Indonesia moves toward democracy, rights record remains poor

News and Press Release
Originally published
Although Indonesia continues to make progress in its transition from an authoritarian regime to a "more pluralistic, representative democracy," the government's human rights record remains "poor," according to the Indonesia Country Report on Human Rights Practices for the Year 2001.

The State Department's annual human rights report on the world's most populous Muslim nation was released to the public in Washington, D.C. March 4.

The State Department noted that Indonesia's People's Consultative Assembly had effectively exercised its right to call an extraordinary session and remove then-President Abdurrahman Wahid on charges of corruption and misrule.

The People's Consultative Assembly followed the constitutional order of succession by replacing Wahid with then-Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri.

Jakarta's human rights record "remained poor," the State Department said, with the regime continuing to commit "serious abuses."

While the Indonesian armed forces are under nominal civilian supervision, the report noted that security forces "were responsible for numerous instances of, at times indiscriminate, shooting of civilians, torture, rape, beatings and other abuse, and arbitrary detention in Aceh, West Timor, Papua (formerly known as Irian Jaya), and elsewhere in the country."

The report said more than 6,000 people have lost their lives since 1999 in the Moluccas as inter-religious violence raged there, with many Christians being forced to convert to Islam. Similar incidents of assaults on ethnic minorities plagued the nation, according to the State Department.

Jakarta, according to the report, seemed unable to stem inter-ethnic and inter- religious violence, which resulted in the majority of violent deaths in the past year.

The Indonesian government's "critical failure to pursue accountability for human rights violations reinforces the impression that there would be continued impunity for security force abuses," the State Department report said.

The full report can be found online at:

Following is the introduction to the Indonesia Country Report on Human Rights Practices for the Year 2001:

(begin excerpt)


Indonesia continued to make progress in some areas of its transition from a long-entrenched authoritarian regime to a more pluralistic, representative democracy. In July the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), which is the country's supreme governing institution, exercised its constitutional right to convene an "extraordinary session," and removed President Abdurrahman Wahid from office in connection with charges of corruption and misrule. Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri replaced Wahid, as stipulated by law, and the MPR elected United Development Party Chairman Hamzah Haz to replace Megawati as Vice President. Wahid was elected in 1999 in the country's first pluralistic elections, in a process judged free and fair by international monitors. The Government continued to face enormous challenges because institutions required for a democratic system either do not exist or are at an early stage of development. Existing institutions, including the government bureaucracy and security establishment, often were obstacles to democratic development. A constitutional amendment process underway since 1999 has provided for a clearer separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches. The President and the appointed Cabinet are accountable to the MPR, the majority of whose members are elected. The 500-member Parliament (DPR), of which 462 members were chosen in the 1999 elections (but which also includes 38 unelected members of the military), remained a forum for vigorous debate of government policy and practice during the year. The Parliament frequently challenged the authority and policies of the executive branch, including the removal of Wahid in July. The MPR, which consists of the Parliament, 130 elected regional representatives, and 65 appointed functional group representatives, held its second annual session in November. Previously, the MPR had met only once every 5 years to elect the President and Vice President and to consider other matters reserved for the MPR. During its November session, the MPR amended the 1945 Constitution to provide, among other changes, for direct presidential and vice-presidential elections, a bicameral legislature with a regional representative's chamber, and a constitutional court with the power of judicial review of legislation. The amendments, if fully implemented, would increase elected officials' accountability to constituents by allowing people to elect the President and Vice President. The human rights protection amendment to the Constitution was incorporated in 2000 and was not further amended during the year. The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, it remains subordinated to the executive and there is pervasive corruption.

