Indonesia: Rights commission warns of intensifying abuse in 2014

The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) warned that 2014 could be an “emergency” year for rights violations.

As political candidates will be contesting the legislative and presidential elections this year, they could use sensitive issues regarding religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation and race to further their own interests.

Komnas HAM recorded that there had been a spike in the number of complaints of rights violations, the highest being in 2013 with 7,000. It added that the situation was expected to increase in the months leading up to the elections.

The commission called on the public to brace for a likely escalation of discrimination and intolerance against minority groups ahead and during the legislative and presidential elections.

Komnas HAM commissioner Roichatul Aswidah said that to anticipate the situation the rights body would step up its advocacy on vulnerable groups, including, among others, people with disabilities, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals and members of religious minorities.

“We must anticipate that discrimination against these people will be used to garner support as well as to prevent them from using their right to vote,” Roichatul said.

Roichatul, who heads the Komnas HAM team that assesses public policies, said that minority groups would be most vulnerable given the absence of regulations to protect their rights.

She said that the absence of regulations to protect minority sects like the Ahmadiyah and Shia community could result in them becoming the targets of smear campaigns.

“Last year, we witnessed discriminations against members of the Ahmadis and Shia community and other religious minorities. This will worsen unless the government does something,” Roichatul added.

Separately, Komnas HAM chair Siti Noor Laila said that the rights body had worked with various institutions to ensure election organizers provided equal access to voters regardless of their ethnicity, political leaning, religious affiliation or sexual orientation.

Laila earlier said that in addition to its official representative offices nationwide, Komnas HAM would also involve the Indonesian Military (TNI), the National Police, the Election Supervisory Committee (Bawaslu) and civil society groups and universities to help monitor the 2014 election.

“We can’t work alone. The elections are a major event and everyone needs to be involved,” she said.

In addition, to ensure equal and fair elections, Komnas HAM is also set to resolve cases of past human rights violations this year, together with institutions such as the Office of the Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister, the Law and Human Rights Ministry and the Attorney General’s Office (AGO).

Laila said that Komnas HAM expected closure to major rights cases before October, when a new president was sworn in.

Cases of past rights abuse that Komnas HAM is currently handling include the 1965 anti-communist purge, the 1998 May riots and the rights violations during the military operation in Aceh.

Analysts have warned that human rights violations could increase due to conflict between corporations and communities.

Conflicts could result from the issuance of business permits for natural resource extraction, which will be more rampant as money is needed to contest the legislative and presidential elections.