Activists object as Indonesia is again elected to UN Human Rights Council

Pizaro Gozali Idrus
Activists object as Indonesia is again elected to UN Human Rights Council Demonstrators flee as police officers fire tear gas during a protest against the government’s labor reforms in a controversial jobs creation law, which has since been passed, in Jakarta, Oct. 8, 2020.
[Willy Kurniawan/Reuters]

Indonesia was elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council for a sixth time, receiving the highest number of votes among all regions’ candidates, the country’s top diplomat announced Wednesday. 

The vote showed confidence in Indonesia’s ability to promote human rights, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said, but activists alleged that rights abuses had increased, with attacks on civil liberties defenders, and abuses by security forces, especially in the restive Papua region.

Indonesia’s membership on the council “for the 2024-2026 period with the most votes” however would benefit the nation and the world, the minister said.

“This is a manifestation of trust given to Indonesia to continue to contribute to the advancement and protection of human rights,” Retno said at a press briefing. 

Indonesia received 186 votes of 192 U.N. General Assembly ballots cast, surpassing other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, such as Kuwait (183 votes), Japan (175 votes) and China (154 votes).

The Asia-Pacific region had four vacant seats, so all four countries made it onto the council as members, although watchdog Human Rights Watch said last week that China should be denied a seat based on its rights record. 

According to HRW, a 2022 U.N, report found China had committed serious rights violations against the Muslim Uyghur community that could constitute “crimes against humanity.” 

Another country that should be denied membership to the council, HRW said, was Russia, which was defeated in Tuesday’s vote for two vacant seats in the Eastern European region. Bulgaria, with the highest votes in the group, followed by Albania beat Russia. 

The General Assembly had suspended Russia from the human rights council in April 2022, following the country’s invasion of Ukraine in February last year. HRW said Russian forces in Ukraine “continue to commit apparent war crimes.” 

The Geneva-based council, comprising 47 members elected for three-year terms, has no enforcement power, but it can present recommendations to the General Assembly and make the world aware of human rights abusers.

The body has been criticized for allegedly being biased and for allowing some of the world’s worst human rights violators to join its ranks.

In this undated photo, detainees are guarded by police as they stand in line apparently reciting or singing from the Tekes County Detention Center in the Xinjiang region of China. [Handout/The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation/AFP]

Indonesia should not be among countries joining the council’s ranks, say rights activists in the nation of more than 270 million people.

While Indonesia has been a council member since its establishment in 2006, it is facing growing criticism from human rights groups and activists over its crackdown on dissent, including in Papua, where security forces have arrested, harassed and prosecuted peaceful protesters and journalists.

Usman Hamid, executive director of Amnesty International Indonesia, said Indonesia’s membership on the council raised serious questions at a time when the country was facing accusations of violating civil liberties and minority rights.

“How can Indonesia take on such a great responsibility at the international level as a member of the Human Rights Council when it still ignores issues related to threats to civil liberties in this country,” he told BenarNews.

He said the Indonesian government continued to curb free speech and suppress dissenters, journalists and activists.

“There have been many cases of repression this year against those who spoke out against the government or voiced opposition to national projects that harmed people and the environment,” he said.

He added that Indonesia often failed to protect the rights of minority groups, especially those who faced discrimination based on their religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation.

Indonesia should use its membership in the council to improve the human rights situation in the country, “not as a mere symbol of its status,” he said.

In August, several civil society organizations said Indonesia should ratify instruments such as the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, implement U.N. proposals and cooperate with U.N. experts. 

Indonesia should also ensure that the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association were respected, protected and promoted, the groups said.

For instance, two prominent human rights activists are on trial on charges of defamation for an online discussion of a report that alleged the involvement of a senior minister and other officials in illegal gold mining activities in Papua.

In another case, a political observer, Rocky Gerung, is being investigated for allegedly insulting President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo in a YouTube video by using a swear word to describe him for his plan to build a new capital city despite economic challenges.

Protesters react as police spray them with a water canon during a rally calling for Papuans’ right to self-determination, in Jakarta, Dec. 1, 2016. [Beawiharta/Reuters]

Dimas Bagus Arya Saputra, the coordinator of KontraS, a human rights group, said the vote “runs counter to what is actually happening in the context of promoting and enforcing human rights in Indonesia.”

He said at least 72 people were killed in extrajudicial executions by Indonesian police and military forces from December 2021 to November 2022. 

He also cited several cases of violence and land being confiscated in the name of national projects and land disputes.

One such case was last month’s violence by security forces against protesters on Rempang island near Singapore. Demonstrators opposed the government’s plans to relocate them to make way for a national project involving a Chinese company.

Anis Hidayah, a member of the National Commission on Human Rights, a state-funded human rights body, said she hoped Indonesia’s re-election to the council would improve the protection of human rights at home.

“That is something of concern to us: how the state will show its commitment to resolving cases of serious violations in the future,” she told BenarNews.

Anis said her commission received more than 3,000 complaints of human rights violations every year, covering issues such as land conflicts, labor rights, human trafficking, intolerance and sexual violence.

“So how will the Indonesian government’s agenda respond to the human rights situation through fair and effective law enforcement,” she said.

Nazarudin Latif contributed to this report.


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