INDONESIAN President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s second year in office was marred by his alleged failure to address serious abuses in the republic, from attacks on religious freedom to sexual and gender discrimination and violations against child and minority rights, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in its World Report 2017 released Friday.
In the Indonesia chapter, the 687-page report studying abuses in 90 countries questioned Jokowi’s commitment to defending human rights, saying the leader failed last year to translate previous pledges it described as rhetorical into meaningful policy initiatives.
“Although Jokowi’s government announced long-overdue initiatives to promote accountability for the worst human rights abuses of the past, there was no official follow-through, and current abuses persisted,” HRW’s deputy Asia director Phelim Kine said in a statement.
HRW in the report noted that throughout last year, Jokowi remained mostly silent when senior government and military officials issued discriminatory remarks and policies that it said only fueled violations of the rights of minorities.
Even worse, the report said, Jokowi also continued to be outspoken in his backing of capital punishment. One key example cited is the execution of four convicted drug traffickers in July last year, despite widespread international opposition to previous death row cases in the Southeast Asian nation.
At the time, Indonesia’s deputy attorney-general Noor Rachmand told detractors that while the executions were “not a pleasant thing”, they had to be done in accordance with the law.
“The executions are only aimed at halting drug crimes,” he said.
Noor appeared to be speaking through Jokowi, who had only months earlier called the death penalty a necessity for drug offences as drug trafficking was a “national emergency”.
Months later when the world’s attention shifted to the Philippines’ violent war on drugs, Indonesian officials were quoted saying they would adopt their neighbour’s drug enforcement methods with more weapons, investigators, technology and sniffer dogs.
The announcement riled Indonesia’s foreign allies and international rights advocates.
According to HRW, the president’s support for putting drug traffickers on death row put a strain on ties over the past year with close bilateral allies like Australia.
“The likelihood of more executions in 2017 will continue to make that issue a sore point in Indonesia’s foreign relations,” it said.
The group said 2016 was also a year when Indonesian government officials were allowed to issue anti-LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) comments with impunity.
In February, for example, the mayor of Tangerang warned that Indonesian children might become gay by consuming milk formula and instant noodles. Later, the republic’s higher education minister urged for a ban on gay students in universities. Then, the president’s spokesman declared that there was “no room in Indonesia for the proliferation of the LGBT movement”.
The anti-LGBT assertions, HRW noted, resulted in proposals of laws which pose a serious threat to the rights and safety of LGBT Indonesians. They also fueled increased threats and at times, violent attacks on LGBT activists and individuals, primarily by Islamist militants.
“In some cases, the threats and violence occurred in the presence, and with the tacit support, of government officials or security forces,” the report said.
On religious freedom, HRW accused Indonesian officials and security forces of complicity in last year’s violent forced eviction of more than 7,000 members of the Gerakan Fajar Nusantara religious community, or the Gafatar, from their homes in East and West Kalimantan.
The group said its researchers found that security forces failed to protect Gafatar members, and merely stood by while mobs from the ethnic Malay and Dayak communities looted and destroyed properties owned by group members, many of whom originally came from Java.
“Government officials transferred Gafatar members to unofficial detention centers and then to their home towns, not as a short-term safety measure, but apparently to end their presence on the island and dissolve the religious group,” the report said.
The Jokowi government in March last year also issued a decree banning Gafatar activities and introduced a five-year prison term as punishment for violations.
The report also listed other instances of alleged government failure to prevent abuses on religious freedom, one of which is the July attack on three Buddhist temples in the city of Tanjung Balai in northern Sumatra. It noted that police denied the attack was sectarian and arrested seven suspects. Indonesia is said to be the most populous Muslim nation in the world but is also home to a sizeable ethnic Chinese minority, most of whom are Buddhists.
Impunity for security forces in the provinces of Papua and West Papua also remained a serious problem in 2016, with dozens of Papuans still imprisoned for nonviolent expression of their political views, HRW said.
It noted that in April, the government announced that it would seek accountability for 11 high-priority past human rights cases in Papua.
“However, the government has not provided any details as to when, where, and how the cases would be addressed,” the report said.
On children’s rights, HRW highlighted cases of child labour exploitation, noting that thousands of children in Indonesia, some just eight years of age, are working in hazardous conditions in tobacco farms.
These child workers, it claimed, are exposed to nicotine, handle toxic chemicals, use sharp tools, lift heavy loads, and work in extreme heat. Such work can have lasting consequences for their health and development.
HRW urged the Jokowi government to prohibit children from work that involves direct contact with tobacco; inspect farms to ensure children are not in danger; and carry out an extensive public education and training program to raise awareness of the health risks to children of work in tobacco farming.
The report also noted that gender discrimination continued unabated in Indonesia last year, with the Commission on Violence against Women reporting that as of August, the number of discriminatory national and local regulations targeting women had risen to 422, from 389 at the end of 2015.
They include local laws compelling women and girls to don the hijab, or headscarf, in schools, government offices, and public spaces.
“The Jokowi government is proving to be all talk and no positive action in terms of meaningfully addressing Indonesia’s serious human rights problems,” Kine said.
“Indonesians need to insist that Jokowi deliver on past human rights commitments and seek to advance justice and curtail abuses in 2017.”