By Kyle Knight
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein is urging Indonesia’s government to scrap clauses in a new draft criminal code that would discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. “[If] Muslim societies expect others to fight against Islamophobia, we should be prepared to end discrimination at home too,” he said at the conclusion of a three-day visit to the world’s largest Muslim country. “Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or any other status is wrong.”
Since 2016, Indonesia’s sexual and gender minorities have been under siege, including hateful rhetoric from government officials, attacks on LGBT human rights defenders, raids on lesbian-owned houses and private gay clubs, and arrests under a vague and discriminatory anti-pornography law. In 2017, police and public order officials arbitrarily arrested more than 300 LGBT people in raids. Zeid observed that the anti-LGBT moral panic was, “being cultivated seemingly for cynical political purposes.”
In December 2016, Indonesia’s Constitutional Court dismissed a petition seeking to criminalize all consensual sex outside of marriage, as well as adult consensual same-sex conduct – something the country has never done, except in Aceh province where Sharia (Islamic law) applies. In May, two men were publicly flogged in Aceh after neighbors caught them naked together.
The court’s decision protected the basic privacy rights of all Indonesians, not only LGBT people. With some estimates that as many as half of Indonesian couples do not get legally married because of difficulties registering, criminalizing their sex lives could embolden vigilantes and overwhelm police and prison systems. After the court’s ruling, the petitioners pledged to redouble efforts to amend the Criminal Code in parliament, where it is currently under debate.
Zeid urged Indonesia to, “resist attempts to introduce new forms of discrimination in law.” And in its December ruling, the Constitutional Court issued a similar warning: “If one builds an argument that to maintain societal order is to force members of the society who acts in a manner considered deviant to change their behaviors through threats of criminal punishment, he or she basically believes that societal order can be created under repressive measures only.”
Published on HRW on February 8, 2018
The Indonesian government should urgently investigate the September 2, 2017 police raid on the homes of 12 “suspected lesbians,” Human Rights Watch said today. The raid and ensuing forced evictions violate the rights to privacy, non-discrimination and basic due process.
The police raided a residential compound in West Java province’s Tugu Jaya village in response to complaints from local Islamic youth groups and religious leaders that the women’s cohabitation was “against the teachings of Islam.” Police demanded that the women immediately relocate from the area without providing any legal justification for the order, according to authorities, Human Rights Watch interviewed.
“What’s most offensive about this incident is that police and government officials steamrolled privacy rights and rule of law to appease the bigotry of a few neighbors,” said Andreas Harsono, senior Indonesia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Evicting these women based on prejudiced assumptions of their sexual identity threatens the privacy of all Indonesians and has no place in a country whose motto is ‘unity in diversity.’”
Human Rights Watch research found that the police raid, led by the head of Tugu Jaya village, Sugandi Sigit, and the police commissioner, Saifuddin Ibrahim, resulted in the 12 women immediately vacating their homes and leaving the area. Mohammad Karim, the head of the neighborhood where the women live in Tugu Jaya, sought to justify the raid by saying that the women were “unsettling the public.”
A village official who asked not to be named told Human Rights Watch: “It’s not acceptable to have female couples living together. Some have short hair, acting as the males. Some have long hair, acting as the females. It’s against Sharia [Islamic law]. It’s obscene.” The women’s whereabouts are currently unknown and Human Rights Watch has been unable to contact them.
During the raids on the women’s homes, police and government officials recorded the details of the women’s national identity cards before instructing them to leave the area in three days. Sumantri, the head of the Cigombong district public order office that took part in the raids, said that police and government officials told the women that “their presence had created public disturbance in the area. We politely asked them to leave.”
This forced eviction, in violation of international legal protections, fits into a disturbing pattern of discrimination and unlawful use of force by police against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Indonesia, Human Rights Watch said. In her 2013 report on Indonesia, the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to housing noted a pattern of forced evictions of LGBT people in the country.
There have been at least four raids on LGBT people in private settings in 2017 alone. On March 28, unidentified vigilantes forcibly entered an apartment in Aceh province and took two men in their twenties to the police for allegedly having same-sex relations.
Two months later, authorities publicly flogged the men. On April 30, police raided a private gathering of gay and bisexual men in the city of Surabaya, arrested and detained 14 of them, and subjected them to HIV tests without their consent. On May 21, police raided the Atlantis Spa in Jakarta, arrested 141 people, and charged 10 for holding an alleged sex party. And on June 8, police apprehended five “suspected lesbians” and ordered their parents to supervise them – and shared a video of the raidand the names of the five women with reporters.
On June 1, Human Rights Watch wrote to National Police Chief Gen. Tito Karnavian calling on him to order an immediate halt to such discriminatory targeting of LGBT people and investigate the legality of police actions during the raids. Karnavian, who oversees all regional and municipal police forces in the country and reports directly to President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, has not responded to Human Rights Watch’s letter.
Anti-LGBT incidents across Indonesia have significantly increased since a January 2016 spike in noxious and hateful rhetoric from public officials and politicians – including police raids on suspected gatherings of LGBT people, the closure of public transgender events, and attacks on activists. In October 2016, President Jokowi broke his long silence on escalating anti-LGBT rhetoric by defending the rights of the country’s LGBT community. He declared that “the police must act” against actions by bigoted groups or individuals to harm LGBT people or deny them their rights, and that “there should be no discrimination against anyone.”
“Police raids on private gatherings of LGBT people foster dangerous anti-gay hysteria at a time when the government should instead be stepping up to protect this marginalized minority,” Harsono said. “It has been nearly a year since President Jokowi pledged his support to the LGBT community, but his failure to take action has allowed raids like this to continue unabated.”
Published on HRW on September 5, 2017.
Discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Indonesians in workplaces, schools, and social opportunities is pervasive and will limit their ability to fully contribute to the Indonesian economy. A new study shows that the cost of discrimination to the Indonesian economy could range from nearly 900 million to 12 billion US dollars.
In LGBT Exclusion in Indonesia and Its Economic Effects, researchers M.V. Lee Badgett, Amira Hasenbush and Winston Ekaprasetia Luhur examine the evidence that discrimination occurs against LGBT people, and the study shows how that treatment can hold back economic growth in Indonesia.
Key findings from the report include:
M.V. Lee Badgett, an economist who has conducted similar studies in other parts of the world, notes, “To reach their full economic potential, LGBT people need to develop their human capital, or their abilities, skills, and knowledge. This report shows that LGBT Indonesians are often held back from reaching that point, which prevents them from contributing fully to the economy.”
Badgett compares the Indonesian economy to that of India where similar research has been completed. “The data in Indonesia is somewhat limited,” Badgett said. “If we draw on research from India, we would estimate that the loss resulting from LGBT exclusion in Indonesia would be from 0.1 percent to 1.4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), or $862 million to $12 billion.” The report shows that public attitudes in Indonesia are far less accepting of homosexuality than attitudes in India, so this estimate of Indonesia’s estimated financial loss is considered conservative.
The findings of LGBT Exclusion in Indonesia and Its Economic Effects rely on an extensive review of peer-reviewed literature as well as documentation from governments, intergovernmental organizations, and non-government organizations.
Published on the Williams Institute's website on March 28, 2017.