96 NGOs demand ratification of international rights conventions
Muninggar Sri Saraswati and Urip Hudiono, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
A coalition of 96 non-governmental organizations called on the government on Wednesday to promptly ratify all international conventions on human rights in order to stem rampant abuses across the country.
"With the ratification of those conventions, the public will have a stronger legal basis to demand that the government protect the basic rights of its citizens," coalition coordinator Bambang H. Lukito of the Indonesian Legal Aid Association (PBHI) said in conjunction with the observance of Human Rights Day.
The NGOs, grouped under the Coalition of Civil Society for the Ratification of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, were particularly keen to see the ratification of conventions on basic socioeconomic rights, such as the right to earn a living and the right to shelter, education and health care.
The coalition also demanded the elimination of all forms of discrimination, the revocation of laws and regulations unfavorable to human rights, and the prosecution of perpetrators of human rights violations.
Aside from PBHI, coalition members also included the Institute for Public Research and Advocacy (Elsam), the Coalition of Alternative Education for Women (Kapal Perempuan), Imparsial, the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), the Urban Poor Consortium (UPC), the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (WALHI), and the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI).
Meanwhile, dozens of rights activists and students celebrated Human Rights Day by holding a street rally demanding comprehensive investigations into human rights violations that occurred since the failed 1965 coup d'etat, and the trials of rights abusers, especially high-ranking military officers.
The activists marched from Hotel Indonesia traffic circle at around 1 p.m. to the presidential palace. They dispersed peacefully at around 5 p.m.
"We also demand that Megawati's government stops being a puppet of the military," said Rahmat Hidayat Pulungan, one of the field coordinators of the demonstration.
At the House of Representatives, legislators from House Commission II slammed on Wednesday the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), saying that it had failed to promote human rights in the country in the past year.
Trimedya Panjaitan of the Indonesian Democratic Party for Struggle (PDI-P) said the commission had been acting as a research center on human rights instead of an advocate.
"(The effort) to advocate is very low. It cannot be seen," he said in a hearing with Komnas HAM, the National Law Commission (KHN), and the National Ombudsman Commission.
Fellow legislator Yusuf Muhamad of the National Awakening Party (PKB) commented that the commission had been too passive as it tended to take in complaints from the people instead of digging for information.
"You are supposed to be active (in searching for information on possible rights violation) instead of waiting for complaints," he remarked, referring to the recent massive evictions against squatters in Jakarta.
Another legislator, Firman Jaya Daeli of PDI-P, questioned the fate of several cases of alleged rights abuse in the past.
"You have observed them up until now. What concrete actions have you taken?" he asked, referring to, among other things, the disappearance of several activists during the administration of the New Order era.
Led by former rights activist Abdul Hakim Garuda Nusantara, they claimed the commission had appeared inert after the appointment of the members of the commission in September last year.
It has promised to promote the establishment of the truth and reconciliation commission, in a bid to settle past rights abuses and freedom of expression.
Komnas HAM deputy chairperson Zoemrotin K. Soesilo admitted that the commission needed time to consolidate itself to serve as a state body.
"Some of us former activists must learn how to work for a state body, we cannot work as we used to," she said.
However, Zoemrotin asserted that the responsibility to promote human rights was not in the hands of the commission alone, but it also concerned the legislative and judicial authorities.
"Our responsibility is to promote human rights, we have no power to prosecute or decide the fate of alleged rights abusers," she said.