By Usman Hamid
The end of military-backed autocratic rule on May 20, 1998, opened the way for greater respect for human rights in Indonesia. How far has the human rights agenda in the country progressed as the reform era (Reformasi) marks its 20th anniversary?
Reformasi has seen significant reforms in terms of politics and civil liberties as well as the separation of the army and the police, but, practically, human rights are still under threat in the country. Violations continue to take place in new forms.
The birth of Reformasi did not necessarily address human rights violations that took place during the military rule of Suharto. High ranking government officials and military generals remain above the law. Reformasi takes impunity for granted and former military generals, including some who are still on duty and who must be brought to justice for past human rights violations, still hold strategic positions in governments of post-Suharto regime.
Suharto’s successor BJ Habibie, a nonmilitary figure but seen as very close to Suharto, started the reform era by releasing all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, allowing people to establish many political parties to contest in the general elections in 1999. However, he did not attempt to seek justice for the past abuses by the military.As of today, there have been five administrations since Reformasi was born. Each of them had a human rights agenda but unfortunately their work remained unfinished.
The next president, Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid, another nonmilitary figure, moved forward with his progressive human rights agenda: separating the police and the military and establishing the law on Human Rights Court in order to be able to try serious human rights violations in the past such as mass killings in Tanjung Priok 1984. Unfortunately, his human rights agenda was stalled after he was later impeached due to a highly questionable graft accusation.
Despite the Gus Dur government’s move to amend the constitution to better define articles on human rights, the military, which still had political influence in the parliament, managed to insert an article endorsing the legal principle of nonretroactive law enforcement, in a move to prevent future administrations from punishing the military for its past human rights violations — especially the killings of around 500,000 accused communist supporters in 1965, around 200,000 people in East Timor from 1975 and 1999, thousands of people in Aceh between 1989 and 1993 and hundreds of people in Papua since the 1980s. This was where Reformasi also officially gave birth to impunity.
Gus Dur limited the power of the military in his government but the latter regained its power under the rule of his successor, Megawati Sukarnoputri, also a political but nonmilitary figure. Megawati in 2003 took a more repressive approach in responding to independence movement in Aceh and Papua by bringing more soldiers to the two contested regions and restricting access for journalists and human rights defenders.
The regime of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY), Megawati’s successor, was seen as the return of the military to the presidency, due to his status a military general from the Suharto’s era. After 10 years of ruling the country, SBY failed to live up to his promises to solve past human rights cases and the 2004 murder of human rights defender Munir Said Thalib, which implicated senior officials in the State Intelligence Agency (BIN).
After SBY, Indonesians returned the presidency to nonmilitary leadership by electing Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, a former mayor and businessman, as the country’s seventh president. Jokowi made a big promise to solve past human rights violations that cheered human rights defenders and family members of victims.
However, as he is being challenged by a political opposition power led by a strong former military general Prabowo Subianto, a former son-in-law of Suharto, Jokowi finally resorted to pragmatism. The president has embraced former police and military generals to serve in his government and Cabinet in what many see as a bid to contain Prabowo’s opposition leadership. Some of the ten former military generals, including Wiranto and Hendropriyono, who are members of Jokowi’s inner circle and Cabinet, were allegedly implicated in human rights violations cases such as the killings in East Timor.
Reformasi has failed on human rights in Indonesia because despite status of the government, whether military or not, former police and military generals implicated in past human rights violations have continued to hold power in the past 20 years.
As a result, human rights are still at risk in Indonesia despite people enjoying greater civil liberty and political participation.
Security forces in Papua, the restive and eastern most region of Indonesia, frequently apply unnecessary force when dealing with peaceful demonstrations that usually end up with extrajudicial killings. After East Timor, now Timor-Leste, became an independent country through a referendum in 1999 and Aceh secured a peace agreement with the central government in 2005 to end its struggle for independence, Papua is the only region in Indonesia today that still has both armed and peaceful independence movements, making the province the country’s hotbed for human rights violations in what security forces called ‘fighting against separatists.’
In the past 20 years, although Indonesia no longer had violent conflicts both in Maluku and Central Sulawesi, the country still saw ethnic and religious tensions and violence, resulting from divisive and scapegoating politics by the elites. Draconian laws have been readopted to restrict civil liberties and activism deemed as anti-Pancasila, separatist, or communist. Also, minority groups such as Ahmadiyah, Syiah, Christians, followers of native faiths, human rights defenders, journalists, as well as LGBT people frequently suffer discrimination and attacks from both state and nonstate actors without any serious efforts to bring those suspected of criminal responsibility to justice.
