Either Jokowi or Prabowo, Indonesia’s future in human rights enforcement remains bleak

Presidential candidate Joko “Jokowi” Widodo (left) shakes hand with Presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto during a debate among candidates in Jakarta, Indonesia, 17 January 2019. Adi Weda/EPA

Either Jokowi or Prabowo, Indonesia’s future in human rights enforcement remains bleak

The first round of Indonesia’s presidential debate last week focused on the issue of human rights, corruption and terrorism. But, both candidates – incumbent President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Prabowo Subianto – only touched the surface on the issues with their rhetorics.

During the debate, Jokowi and Prabowo failed to discuss past and recent human rights cases. There was no mention about violence in Papua, the 1965 massacre, the 1998 riots nor any mention about the death penalty and human rights violations against minority groups, including the Ahmadiyah.

The candidates’ unwillingness to address these issues indicates that whichever candidate wins the presidency the future of human rights enforcement in Indonesia remains bleak. Jokowi may claim that he is not a human rights offender like his rival. But his track record during his tenure shows that his pledges to commit to human rights principles remains empty promises.

Prabowo’s side

Hoping for Prabowo to uphold human rights principles and solve past abuses is a fantasy. The former special forces commander is implicated in various human rights abuses. He has been accused of abduction and torture of 23 pro-democracy activists in the late 1990s. The National Commission of Human Rights even demanded him to be investigated for his role in the forced disappearances. He has knowledge of the killing hundreds of civilians in Santa Cruz massacre, in East Timur.

His reluctance was obvious during the debate. He did not discuss these past atrocities nor said he would commit to solving them. When he said that he would promote human rights during his leadership, the public may find it hard to believe as he fails to prove that he himself is clean of past human rights abuses.

Meanwhile, his final solution to solve human rights issues by fixing the country’s economic policies are not clear.

Jokowi’s side

Knowing his advantage, Jokowi said he did not have any human rights violation’s track record. However, during his tenure as a president, Jokowi has not done much either.

Back in 2014, he won the heart of some voters due to partly his promises to resolve past human rights abuses, including the 1965 tragedy, 1998 May riot, Trisakti & Semanggi I-II, and Papua cases. However, five years into Jokowi’s presidency these cases remain unresolved.

Under Jokowi’s administration, the Attorney General has rejected reports from the National Commission of Human Rights on the investigation into human rights violations in 1965, 1998 and others.

Many view that Jokowi’s administration was hesitant to solve the murder cases of human rights defender Munir Said Thalib when the Administrative Court in Jakarta overturned the Public Information Commission’s decision that obliges the state to reveal a report by a fact-finding team on the case.

During the debate, Jokowi said that it was not easy to resolve the past atrocities due to several technical reasons, including that the crimes were committed a long time ago.

At present, human rights activists have criticised the government’s excessive use of force, extrajudicial killings and the death penalty for drug dealers. At least 98 suspected drug dealers have been killed on the spot in 2017, an increase from 18 in 2016.

Jokowi mentioned that he did want to interfere with the work of law enforcers. But, it was his job to supervise law enforcement agencies to uphold the rule of law.

Under international human rights law, what’s happening under Jokowi’s administration is also a violation of human rights. The law states that if a person fails to prevent human rights violation or punish the perpetrators abuse, he violates human rights by omission.

Same result for either Prabowo or Jokowi

Human rights activists, academics as well as the victims and family of human rights abuses will continue to face challenges under either candidate. Facts and theories have shown that they both are human rights offenders in their own ways and Indonesian voters are left with not many options.