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UN Rights Chief, ASEAN Lawmakers Call on Indonesia to End LGBT Intolerance

Zahara Tiba
Jakarta
2018-02-07
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Muslim protesters pray as they burn an effigy during an anti-LGBT rally in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, Feb. 2, 2018.
Muslim protesters pray as they burn an effigy during an anti-LGBT rally in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, Feb. 2, 2018.
AP

The U.N.’s human rights chief and parliamentarians from Southeast Asian countries on Wednesday called on Indonesia to refrain from fanning discrimination against LGBT people and others by dropping efforts to make sex outside of marriage and same-sex relationships unlawful.

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, issued a statement during a visit to Jakarta urging Indonesian lawmakers to not pass amendments to the country’s criminal code. He said these could make members of its LGBT community more vulnerable to discrimination amid an atmosphere of growing hostility.

“At a time when it is consolidating its democratic gains, we urge Indonesians to move forward – not backwards – on human rights and resist attempts to introduce new forms of discrimination in law,” Zeid said on the final day of his three-day trip to Indonesia’s capital.

“LGBT Indonesians already face increasing stigma, threats and intimidation. The hateful rhetoric against this community that is being cultivated seemingly for cynical purposes will only deepen their suffering and create unnecessary divisions,” he said, noting that the amendments would effectively “criminalize large sections of the poor and marginalized.”

In response, a government official said Indonesia would punish LGBT behavior, not the people themselves.

“Indonesia has its own culture and beliefs that promoting LGBT publically cannot be accepted,” kompas.com, an Indonesian news website, quoted Minister of Law and Human Rights Yasonna Laoly as saying.

Meanwhile, the ASEAN Parliamentarian for Human Rights (APHR), which describes itself as an organization of parliamentarians and influential people from member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said the legislative amendments being debated in Indonesia went against freedom. Indonesia is one of 10 ASEAN members and one of the 50-year-old bloc’s founders.

“These amendments are a blatant violation of all Indonesians’ right to privacy and their fundamental liberties. It is extremely worrying that private affairs between two consenting, law-abiding adults could very soon be opened to government interference and scrutiny,” board member Teddy Baguilat of the Philippines said in a statement issued by APHR.

“If passed, these changes to the Criminal Code will reinforce existing prejudices and discrimination faced by an already vulnerable community in Indonesia, and legitimize ongoing bullying, homophobic violence, and police abuse,” he added.

The group noted that support for the changes comes at a time of growing religious extremism in Indonesia.

In January, Aceh police arrested 12 transgender people following raids of five salons, cut their hair, ordered them to roll on the ground, run and chant loudly to bring out their male voices. Islamic Sharia law is in force in Aceh, Indonesia’s most religiously conservative province.

Indonesian rights activist Hartoyo, who goes by one name, said Zeid’s statement affirmed his belief that anti-LGBT discrimination in Indonesia was something to be concerned about.

“This issue has become an international concern. This is the challenge of this nation, that there is discrimination and violence against LGBT community, and there should be protections for this group,” he told BenarNews.

Anti-LGBT sentiment growing: polls

Zeid, the U.N. rights chief, discussed his concerns about the LGBT community on Tuesday when he met with President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who is likely to seek re-election in 2019. In 2016, the president declared there should be no discrimination against anyone and that police needed to stop groups or individuals who sought to harm members of the LGBT community.

Most of the country sees the LGBT community as a threat, according to a recent survey by a Jakarta-based firm, Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting.

A September 2017 survey showed 85.4 percent of the nation felt threatened by LGBT people – a figure that increased to 87.6 percent three months later. Additionally, 79.1 percent of respondents objected to having LGBT neighbors.

“The majority of citizens also object if LGBT become government officials, such as mayors, governors, or president,” SMRC Director Ade Armando said in a news release posted on the firm’s website.

Despite those concerns, 57.7 percent of Indonesians believed that LGBT members had rights and about 50 percent of the public believed the government was obligated to protect them, according to the survey.

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