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217 12 Human rights and Yudhoyono’s test of history Dominic Berger When Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono became Indonesia’s first directly elected president in 2004, human rights were already a central element of the Indonesian state’s political profile. After the fall of Suharto’s authoritarian New Order regime, the People’s Consultative Assembly (Majelis Permusyarawatan Rakyat, MPR) had enshrined the key tenets of human rights into Indonesia’s Constitution through a series of amendments between 1999 and 2002 (Butt and Lindsey 2012: 22). In 1999, the People ’s Representative Council (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat, DPR) had also passed Law 39/1999 on Human Rights, which continues to function as the key piece of legislation for the protection of human rights. Indonesia had also acceded to a number of important international human rights treaties, including the Convention against Torture and Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatments or Punishments in 1998, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in 1999. Thus, with the basic framework for the protection of human rights largely in place at the time of Yudhoyono’s inauguration, domestic and international observers expected the new president not only to consolidate these reforms, but also to push for the further deepening of human rights protections. Opinion is divided on whether Yudhoyono fulfilled these expectations during his decade in power. In recent years, starkly differing assessments have emerged over whether human rights in Indonesia improved, stagnated or even worsened during his time in office. Some assessments, particularly those of foreign diplomats and media commentators, portrayed Yudhoyono’s Indonesia as an increasingly open and plural society Update book 2014-15.indb 217 19/04/2015 11:39 am 218   The Yudhoyono Presidency: Indonesia’s Decade of Stability and Stagnation where human rights were largely protected.1 Others, especially those of local human rights activists, frequently suggested that the protection of civil and political rights stagnated, and in some areas even declined, during the president’s ten-year reign.2 In light of such a lack of consensus on Yudhoyono’s achievements and failures, this chapter aims to critically assess his legacy in the field of human rights, with a particular focus on his personal role and influence in this field. Anumber of previous studies have attempted to locate the key factors driving human rights reform in post-New Order Indonesia. Hadipra­ yitno (2010: 397), for example, examined the international dimension of Indonesia’s increasing adoption of human rights frameworks, concluding pessimistically that ‘Indonesia’s primary motivation throughout accepting international commitments has been merely to pre-empt international action’. Fitzpatrick (2008) examined how local culture and ideology have often undermined the application of universal human rights regimes in Indonesia, while others, such as Herbert (2008), have focused on the country’s legal human rights framework. Rosser (2013), meanwhile , proposed that the underlying cause of Indonesia’s continuing problem with human rights was the broader political economy. Drawing on the work of Robison and Hadiz (2004), he suggested that a ‘powerful politico-business oligarchy’ was to blame for most human rights abuses. While not dismissing the legal, cultural and structural factors identified by these authors, this chapter argues that the role of the president is an underappreciated factor in explaining the quality and extent of human rights in Indonesia. I begin with a brief profile of Yudhoyono’s personal views on human rights, contending that his lack of a principled belief in human rights, and his hesitant approach to politics, helps to explain his failure to use his presidential powers to resolve a number of key human rights issues. The discussion proceeds by mapping some of the highly divergent assessments by local and international human rights organisations of Indonesia’s human rights record under Yudhoyono, which in large part reflect the weight placed on the role of the presidency. In the second half of the chapter, I examine the Yudhoyono government’s approach to four critical cases in the field of human rights: truth and reconciliation efforts to deal with past human rights abuses, including the 1965 mass killings of suspected communists; the legal proceedings concerning the murder of human rights activist Munir Said Thalib; the political prisoners in Papua and Maluku; and freedom of expression 1 See, for example, President Obama’s remarks to an audience at the University of Indonesia in Jakarta in 2010 (Obama 2010). 2 See, for example, the 2013 assessment by Indonesian human rights organisation Elsam (2013). Update book 2014-15.indb 218 19/04...


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