The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) will refrain from assessing the human rights records of presidential candidates in the 2014 election despite calls from activists for the body to do its job as a rights defender.
Newly elected Komnas HAM chairman Hafid Abbas insisted that ranking the human rights records of presidential hopefuls was not part of Komnas HAM’s duty. “Don’t force us to mind someone else’s business,” Hafid told The Jakarta Post on Friday. “It is not included in the mandate granted to us by the law,” he added, emphasizing, “Under my leadership, Komnas HAM will not comply with rights campaigners’ demands.”
Hafid, who was last week chosen to replace former chief Siti Noor Laila after a year leading Komnas HAM, suggested rights activists forward their demands to the General Elections Commission (KPU) as it was the election organizer.
Rights activists have been calling on Komnas HAM, which is mandated by a 1999 law to be the foremost human rights defender in Indonesia, to provide recommendations regarding presidential hopefuls who are linked to cases of human rights violations in the past, including Gerindra chief patron Lt. Gen. (ret) Prabowo Subianto and Hanura chairman Gen. (ret) Wiranto.
“Law No. 39/1999 [on human rights] mandates Komnas HAM to conduct studies as well as monitor the situation of human rights in Indonesia. This means that it is also obliged to actively assess the commitment of the country’s leaders to upholding human rights,” Choirul Anam from the Human Rights Working Group (HRWG) said.
Anam added that Komnas HAM had previously been asked to provide recommendations on the human rights records of the country’s National Police chief candidates and the Indonesian Military (TNI) chief candidates. “Thus, it must also be involved in providing similar recommendations on the country’s presidential candidates. Komnas HAM cannot simply say ‘no’ for the most important leadership position in this country,” he added.
Meanwhile, Poengky Indarti of Imparsial said that Komnas HAM’s reluctance to rate the candidates’ records would only confirm suspicions that infighting within the institution — which has culminated in the change of an internal regulation allowing the annual turnover of the commission’s leadership — has interfered with the organization’s efficacy ahead of the 2014 elections.
Additionally, members of the commission may have ulterior motives. “Our suspicion goes further as we found out that the wife of Komnas HAM’s leader [Hafid Abbas] is a legislative candidate from Gerindra,” Poengky said, referring to Ernawaty Amrah, who is registered as a legislative candidate from South Sulawesi.
Prabowo, who was former head of the Army’s Special Forces (Kopassus), has been accused of ordering the torture and kidnapping of activists during the May riots in 1998, which triggered the fall of the New Order regime of then president Soeharto. Many activists from the era are still missing and presumed dead.
Wiranto, meanwhile, was the Indonesian Military supreme commander during the May 1998 riots, in which thousands of men and women died on the streets of Jakarta. Survivors of the riots have said that they saw military personnel commit atrocities during the uprising.
In 2003, Komnas HAM released the results of an investigation finding that Prabowo and Wiranto were responsible for human rights abuses committed during the 1998 riots.
Komnas HAM submitted its findings to the Attorney General’s Office (AGO), which has so far refused to take further action, arguing that Komnas HAM’s findings were not supported by evidence.
On Friday, the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (KontraS) also pressed the KPU to be more selective in approving presidential candidates by excluding Prabowo and Wiranto.
The head of KontraS division of impunity watch, Muhamad Daud Berueh, said that the KPU should filter presidential candidates based on human rights records.
Were Prabowo or Wiranto to win the presidential election it would deal a blow to the country’s attempt to prevent human rights violations, according to Daud.
“The victims and the public have the right to know the truth [behind the cases implicating Prabowo and Wiranto],” Daud said. “[However,] there will be difficulties for the victims in settling the cases [if either Prabowo or Wiranto become president].”
KPU chairman Husni Kamil Manik, however, said that the commission’s hands were tied, since political parties had the right to select their presidential candidates.
He added that it was still difficult to determine whether a presidential candidate had violated human rights without a conclusive judicial process.
“So we have to study how far the KPU can assess the requirements [of a presidential candidate] in terms of human rights violations,” Husni said.