This culture of impunity goes back to the fact that none of the administrations from 1998 to 2018 managed to bring to justice those responsible for killing students in Trisakti University in Jakarta and in the Semanggi Tragedy, as well as the disappearance of students who fought for Reformasi in 1998. It is clear that Reformasi still has an unpaid debt to the killed and disappeared students who fought to defend the reform movement.
Published on The Diplomat on May 21, 2018
By Margaret Wurth
In the next week, Indonesian President Joko (“Jokowi”) Widodo will decide whether to encourage parliament to move forward with a draft tobacco bill aimed at increasing domestic tobacco production. The bill would gut many important existing health regulations, like the requirement that companies include a health warning with a picture on the label of tobacco products.
Those are troubling proposals given that millions of children in Indonesia start smoking each year, and that 40 million more are “passive smokers” from secondhand smoke. The Indonesian Ministry of Health, 17 prominent health organizations, and many others have denounced the measure as an attempt to undermine Indonesia’s already weak tobacco control laws. Jokowi should reject the bill.
But the draft bill is not the only tobacco policy issue awaiting action by the Jokowi administration. Each year in Indonesia, thousands of children, some just 8 years old, work in hazardous conditions producing tobacco that ends up in products marketed and sold by huge Indonesian and multinational tobacco companies.
My colleagues and I published a Human Rights Watch report documenting hazardous child labor on Indonesian tobacco farms last May. Since then, another tobacco season has come and gone, but the child workers behind Indonesia’s tobacco industry remain unprotected.
We interviewed 132 children who worked on tobacco farms in four of Indonesia’s biggest tobacco-producing provinces. We found that child workers are exposed to nicotine and pesticides—toxins that can be especially harmful to children who are still growing and developing. Half the children we interviewed had experienced nausea, vomiting, headaches, or dizziness while they worked. Those symptoms are consistent with acute nicotine poisoning, which happens when workers handle tobacco plants and absorb nicotine through their skin. Many children said they also mixed and sprayed toxic chemicals on the plants with no protective equipment, and some became violently ill afterward.
The families we interviewed did not intentionally put their children in harm’s way. They were committed to helping their children get an education so they could have a better future. Indeed, most of the children we interviewed attended school and worked in tobacco farming only outside of school hours.
But direct contact with tobacco in any form is hazardous work for children because of the nicotine in the leaves. Most of the families we spoke with had never received comprehensive information about the hazards for children of work on tobacco farms, so they did not know the risks to their children.
We urged the Jokowi government to take action to protect children from danger in tobacco fields. We called on the Health Ministry to work with other ministries to develop a public education campaign to raise awareness of the dangers to children of work on tobacco farms. In recent meetings with Human Rights Watch, government officials have said they need additional support and resources to get the campaign underway this year.
Indonesia already prohibits children under 18 from work “with harmful chemical substances.” The Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration should explicitly prohibit children from working in direct contact with tobacco in any form and increase labor enforcement efforts to make sure government inspectors check for workers’ safety, especially on small tobacco farms where children might be in danger.
In our meetings with government officials, we have heard many times that the tobacco industry is powerful in Indonesia, and that it is difficult to achieve policy changes the industry opposes. Surely eliminating child labor in tobacco farming is an issue tobacco companies also want to address.
The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights make clear that companies have responsibilities for addressing human rights abuses in their supply chains. We shared our findings with the largest tobacco companies operating in Indonesia—Djarum, Gudang Garam, Philip Morris International (which owns Sampoerna), British American Tobacco (which owns Bentoel), and others. The large multinational tobacco companies have policies to prevent children from doing the most dangerous tasks on tobacco farms, but their policies are not strong enough, and they should do more to monitor for child labor when they buy Indonesian tobacco on the open market through traders.
The largest Indonesian companies—Djarum and Gudang Garam—do not appear to be taking any steps to prevent or address child labor in their supply chains. They have never responded to our many requests for information and meetings, and they do not make any information publicly available about their child labor policies.
These companies should not be profiting off the backs of Indonesian child workers.
Two months from now, the next tobacco-growing season will be underway, and children will be heading to the fields again. The controversy around the draft tobacco bill likely will not be resolved by then. But with decisive action, the Jokowi administration and tobacco companies could take steps to protect children from dangerous work in tobacco fields. Their futures depend on it.
This article was published on HRW's website on March 15, 2017.