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Indonesia-Human Rights and Foreign Policy

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Indonesia Index

The luster of Suharto's Nonaligned Movement chairmanship was somewhat diminished by persistent questioning of Indonesia's human rights practices. The November 1991 Dili Massacre reopened the nagging problem of East Timor, forcing Suharto to break off his foreign tour (see Local Government , this ch.; National Defense and Internal Security , ch. 5). Indonesia's problem in East Timor was only one part of a human- and political-rights record that was repeatedly criticized by a number of human rights monitoring agencies such as Asia Watch, Amnesty International, and the International Commission of Jurists. Over the years of the New Order's life, the International Commission of Jurists had provided copious documentation of rights violations that paralleled the congressionally mandated United States Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices around the world, including data on Indonesia. Indonesia had the unenviable distinction of being one of the twenty-two nations criticized by the 1992 meeting of the UN Human Rights Commission.

The catalog of problem areas was lengthy. Indonesia's violations ran the gamut from lack of respect for the integrity of the individual to torture and disappearance; lack of respect for civil liberties including freedom of speech, press, and assembly; lack of respect for political rights; racial, religious, and other forms of discrimination; and inadequate labor rights. Of particular concern to the human rights monitoring agencies was the use of the judicial system to suppress political opposition.

Indonesia's reactions to external criticism of its human rights record ranged from militant intransigence to reasoned defense. ABRI chief Try Sutrisno reacted angrily to foreign expressions of concern over the human rights situation in East Timor. "This is an internal affair and there should be no meddling," he said. "If anyone wants to talk about human rights, Indonesia has had them since time immemorial. That's why you should study Pancasila." Furthermore, he added, "We will not accept any foreign interference." Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Alatas took a more centrist position. He placed the issue in the context of balancing individual rights with the rights of a society, and political rights and economic, social, and cultural rights. Alatas argued that certain characteristic problems of developing countries must be acknowledged in the application of human rights criteria. Moreover, Indonesia furiously resisted the linking of the rights issues to other areas of international relations, particularly economic relations. The human rights issue complicated the renegotiation of an ASEAN-European Community treaty on economic cooperation because the European Community insisted on the inclusion of a "human rights clause." The issue of human rights and East Timor was placed on the European Community's agenda by Portugal. In the European Community and other international forums, Lisbon pressured an unresponsive Indonesia to allow a UN-supervised act of selfdetermination in the province.

In March 1992, angered at Dutch prodding on human rights, Indonesia cut its aid relationship with the Netherlands and disbanded the twenty-four-year-old IGGI, the multinational group of lenders, which was chaired by the Dutch. A new group, minus the Dutch, called the Consultative Group on Indonesia (CGI--see Glossary), met in Paris rather than The Hague, after being established under World Bank aegis to continue IGGI functions. Jakarta was forcing a choice: participation in a liberalized Indonesian economy or insistence on the priority of human rights.

Also in March 1992, the DPR passed a new immigration law that was criticized by human rights groups. The law effectively barred from returning to Indonesia residents whom the government decided had been disloyal. Targets of the new law were seen as elements that ABRI would naturally want to ban: secessionist movement members and alleged communists.

Data as of November 1992

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