Indonesia: Ensuring no one disappears again

The meeting of the House of Representatives’ Commission I with the Foreign Ministry on Dec. 4, 2013 on the ratification of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances (Anti-Disappearance Convention) was an anticlimax.

Human rights NGOs and human rights defenders, particularly the victims, have long been expecting the meeting to end up with a unanimous decision to ratify said convention. It would have been a nice year-end closing gong that would see President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono applauded not only by the country’s human rights champions, but also by the international community.

The ratification of the Anti-Disappearance Convention could have become one of the President’s legacies in law and human rights. Several political parties, however, wanted to delay the ratification. Lawmakers said that there were still some parts of the draft law on the ratification that still “needed to be discussed”.

Just like the famous quote: “Justice delayed is justice denied,” such an expression in Indonesia is a euphemism for refusal.

It is very easy to guess what political parties wanted to delay the ratification: Political parties run by former military generals during the repressive New Order make it easy for people to point to the Great Indonesia Movement (Gerindra) Party, whose chief patron is Prabowo Subianto; and People’s Conscience (Hanura) Party, whose chairperson is Wiranto.

Both parties have consistently argued that further discussion was needed on parts of the draft law and the convention itself.

The Golkar Party, the main supporter of the Soeharto government and the Islamic Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) supported the two parties’ position.

The National Mandate Party (PAN) was absent during the meeting, leaving the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), Democratic Party (PD), National Awakening Party (PKB) and United Development Party (PPP) to unite in favor of the ratification.

With such a split position, further internal discussion in Commission I, which deals with politics and foreign affairs, is to be held.

The willingness to ratify the Anti-Disappearance Convention was indicated by the government. Indonesia was one of the sponsors of the adoption of the Convention by the UN General Assembly in 2006.

In March 2007, then minister of law and human rights Hamid Awaludin addressed the UN Human Rights Council, saying that Indonesia would ratify it. Then in September 2009, Indonesia signed the Convention. The final step to comply with the legally binding international human rights instrument on enforced disappearance was initiated in June 2013 when the government submitted the draft law of ratification to the House for adoption.

Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa is correct in saying that the final ratification of the convention would be a manifestation of Indonesia’s commitment to protect human rights as mandated by the Constitution, “a manifestation of the country’s responsibility to guarantee that all people in the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia (NKRI) are free from enforced disappearance.”

The basis of some political parties for requesting “more time to discuss some parts of the draft law”, reflects their lack of understanding on the nature of the convention, its spirit and its contents.

Unlike Law No. 26/2000 on the human rights court and the Rome Statute on International Criminal Courts (ICC), which cover human rights and criminal courts, the Anti-Disappearance Convention is not a court mechanism, but an international human rights treaty or agreement.

The spirit of the convention, as expressed by representatives of UN member states, invited NGOs and victims’ groups, one which I represented in the negotiations from 2003-2006 at the UN Office in Geneva, is largely to protect the rights of every person and to prevent further cases of disappearance.

This is due to the bitter experiences of most countries that the practices of disappearing people has resulted in unimaginable suffering and damage to human history, leading many to say “Never Again!” or “Nunca Mas!” or “Chega!” to this heinous practice.

Many of the provisions to the Anti-Disappearance Convention are mechanisms of prevention, such as the right of every person to not vanish is a non-derogable right (Article 1); as a preventive measure, no one shall be held in secret detention (Article 17); the families and persons working against disappearances should be protected (Article 23); and the families are also considered victims and have the right to know the truth.

One important element in the convention is the monitoring body under the UN, the Committee on Enforced Disappearances which comprises 10 independent experts. But again, their mandate is also to ensure the protection of every person and to prevent enforced disappearances.

It has not only been the commitment of civil society, but the obligation of the state, primarily the government, to protect, promote and fulfill the human rights of its people as enshrined in our Constitution. As far as the Anti-Disappearance Convention is concerned, the ratification will provide the foundation of its realization.

The current administration of President Yudhoyono has shown its willingness by asking the House to adopt the draft law on ratification.

The Indonesian Military (TNI) and the National Police (Polri) have also expressed their support for the convention’s ratification.

We are now closely monitoring the political parties contesting in this year’s general election regarding their commitment to human rights.

If they do not even agree to protect human rights and provide a mechanism of prevention from its violation, what else can we expect? In this particular “game”, the ball is with the political parties.

The writer chairs the Indonesian Association of Families of Missing Persons (Ikatan Keluarga Orang Hilang Indonesia, IKOHI).