The 275,000-member armed forces (TNI) are under the supervision of a civilian defense minister but retain broad nonmilitary powers and an internal security role, and are not fully accountable to civilian authority. The military and police jointly occupy 38 appointed seats in the DPR reserved for the security forces, as well as 10 percent of the seats in provincial and district parliaments. The security forces, whose members do not have the right to vote in elections, agreed to relinquish their appointed seats in the national and regional legislatures in 2004, but appear likely to retain some seats in the MPR until as late as 2009. In 2000 Wahid signed a decree abolishing the Agency for Coordination of Assistance for the Consolidation of National Security (BAKORSTANAS), which had given the security forces had wide discretion to detain and interrogate persons who were perceived as threats to national security. In 2000 Wahid also signed a decree removing the national police force of 175,000 members from the supervision of the Minister of Defense and providing for civilian oversight. This step, in addition to the formal separation of the police from the armed forces in 1999, was intended to give the police primary responsibility for internal security. The separation of the military and the police was reinforced through a 2000 constitutional amendment and a police law enacted during the year. There continues to be confusion in the armed forces regarding the respective responsibilities of each institution in some cases. The decree provides a caveat that permits the Army to provide security assistance to the State Police upon the latter's request. Notwithstanding these changes, the military continues to play a substantial internal security role in areas of conflict, such as Aceh, the Moluccas, and Papua (formerly known as Irian Jaya). Members of both the TNI and the police committed numerous serious human rights abuses.

The economy, which is market-based with a significant degree of government intervention, increased by approximately 3 percent during the year, following more than 4.8 percent growth in 2000. Industrial exports grew strongly, particularly in labor-intensive textiles, electronics, wood products, and other light manufacturing industries based in the densely populated islands of Java and Bali. Underemployment remained high at approximately 19 million persons. Over 40 percent of the adult working population is employed in agriculture, which in Java, Bali, and southern Sulawesi primarily involves rice and other food crops but elsewhere concentrates on cash crops such as oil palm, rubber, coffee, tea, coconut, and spices. Per capita gross domestic product among the population of 211 million was $738 in 2000, well below the levels achieved before the severe economic downturn that began in July 1997. The downturn affected most severely the urban poor, particularly in Java, partly as a result of a wholesale shift in employment from the higher-paying formal sector to the less secure informal sector. The negative impact of the economic and financial downturn was smaller in less populated, natural resource-rich Kalimantan, Sulawesi, and Sumatra. Large disparities in the distribution of wealth and political power contributed to social tensions across the country and continued to create demands for greater regional autonomy. Two laws providing for greater political and economic decentralization and for revenue sharing among the country's provinces and districts came into effect in January. Parliament approved the Aceh Special Autonomy Law in July and the Papua Special Autonomy Bill in October. The two provinces of Aceh and Papua were granted special autonomy, which affords them greater political, cultural, and economic benefits, including the right to retain a larger percentage of their oil and gas revenues.

The Government's human rights record remained poor, and it continued to commit serious abuses. Security forces were responsible for numerous instances of, at times indiscriminate, shooting of civilians, torture, rape, beatings and other abuse, and arbitrary detention in Aceh, West Timor, Papua (formerly known as Irian Jaya), and elsewhere in the country. TNI personnel often responded with indiscriminate violence after physical attacks on soldiers. They also continued to conduct "sweeps" that led to killing of civilians and property destruction. The Commission for Disappearances and Victims of Violence (KONTRAS) reported that during the period between June 2000 and June 2001, police killed 740 persons. Despite the May 2000 agreement between the Government and the leaders of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) to limit armed hostilities, military, police, and GAM forces committed numerous extrajudicial killings. Security forces in Papua assaulted, tortured, and killed persons during search operations for members of militant groups. The security forces inconsistently enforced a no-tolerance policy against flying the Papuan flag, tearing down and destroying flags and flag poles, and killing eight persons, and beating others who tried to raise or protect the flag prior to the signing into law of the Papua Special Autonomy Law, which permits the flying of the flag as a cultural symbol. There continued to be credible reports of the disappearance of civilians, KONTRAS reported 55 cases of forced disappearance between January 1 and September. The killers of two Achenese NGO activists, Jafar Siddiq Hamzah and Tengku Hashiruddin Daud, who had been abducted in 2000 and later found dead with indication of torture, had not been identified by year's end. Papuan independence leader Theys Eluay was kidnaped and killed in November. Crossborder raids into East Timor by East Timorese prointegration militias resident in West Timor, armed and largely supported by the army, diminished during the year as the Indonesian military withdrew its backing. Three Timorese who admitted killing three U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) workers in West Timor were brought to trial in Indonesia and charged with manslaughter instead of murder.

