Apr 08, 2020 Last Updated 6:31 AM, Apr 8, 2020

Human Rights under Jokowi

Published: Jan 26, 2016

 Thushara Dibley and Michele Ford

The election of Joko Widodo, or Jokowi, in July 2014 came with high hopes that he would bring positive change to Indonesia. Many of those hopes have been dashed in the fifteen months since he took office in the October of that year, as decision after decision fell short of his supporters’ expectations. Disappointment has perhaps been greatest among the human rights activists who gave their all in his support in the dying weeks of the campaign.  

This edition of Inside Indonesia explores how human rights issues have fared under Jokowi’s government and the strategies activists have adopted in response to his style of leadership. One of the key difficulties that Jokowi has faced has been a lack of leverage in his own parliament. The problems with having a weak president are highlighted by Vannessa Hearman who opens the edition with an overall review of Jokowi’s approach to human rights. She argues that his responses to the 1965 killings and ongoing human rights abuses in West Papua prove that he has not been the ‘magic bullet’ that many were hoping for. Ken Setiawan reinforces this position in her article on the Reconciliation Committee, which she describes as a well-intentioned but weak, in large part because of Jokowi’s own lack of power.

Jokowi has also suffered as a result of his poor choices – where he had one – in the appointment of his ministers. Michele Ford and Teri Caraway examine the after effects of the decision to accommodate the National Awakening Party by appointing Hanif Dhakiri as Minister of Manpower, not Rieke Diah Pitaloka or Teten Masduki. While at first merely making Jokowi appear weak, the decision to appoint a party functionary over someone with proven credentials on labour rights proved to have a sting in its tail. It is difficult indeed to reconcile the passing of a government regulation designed to disempower the unions on the first anniversary of Jokowi’s taking office with his pre-electoral promises to respect and support the rights of Indonesian workers.

The edition ends on a more optimistic note. As Thushara Dibley argues, disability activists have found the Jokowi administration to be sympathetic to their concerns. He may have prioritised flashy initiatives designed to catch the attention of the media over the deep structural changes needed to empower people with disabilities, but disability rights activists have at least managed to keep the administration accountable for his pre-election commitment to revise the national disability law.

Despite this addition to the positive side of the ledger, Jokowi has fallen short. After his first 15 months in office, there is no doubt that many human rights activists are deeply disappointed with his administration’s approach to their concerns. As the contributors of this edition demonstrate, modest progress even on less politically divisive issues such as disability rights are only likely to be achieved with persistence and commitment by activists. It seems very unlikely, if not implausible, that more controversial human rights issues will to be addressed during the remainder of this presidential term.

Thushara Dibley (thushara.dibley@sydney.edu.au) is the Deputy Director of the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre. She researches the disability rights movement in Indonesia. 

Michele Ford (michele.ford@sydney.edu.au) is Professor of Southeast Asian Studies and Director of the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre at the University of Sydney, where she holds an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship.


Inside Indonesia 123: Jan-Mar 2016

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