After decades of authoritarian rule, President Suharto stepped down in 1998. Past abuses came to light in mass graves and graphic testimony, but the expectations of accountability for crimes in Aceh, Papua, and Jakarta have not been met.
Ineffective civilian leadership allowed the discredited military to regain much of its stature. More regional military commands were created, martial law was declared in Aceh, and an ad hoc tribunal on 1999′s crimes against humanity in East Timor became a mechanism for impunity, as all military defendants were acquitted.
Indonesia’s first direct presidential elections in September 2004 elected a retired general, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Yudhoyono has worked to resolve the conflict in Aceh and appointed corruption-fighters to his cabinet. However, he has not taken firm or effective stands on the crucial questions of impunity or military reform.
Issues facing human rights defenders in Indonesia
The Assassination of Munir: In September 2004 one of Indonesia’s leading human rights defenders was murdered. Munir was poisoned with arsenic while flying to Holland to continue his studies. President Yudhoyono appointed and met regularly with a fact-finding team, but did not back them up when they sought access to top intelligence officials implicated by phone records and other evidence. A 2005 trial led to the conviction of one man, but the intelligence officials have yet to be effectively questioned, let alone prosecuted.
Religious Freedom: The country’s blasphemy law and the selective enforcement of criminal laws are fueling extremist violence, as well as the continued harassment and intimidation of religious minorities in Indonesia.
Counterterrorism and human rights: Many Indonesian NGOs perceive a link between counterterrorism and heightening pressure on defenders, much of it due to the increasing authority of the military. After the Bali bombing of October 2002, the President issued decrees that use a broad definition of terrorism and allow detention without trial. After each of the two major subsequent bombings, military and intelligence authorities sought to increase their authority further.
Intimidation by litigation: After human rights lawyer Hendardi said that the intelligence agency was harassing activists instead of chasing terrorists, the intelligence chief, Hendropriyono, filed a civil libel suit for one million dollars. Hendropriyono, who left his position under the new administration, also filed a defamation complaint against two members of the Munir fact-finding team.