Death penalty, religious intolerance focus at Indonesia’s UN rights review
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Death penalty, religious intolerance focus at Indonesia’s UN rights review

EXECUTIONS for drug crimes, rising religious intolerance, and the repression of activists and journalists in Papua were some major criticisms lodged against Indonesia’s human rights record at the nation’s Universal Periodic Review in Geneva on Wednesday.

The delegations from around 100 countries lined up to comment on the condition of human rights in Indonesia, with a slew of states from Europe, Africa and the Americas recommending that Indonesia re-impose a moratorium on the death penalty and steps towards the elimination of capital punishment.

The United Nations Human Rights Council conducts the UPR for each member state every five years, providing an opportunity for other nations to analyse progress and highlight concerns.

While states parties applauded Indonesia’s progress in pursuing the protection of rights for some vulnerable groups such as women, children and people with disabilities, Indonesia’s high-level delegation was faced with widespread calls to better protect religious and LGBT minority groups.

SEE ALSO: Jokowi says will review death penalty if Indonesians want him to

Indonesia staunchly defends executions

Long a diplomatic sticking point with nations around the globe, Indonesia came under heavy criticism from dozens of countries for its continued use of capital punishment for people convicted of drug offences.

Indonesian Justice and Human Rights Minister Yassona Laoly pushed back against the criticism, stating that continuing to implement the death penalty was important for addressing the nation’s drug problems.

“Each day 33 persons … die because of drug abuse,” he said. “If you are a family member of the drugs victims, surely you will understand.”

Yassona continued that “the rights of the offender must always be weighed against the rights of the victims,” but that without strict punishments to contain drug use, “the future of the nation will become bleak.”

“As a democratic country, public discourse on the implementation of the death penalty is ongoing in Indonesia,” he said.

SEE ALSO:  Indonesia: Govt issues public appeal against divisive religious sermons


Supporters of Jakarta governor candidate Anies Baswedan react as Baswedan leads the count at the Petamburan flat polling station in Jakarta, Indonesia April 19, 2017. Source: Reuters/Beawiharta

Fears of hardline Islam, persecution of minorities

Many delegations cited the recent gubernatorial elections in Jakarta as cause for concern over growing intolerance and religious extremism in Indonesia.

The Christian, ethnically Chinese incumbent Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama was defeated last month after a religiously-charged campaign that saw hardline Muslim groups shut down the capital numerous times with mass demonstrations.

The focus of the United States’ statement was protecting minority rights including religious freedom, while Sweden explicitly called for Indonesia to review its controversial 1965 blasphemy law under which Ahok was charged.

But an Indonesian delegation member from the religious affairs ministry asserted that “the rights of everyone to freedom of thought and religion … is a constitutional right”, noting Indonesia’s observance of religious holidays as proof of its pluralistic and tolerant approach.

Indonesia’s foreign minister Retno Marsudi stated that two rounds of the election were conducted in a “free, transparent and peaceful manner” where both sides accepted the result and expressed their willingness to work together.

Quoting US Vice President Mike Pence’s recent comments during a diplomatic visit in Jakarta, an Indonesian delegate added that Indonesian Islam remained an “inspiration to the world.”

SEE ALSO: Mike Pence: Indonesia’s brand of moderate Islam an ‘inspiration to the world’

A raft of nations including Brazil, Norway and Switzerland urged Indonesia to implement greater protection for the rights of “sexual minorities” and the LGBTQI community.

Last year saw an upsurge in anti-homosexuality rhetoric, with the government actively banning LGBT-friendly social media applications.

More protection for some vulnerable groups

It was observed that since the last UPR session, Indonesia has ratified two optional protocols of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Migrant Workers convention, and many states lauded Indonesia’s gains regarding the right to education and the rights of women and children.

The delegation from the Maldives praised Indonesia’s progress in advancing education rights, noting a 95 percent literacy rate and a youth literacy rate of 99 percent.

Nevertheless, several delegations urged Indonesia to implement more principles from the UN Child Rights Convention into its domestic laws, in particular changing legislation that allows for marriage under the age of 18 and for minors to be imprisoned alongside adult offenders.

Pressed on child marriage, Indonesia claimed it had implemented initiatives to combat early marriage, including by improving family welfare programs and increasing awareness of the health risks of early pregnancy.

The representative pointed to religious edicts by a summit of female Islamic clerics last week, noting the country’s religious affairs minister had supported recommendations to raise the legal marriage age from 16 to 18 and “will follow them up accordingly.”

SEE ALSO: Indonesia: Female clerics issue fatwas against child marriage, marital rape

Challenged on the prevalence of female genital mutilation, an Indonesian delegate said that it was a “long held tradition and belief” but that the government was committed to raise awareness among medical and health workers on the issue.

Moreover, Marsudi said protection of migrant workers and their families was “one of the top priorities of Indonesian foreign policy.”

The government had bolstered migrant worker rights through improving domestic policy, law enforcement and enhancing protecting efforts by Indonesian missions abroad, she said.


A student shouts a slogan as he holds a placard during a protest at the PT Freeport Indonesia headquarters calling of the closure of its mine in the Papua province, in Jakarta, Indonesia, April 7, 2017. Source: Reuters/Beawiharta

Papua and media freedom

New Zealand praised advances for indigenous people in Indonesia, including President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s return of 13,000 hectares to communities in  North Sumatra and a pledge to return 2.7 million hectares by 2019.

But along with many other states parties, New Zealand also raised concerns about alleged human rights abuses, suppression of activists and a lack of media transparency in the Papua and West Papua provinces of Indonesia – a highly sensitive issue for Jakarta.

Marsudi asserted that Papua was an “integral part of the Republic of Indonesia,” that the government “appreciate very much” the input of the international community “for the betterment of Papua.”

Nevertheless, the minister pointed to “open, transparent, free and fair elections” and funding from Jakarta to Papua exceeded that given to most other parts of Indonesia due to their special autonomy status, she said.

Addressing criticism that foreign journalists were continuing to be restricted in their access to Papua, Marsudi said the issue “now has been addressed by the government  … [which] has simplified the procedure of journalists applications.”

Journalists visiting Papua and West Papua had “significantly increased,” she said, with “more than 41 percent in 2015 compared to 2014.”

Incidentally, Indonesia’s capital Jakarta was chosen by Unesco to mark World Press Freedom Day 2017 on Wednesday.

SEE ALSO: Pressure on Indonesia as World Press Freedom Day looms

Bangladesh, Belgium and Ecuador will author the final UPR report including recommendations, set for release on Friday May 5.

“Our progress is not without challenges and constraints,” Marsudi told the Human Rights Council. “Our delegation will diligently look into and review each and every recommendation,”

Minister Marsudi was confident Indonesia’s democratic system governance would allow Indonesia to address “remaining and emerging challenges.”

Indonesia would continue to promote human rights protection at the “national, regional and global level,” she said.