Jul 22, 2024 Last Updated 5:22 AM, Jul 16, 2024

Human what?

Published: Sep 30, 2007

Krishna Sen

You distinguish between international human rights, which Indonesia accepts as a standard, and the fact that Indonesia also has its own definitions and agendas.

Marzuki: The problem centres on the term perspective. This somehow has confused the whole issue of Indonesia's stance on human rights. One needs to distinguish between Indonesia's official position on international human rights, and the term 'an Indonesian perspective'. The international community is gradually deciding, and certain segments of the Indonesian public follow this idea too, that there is a unique Indonesian concept of human rights. This is I think misleading. What does this concept actually entail? If they are referring to the Indonesian view on international human rights, there's no immediate problem. But if it is a unique perception, this is where the confusion comes about. This view very consciously gives social rights primacy over individual rights. Such views still circulate within the official community. Yet at the same time we have a gradual shift of perception, in which human rights are viewed as a balance between rights and duties.

I've heard the distinction made between social rights versus individual rights, but are they that easy to distinguish? Is it possible either ethically or theoretically to make that kind of distinction?

Arief: On a conceptual level, both are rights. But in Indonesia and other Third World countries the problem of human rights does not lie on the conceptual level. It lies on the level of information, political freedom, democracy. The problem is not the concept of human rights, but who has the monopoly to interpret that concept. I believe in what the government says about the social right of development and stuff like that. It's quite a good argument. But you cannot deal with this on a conceptual level, except as an academic exercise. It is better to look at it case by case. Does this case serve social rights, or is it just a justification for the government? We have to talk about human rights concretely.

Marzuki: The reality is important. The whole idea of giving substance to human rights is to allow the public to define it, and not just to go along with symbolic definitions and rhetoric. That needs some time to crystalize. We now have a range of problems felt as abuses against a sense of justice. The public may not define it as a human rights problem, even if intellectuals discuss it that way, but it is the same thing.

Are the cases coming to the commission usually individual, or collective complaints?

Marzuki: A combination of both. It is our policy to give the same importance to a case involving only one person as to one involving ten, or 100. Rights are rights to which each individual is entitled. We get about two to three submissions a day, mostly from outside Jakarta. They make that trip to Jakarta just to send their grievances. We do what we can - issue a letter, make a few phone calls, invite the conflicting parties to come to consensus (musyawarah and mufakat). Sometimes these discussions raise the level of conversation between people. We have no powers of summons. However, the invitation is normally accepted, because there is some sort of obligation to appear. In business cases and labour disputes, suggestions are made that local people be given priority in employment in the project. Sometimes they agree to bring the people who have lived there for twenty years into the shareholding structure.

Do people have to bring their cases to you, or could you act on a report from Amnesty International for example?

Marzuki: We can initiate our own investigations, even based on oral reports. But it gives legitimacy if we have a complaint from the victims. We are trying to make it a commission perspective that we do not separate rights from duties, in the sense that it is a duty of people to struggle for their rights. They will appreciate their rights if they feel they struggle for them, and feel duty bound to come and report. But we do go from reports that do not have to originate from the victims.

Have you dealt with cases that have to do with the military? How do you deal with those? For example the thousands of extra widows in Aceh.

Marzuki: Over the two years three categories have stood out - land negotiation cases, labour disputes and what we officially call transgressions of human rights by the state apparatus, which means soldiers, police. We have this monthly meeting with the armed forces, where we exchange information. It's very important that we have available factual information when we meet with them, so that they can act on it. We first advise the military, sending a letter saying that this has happened, and we have further information, and are you aware of this? So there are set procedures. If they do not respond, we send a second letter, and eventually it ends up at the meeting, where we open it up again. It's a very gradual process. It's much more a communicative way of dealing with it rather than openly confronting.

If they don't respond, does the commission officially or unofficially use the press to exert external pressure?

Marzuki: Until this point it has not been necessary to go public on individual cases. But in cases like Liquica (East Timor) or Timika (Irian Jaya) there is no doubt that the set procedures of the commission are known to the army. We go through the stages of investigation, analysis, conclusion, and public announcement. The procedures are so transparent that the government and the armed forces realize we cannot adopt any other procedures besides what has been done. Any institution that follows the procedures through open investigation will probably reach the same conclusions. What we do is nothing specific to the commission. The Legal Aid Institute LBH, or any other non-government or even government organization is allowed to do the same thing.

How effective is this kind of gentle approach to the military in the short term or in the long term?

Marzuki: It also depends a lot on personal contacts. This is something specific to the Indonesian scene in politics. We discover that one or other of the commissioners has a contact with someone else, who used to know so and so in the army. It's not institutionalized at this point. We're making the best of the personal knowledge that is available, which is as effective. Of course it is not satisfactory, but it gets the work done. If some people are detained for whatever reason, we can pick up the phone and contact the police officer in charge, who happens to know this other person, who is acquainted with the commission members. It goes through this networking of contacts, and the case gets reviewed. Later, we will try to link up with the inter-departmental forum. That way we can contact the person in charge of human rights affairs within each department. It's a very tentative way of doing things. We're trying to systematize it. We go through NGO's (non- government organizations) also. They open channels of communication with people who happen to be in the army but who are somehow enlightened. There are people like that in the army. We can focus on these people, and that's how we get things done.

