Presidential election debates must include human rights

10 Jun 2009

The decision to exclude human rights from the topics to be discussed by the presidential and vice presidential candidates in televised debates organised by Indonesia’s General Elections Commission will deprive the electorate of information about the records and views of the candidates on a matter of grave importance, says TAPOL, the UK-based organisation that promotes human rights, peace and democracy in Indonesia.

“We can only conclude that this decision was taken under pressure from the contesting duos, each of which includes a retired general. It is symptomatic of the continuing influence of the military within the country’s political elite,” says Carmel Budiardjo of TAPOL.

Vice-presidential candidate Wiranto, the running mate of incumbent Vice-President Jusuf Kalla, has been formally indicted on crimes against humanity charges in East Timor for his role in the abuses committed by the armed forces under his command at the time of the August 1999 vote for independence.

At least 1,400 Timorese were killed, the country’s infrastructure suffered widespread destruction, and tens of thousands of Timorese were forcibly removed to Indonesian West Timor.  Wiranto has been saved from facing trial by Indonesia’s refusal to hand him over to the East Timorese authorities.

Prabowo Subianto, the running mate of former President Megawati Sukarnoputri is allegedly responsible for the disappearance of dozens of pro-democracy activists in May 1998 during the final days of the Suharto era.  Many of the disappeared have still not been accounted for.  He also undertook a tour of duty in East Timor.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who is predicted to win a second term in July, is also a retired general. He has chosen an economist, Boediono, as his running mate. During his current five-year term, the President has failed to deal with the numerous human rights violations perpetrated in Indonesia over the past four decades, thus reinforcing the culture of impunity.

In particular, despite pledging to give high priority to the case, his administration has failed to bring to justice the masterminds behind the murder of Indonesia’s foremost human rights activist, Munir, who died of poisoning in September 2004, just one month before President Yudhoyono took office.

Both under the Suharto dictatorship and during the subsequent reformasi era, virtually nothing has been done to bring to justice anyone responsible for egregious human rights violations. This is a matter of profound importance for the Indonesian electorate. They need to know whether the forthcoming elections will result in any improvements in the rule of law and the enforcement of human rights.

TAPOL believes that the culture of impunity has protected many senior military officers from facing justice for crimes against humanity and a host of human rights violations over the past four decades.

“We are deeply concerned that the decision to exclude human rights from the presidential and vice-presidential debates will contribute to the new administration continuing the pattern of neglect that has characterised all Indonesian governments up until the present.

“We call upon the General Elections Commission to include human rights as a topic for debate and ensure that it gets a full airing not only in these presidential discussions but also during the overall campaigning up until the election on 8 July,” says Carmel Budiardjo.