Dec 01, 2023 Last Updated 8:29 PM, Nov 27, 2023

'Human rights belong to us'.

Published: Sep 30, 2007

Asmara Nababan is the executive secretary of INFID in Jakarta. Since he is also a member of the National Human Rights Commission, we asked him to assess both. For Asmara, the link is human rights.

What is the role of INFID?

INFID is a forum for a wide range of NGOs in Indonesia, with a wide range of backgrounds, interests and functions, from all parts of Indonesia, from Aceh to Irian Jaya. It also groups NGOs with different religious backgrounds - some have Islamic, Catholic and Protestant backgrounds. It is a meeting place where NGOs can discuss the problems they face in Indonesia.

What have INFID and its predecessor INGI been able to achieve?

I don't have a simple answer to that. But at the very least it has been able to bring all NGOs onto one platform. In itself this is strategically important in Indonesia, where the differences between NGOs have been great, and where there has been little history of working together.

Arief Budiman spoke earlier in the conference about the need for NGOs to develop a common ideology. Do you agree?

I think by working together to face obstacles, by joining in the same process, we can come to a common understanding. In three fields- democratisation, equity, and sustainability - all the participants in INFID already have a common understanding. All the NGOs in INFID support these core positions.

How has the composition of INFID changed over the years?

In the early years, only the biggest NGOs participated, but recently many smaller and local NGOs have begun to participate directly. There are also regional networks of NGOs which participate, including networks from Aceh, Yogyakarta, and North Sumatra. Each of these represent between fifty and one hundred NGOs. So if we say that around forty NGOs participate in INFID, in fact that is an underestimate, there are far more than that. We have seen an expansion of the social base of this network.

How do you see the interaction been Australian and Indonesian NGOs?

Frankly speaking, most such cooperation is in the development field. This is not wrong of course, but we hope in the future that Australian NGOs will be more active in human rights, in advocacy and democratisation issues. This is because, quite apart from our criticisms and disappointment with the development process in Indonesia, people no longer die from hunger in Indonesia. It's not like Somalia or similar countries. The main problems we face now are not economic, but matters like basic human rights, the right to participate, the right of people to be recognised as human beings.

Why did INFID choose the land issue as the theme of this year's conference?

Land disputes are increasing from year to year. Especially in Java, economic growth has dramatically increased pressure on land. They need land for, you name it, roads, industrial plants and so on. And yet, the legal infrastructure is too weak to protect the people who are simply ousted from their land.

In the past, people used to just accept this. They used to have an attitude of 'well, what can we do?' But over the last five years, people no longer want to just accept it anymore. There is a new awareness among the people that they have the right to fight for their own rights, for their land.

You are a member of the National Human Rights Commission. People say it has more independence than was initially expected. How can the Commission influence the Indonesian government on human rights?

First of all, relations between the Commission and NGOs have improved greatly. In the Commission's first year, many of its members were cynical about NGOs. They had stereotyped perceptions of NGOs, similar to those of the government. They were reluctant to cooperate with NGOs. Over the last year, a new understanding has emerged in most members about the function of NGOs. Most recognise the need to cooperate with the NGO community.

Now on the role of the Commission regarding the government. From the start I did not expect too much from the government. Rather, I see the main role of the Commission right now is to promote understanding of human rights in the public. Our statements appear every day in the newspapers. They are bringing about a kind of legitimation of the issue of human rights.

Our work shows the public that human rights belong to us, that they are not an alien concept. Five years ago, if a group raised the human rights issue they were accused of spreading 'Western' ideas and subversion. Now it is legitimate to discuss human rights. This is a major step forward, a real change. Now you hardly even find any generals or ministers who will say that human rights are an alien or Western concept.

Of course, because of our limited mandate, we must cooperate with the government. We can't confront the government. The Commission is too weak, in terms of our legal basis, our capacity and so on. So we take a cooperative approach. But this does not mean that we don't criticise them.


Inside Indonesia 47: Jul-Sep 1996

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