1-31-2012By Quinn O'Keefe
Human Rights Defenders Program
The U.S. relationship with Indonesia has gotten extremely cozy. On January 24, attending a breakfast roundtable at the Indonesian Ambassador’s residence, I had an insight into this love-fest.
The Obama Administration has made it clear that it wants to increase the U.S. government’s influence in South East Asia. A key part of this strategy is Indonesia, and the Indonesian government has been smart about leveraging U.S. interests for its own gain. This relationship could be a good thing so long as human rights get their share of the attention. The Obama administration should take advantage of this strengthened relationship by pushing for human rights progress.
Last Tuesday’s breakfast focused on the status of strategic cooperation between the two countries. The cooperation has included two Obama visits, an impending sale of 24 F16 military aircrafts, a $600 million dollar commitment by the Millennium Challenge Corporation, increased military cooperation, an Indonesian caucus in the U.S. Congress, and cooperation on health and education. Indonesia would like to increase American investment and trade in the country and become the go-to country for the United States on security and business. America investment is hot right now in Indonesia, and one day soon there’s likely to be a push for a bi-lateral trade agreement.
Indonesia has too much on the line to ignore the U.S. government’s calls for human rights improvements, and a low-hanging fruit for the Obama administration is pushing the Indonesian government toward increasing protection for its own human rights activists. Impunity for human rights abusers contributes to an environment in which human rights activists feel unprotected. While violence against human rights activists has declined in recent years, attacks, intimidation, and harassment continue. Just this past October, police backed by a military detachment fired assault rifles during a demonstration in Jayapura, Papua, killing at least three. The government has also impeded the work of activists’ by bringing criminal and civil defamation cases against them.
The United States should leverage its own influence with the Indonesian government and call on it to promptly investigate and prosecute all threats and harassment against human rights activists and adopt comprehensive legislation to ensure their protection. And it should push for enforcement of such legislation through, among other steps, increased oversight and accountability of the police, military, and security forces. Indonesia should also repeal or amend legislation that criminalizes the work of activists, including journalists.