Sun, 08 Apr 2001

Enough of democracy and human rights!

By Carl Chairul

JAKARTA (JP): When Sergio, our old family cat, was sleeping soundly on the only chair in my study and I was ready to get rid of him, my wife rushed to his rescue. "Wait a second. I'll get you another chair. Don't disturb him. He has the right to sleep anywhere he likes. This is democracy, isn't it?" she said with a demonstrator's attitude, but then doubted her own statement, "I mean, this is human rights, isn't it?"

"Mom, please, don't make such a confusing statement. It may be interpreted incorrectly by your aides and your spokesmen, and the press will misquote you," joked Edo, my youngest. "But for sure, cats do not have human rights. They're animals, thank you very much."

Just for your information, my wife is an incorrigible humanizer (now, is that the correct word?), I mean, she treats her pets like humans. They are her "friends" to talk to and to share thoughts with.

I was confused myself. Democracy and human rights (HAM), are the two expressions that my wife and the United Nations love to tango with. While my wife only fights for the interests of her pets, the United Nations deals with countries. But I doubt both truly know what they are doing. The United Nations supports the embargo on the supply of certain military equipment to Indonesia as it thinks Indonesia violated human rights in East Timor. At the same time the UN remains oblivious to the result of the bombings and the embargo on Iraq that has caused the deaths of so many innocent children.

In Indonesia, the word HAM is so fear-inspiring that the people in law enforcement are reluctant to take action against violators. "We don't want to be accused of human rights abuse," is the standard excuse of the police when standing by and witnessing a menacing armed crowd ransack someone's property or burn somebody alive.

As for democracy, my dictionary describes it as "government by the people, either directly or through elected representatives" and "the people considered as the source of political authority". It clearly mentions nothing about a cat.

It is undeniable that democracy and HAM are the two principles that we are bound to fight for. But where have they taken us? Just like my wife, most people use democracy and human rights in conformity with their own interests and to justify their standpoint.

"We do this in the name of democracy," say legislators every time they make a controversial move (who are they kidding?).

"After 32 years of authoritative government, we are still learning to practice our rights for democracy," said a party leader in justifying his people's weird attitude (grow up, man!).

When a group of protesters took to the streets in front of the presidential palace, demanding the President step down, Gus Dur uttered an encouraging comment: "Let it be. This shows that democracy is growing in this nation."

As far as I know, that is the one right thing the President has ever said about democracy. And that's that. When his supporters flocked to the House of Representatives building carrying weapons and scaring the living daylights out of the legislators, he didn't say whether it was fledging democracy or people practicing democracy in their own way.

On the other hand, "government by people" is deliberately translated by some as the right to mess with bureaucracy. Some legislators, who feel they have the right to control the government (they are the people's representatives, aren't they?), have overdone it by taking tight control over what the government is doing. They mention "democracy" as often as BJ Habibie (the previous president) mentions "technology". They disagree with the moves made by the government, with decisions made even by the President, and with economic policy proposed by the ministers.

Whether their points of disagreement "agrees" with the aspirations of the people they represent is not their business. In fact, we, the small people, are sometimes frightened by the attitude of the legislators in dealing with the government. Something that never happened in the previous era. But, wait a minute! In most cases, such disagreement only hinders the programs made by the government to solve economic problems or to improve people's welfare. More seriously, their disagreement, or battle, if you like, with the government has cost this country a lot. Look at the demonstrations and the destruction sparked by the friction between the legislative body and the government!

Back to human rights, what can you say about a large group of people carrying a monstrous banner that reads "WE FIGHT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS" while at the same time they deny others the right to use the road?

Dissemination of information on democracy and human rights, apparently, must be done the way the New Order government popularized state ideology Pancasila through a large national project that cost a fortune. People at all levels must go to penataran (training) on what democracy and human rights are all about. This is going to be a giant project absorbing a massive amount of money, but it'll be worth it. Let's start it the very top level of this country's leaders. This way we can put them in their respective places. And, in the future, before being sworn in, each legislator and government official should possess a P3H certificate showing that he or she has accomplished the Penataran Pedoman Penghayatan Demokrasi dan HAM (Training on the Guidelines for the Implementation and Understanding of Democracy and Human Rights).

How does that grab you?

--Carl Chairul