Arief: The National Human Rights Commission and the NGO's work in the same way. First you have to take the fact that the Indonesian military and the state are much stronger than the civil society. The main thing is to make it effective. Even the NGO's are doing the same thing. Buyung Nasution also contacted military officers on a personal basis. We have to use both methods, because the victims have to be helped. But then the commission has some difficulties because it is a state institution, and it has to go with the procedures. Meanwhile, the NGO's are more wild, more unorganized. The less formal you are, the more free you are. The commission is the most formal, then the NGO's, then the student demonstrations - the latter are a 'formless organization', who can attack the problem in many ways. The commission is part of strengthening the civil society. Officially there is no contact between the commission and the NGO's, but I think privately there are many contacts. If the commission doesn't work in the formal way, they will pass it privately to the NGO's.

There seems to be a contradiction here. It is in the interests of the commission to have a very institutionalized structure. Whereas the NGO's are more effective because in some ways they are like the military, outside the law!

Arief: It is complementary, not contradictory. They have their own strengths and weaknesses. Unlike with the NGO's, the local police chief will have difficulties if he refuses to deal with the commission. The boundary is not that strong, there is a lot of intercommunication.

Marzuki: We work together. We haven't clearly defined the status of the commission vis a vis the NGO's. The only difference is that we don't actually do advocacy. But in the long term the commission needs to go into structural problems, into the laws. We are now engaged in a review of some laws with five NGO's. This is a new programme initiated by the commission. It is impossible to take up the specialized analysis that Elsam or LBH can do more effectively. The idea has been accepted by the commission that NGO's should be brought into the picture. Later we aim to have NGO participation in technical aspects of monitoring, though not in investigation.

There are educational problems of course. We need to be able to explain to the army and to the government that that is the way we work. Our relations with the army have been correct, and with the government. The work the commission has done has only been possible because of army openness, even though our findings may have gone against their interests. We started out being doubted by the NGO community. But now we are perceived by the government as an opposition group, back in the middle ground, and that is where we are now.

There was so much controversy. T. Mulya Lubis refused to join because it wasn't going to be effective.

Arief: When (NGO leader) Asmara Nababan joined, everyone was mad, and thought he was joining a state institution. The perception now is that it is much better than was thought before. Sometimes we laugh when the commission is rejected even by the police. Roekmini (former senior police officer and current commission member) was refused permission to attend a meeting in Surabaya over the Marsinah case. So we ask, what's the difference between the commission and the NGO's? But there have been a lot of positive things.

Human rights workers outside feel that government institutions and even the commission only take up issues if they become a problem outside the country. For example Liquica or any other Timor issue. They are taken up because the government becomes worried. Or similarly Irian Jaya. We've particularly heard this in Aceh, that there was no international pressure, and therefore the killings were never investigated, the bodies were never accounted for. Has the commission ever thought of taking up issues that do not become a major issue in Jakarta or internationally?

Arief: The commission was created to defend the government against international pressure. But over time it developed more than we expected. It is true that many cases are neglected, but it is not true that the commission only takes up 'hot cakes'. One problem is that there is not enough personnel. So far the commission doesn't run for the ball, they wait till the ball comes to them, and then they play. That is more a weakness of management and personnel rather than intentions. I know in the commission there are some conservative people. Conservative because they are legalistic, they don't want to go into the politics. They are bombarded with cases, it's crazy. LBH is in the same position.

Marzuki: The managerial limits should be appreciated. We are flooded with cases. We are doing what was not in the mandate of the commission. We had to respond to public expectations, and socialize the whole idea of human rights consciousness. We have certainly made conscious decisions on taking up cases that have political implications like Liquica or Marsinah. We thought that if the commission was brought into the picture at a very late stage, it would be ineffective. We want to do something in the early stages, so that the process does not get out of hand, does not put the government on the defensive. If the government is already on a defensive stance they close up and it cuts off communication. When I say government, I mean the military, and the Interior Ministry, which need to come up with a political attitude to these cases. It is important to make the process and the resolution as open as possible. To get our facts right, so the government does not feel it has to take up a defensive attitude that does not help to resolve this matter. So it is in that sense that we take up these political matters. It is not in any way to appease the international community. It is our position that the international community has a legitimate role to play, but finally it is the internal mechanisms and dynamics that get things done.

I seem to be hearing that you are more interested in supporting current victims rather than bringing the perpetrators of those offences to justice. You cannot really take the army lads who roam the streets and kill in Aceh to court, for instance.

Marzuki: We are aware of that. It's a matter of institutional capacity. We have to wait for people to bring up the issue very strongly. But in principle the policy of the commission is to take up any case, we don't adopt statutory limitations. Any case, even 25 years ago, we can take it up.

Inside Indonesia 46: Mar 1996

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