Wed, 24 Jul 1996

Christopher praises RI's human rights body

JAKARTA (JP): U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher praised Indonesia's National Commission on Human Rights yesterday for its efforts in promoting human rights here, saying the body had taken a "strong step in the right direction".

Addressing the press before a breakfast meeting with the commission, Christopher predicted that as Indonesia's economy continued to flourish, there would be an increase in demands for greater liberty and free expression.

"How Indonesia responds to those demands will have important implications for the future of this great country and the entire region as well," Christopher said.

Yesterday's meeting marked the second time that Christopher -- who attended the first meeting along with the late Ron Brown, then U.S. secretary of commerce -- met with the commission. The first meeting took place in 1994 on the sidelines of the summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum leaders here.

Christopher noted that the commission, since his last visit two years ago, had played an important role in Indonesian society in terms of investigating human rights abuses and promoting accountability of those responsible.

"I'm very pleased to note the records of achievement they have made during the last two years," Christopher said.

Miriam Budiardjo, deputy chairperson of the commission, concurred that much had indeed been achieved in the past two years. She said she hoped Christopher would take home "a better picture of what happens in Indonesia".

The U.S. secretary of state was here for annual talks between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the grouping's main international dialogue partners.

Christopher took special note on the commission's "staid, discrete and careful ways of perceiving and raising human rights issues" with the government and the people in general.

"Certainly, the commission has taken extremely strong steps in the right direction," Christopher said, underscoring Washington's "deep interest" in encouraging political pluralism in Indonesia.

He also welcomed the commission's recent branch opening in East Timor, "an area of special concern to the U.S. and to the entire international community".

East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, integrated with Indonesian in July 1976 following Portugal's withdrawal from the territory, which it colonized for four centuries.

Marzuki Darusman, another deputy chairman of the commission, told journalists after the meeting that he and the other commission members briefed Christopher on various domestic human rights issues, including those related to East Timor and Irian Jaya provinces. They also discussed press freedom, labor and judicial independence and democratization.

The other commission members present at the meeting were A.A. Baramuli, Albert Hasibuan, Asmara Nababan, Bambang Soeharto, Charles Himawan, Clementino Dos Reis Amaral, Munawir Sjadzali, Nurcholish Madjid and Saafroedin Bahar.

Marzuki said the commission told Christopher it believed that there had been improvement in East Timor's human rights situation. "In terms of security, East Timor is improving. People can now walk around at night and travel between towns safely," Marzuki said.

He noted similar improvement in Irian Jaya, pointing out the recent establishment by the Irian Jaya military command of a special military guideline for dealing with human rights cases.

Marzuki also told Christopher that the commission has suggested that all military commands across the country follow Irian Jaya's step, in order to promote awareness of human rights among military personnel.

On press freedom, Marzuki said the commission had briefed Christopher about legal efforts taken by journalists of Tempo in fighting against a 1994 government ban on the magazine.

The journalists, led by former chief editor Goenawan Mohamad, lost the legal battle at the Supreme Court earlier this year after winning it at the district and high court levels last year.

The commission and Christopher also discussed the recent uproar over the allegation of collusion at the Supreme Court.

On labor issues, Marzuki said the commission believed that there has been some progress in the settling of labor disputes. The Armed Forces, he said, has exercised some restraint in handling such disputes. (rid)