from the international community, local media has reported the ongoing preparations for the executions, such as 14 coffins being transported to Indonesia’s Nusakambangan prison island, where the prisoners are being held. Spiritual advisers have also been told to be on standby to carry out final rites.

In light of Wiranto’s appointment and the upcoming round of executions, some took to social media to air their frustrations with Jokowi.

To many, it appears as though Jokowi’s dedication to defending human rights is tenuous at best, and nothing more than political rhetoric.