Security forces tortured and otherwise abused persons. Rapes and sexual exploitation by security forces continued to be a problem. Prison conditions are harsh. Security forces employed arbitrary arrest and detention without trial in Aceh. Despite initial steps toward reform, the judiciary remains subordinate to the executive, is corrupt, and does not always ensure due process. Security forces infringe on citizens' privacy rights. Security forces continued to intimidate and assault journalists. The Government places some controls on freedom of assembly; however, it allowed most demonstrations to proceed without hindrance except in Aceh and Papua. Security forces also brutally dispersed demonstrations on several occasions. The Government places some controls on freedom of association. There are some restrictions on certain types of religious activity and on unrecognized religions. The Government continues to restrict freedom of movement to a limited extent. Thousands of Acehnese residents fled their villages during conflicts between the security forces and separatists. Intercommunal conflict forced the relocation of hundreds of thousands of persons in Maluku and North Maluku in 2000 and during the year. In West Timor, the Government's failure to disarm and disband the East Timorese prointegration militias impeded the repatriation or resettlement of thousands of East Timorese IDP's during the first half of the year. During the latter part of the year, obstacles to repatriation were uncertainty about conditions in East Timor and unresolved problems with government pensions.

Domestic human rights organizations continued to play a significant role in advocating for improvements in human rights; however, at times security force members killed, abused, and detained human rights activists and humanitarian workers, most frequently in areas with active insurgencies. On March 29, security forces reportedly killed three human rights workers and left their bodies in a village in South Aceh. In June in Jakarta, police detained and threatened Non Governmental Organization (NGO) members before releasing them. Violence and discrimination against women are widespread problems. Child abuse and child prostitution are problems, and female genital mutilation (FGM) persists in some areas. Discrimination against persons with disabilities, indigenous persons, and religious and ethnic minorities also are widespread problems. Interreligious violence, particularly in the Moluccas, has claimed over 6,000 lives since the onset of hostilities in January 1999, and thousands of Christians in Maluku have been forced to convert to Islam. Discrimination against ethnic minorities persisted. Attacks against houses of worship continued, and the lack of an effective government response to punish perpetrators and prevent further attacks led to allegations of official complicity in some of the incidents.

The Government continued to allow new trade unions to form and operate; however, enforcement of labor standards remains inconsistent and weak in some areas. Millions of children work, often under poor conditions. Forced and bonded child labor remains a problem, although the Government continued to take steps during the year to remove children from fishing platforms, on which bonded child labor most commonly occurs. Trafficking of persons into and from the country for the purpose of prostitution and sometimes for forced labor is a problem.

The Government was ineffective in deterring social, interethnic, and interreligious violence that accounted for the majority of deaths by violence during the year. Enforcement of the law against criminal violence deteriorated, resulting in religious groups purporting to uphold public morality, and mobs dispensing "street justice" operating with impunity.

In Aceh, armed separatists killed dozens of civil society leaders, academics, politicians and other local residents, as well as civil servants, police and soldiers. They also abducted and otherwise harassed such persons. GAM also targeted non-ethnic Acehnese residents of Aceh. On March 23, presumed GAM militants reportedly kidnaped and killed seven Javanese transmigrants. In June attackers believed to be GAM members, killed scores of Javanese and ethnic Gayo in Central Aceh. Ethnic clashes between Dayaks and Madurese transmigrants in February and March claimed 500 lives in Central Kalimantan, according to official sources.

In response to past abuses, joint civilian-military courts and various other investigative bodies continued to pursue cases involving army and police officers. Four military personnel and four civilians were detained in February for the December 2000 killings of three humanitarian workers from the NGO Rehabilitation Action for Torture Victims in Aceh (RATA) in North Aceh. A court was convened to consider the case, but by the year's end, no hearings had been held. The four civilians suspects escaped from police custody; the four military suspects remained in detention. There were no other reports of military or police personnel being prosecuted for crimes in Aceh. The Government has prosecuted several persons in connection with 2 attacks on UN personnel in East and West Timor, but has not prosecuted others for the militia-related crimes in West or East Timor dating back to 1999, although the Attorney General in September and October 2000 named 23 persons as suspects in East Timor human rights cases (one of whom was killed in early September 2000). The Government's critical failure to pursue accountability for human rights violations reinforces the impression that there would be continued impunity for security force abuses.

(end excerpt)

(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: