Jul 27, 2011

South Mollucas: U.S Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Urged to Press Indonesia on Violence Against Minorities.

Human Rights Watch emphasise abuses to minorities amid closer military ties between the US and Indonesia.

Below is an article published by AlertNet:

BANGKOK (AlertNet) – Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to press Indonesia on unpunished violence against religious minorities and activists during her upcoming visit to the nation, and on the military’s failure to fulfil human rights pledges to the U.S. government to improve accountability.

“Laws stifling dissent are used against peaceful critics, and violent attacks on religious minorities are getting worse,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at the human rights group.

“If the U.S. really wants to support Indonesia as a rights-respecting democracy, then Clinton should not shy away from stressing the importance of rolling back practices that undermine freedom of religion and speech,” Pearson added, ahead of Clinton’s July 21 to 24 trip.

“Indonesian officials continue to enforce a number of laws that criminalise the peaceful expression of political, religious, and other views,” which were used repeatedly against peaceful political activists, including those from the Moluccas and Papua, the letter from HRW addressed to Clinton said.

More than a hundred such activists are currently behind bars, it added.

Despite Indonesia’s pledge to the United Nations General Assembly in 2011 that the country is "underpinned by the principle of religious freedom and tolerance" and is "living proof that democracy and Islam can coexist peacefully, harmoniously and productively,” government officials have made statements that appear to legitimise religious discrimination, HRW said.

In addition, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has not asked such officials to retract or clarify those remarks.

Rights groups have expressed concerns over recent events in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation and regarded as a haven for moderate and tolerant branches of Islam, where religious minorities have been persecuted.

HRW said that, according to the Communion of Churches in Indonesia, more than 430 churches have been attacked since President Yudhoyono took office in 2004.

And in February 2011, a mob in West Java beat to death three Ahmadis and seriously wounded five others belonging to the minority Ahmadiyah sect while police officers watched. Twelve people are currently standing trial for the attack but none are charged with murder, HRW said.

Clinton’s visit comes a year after Robert Gates, the U.S. defense secretary at that time, announced the resumption of U.S. military relations with Indonesia’s once-notorious special forces Kopassus.

Human rights campaigners voiced worry then that the roughly 5,000-strong special forces unit still harbours rights offenders who committed abuses in East Timor and elsewhere but were never convicted.

“Closer U.S. military ties with Indonesia were a reward for better behavior by Indonesian soldiers, yet one year later atrocities by the military still go unpunished,” said Pearson.

HRW recounted an example in January where three soldiers received 8-to-10 month sentences for “disobeying orders” in the May 2010 torture of two farmers in Papua.

Calling the sentences “light,” the group said none were charged with torture despite video evidence showing the soldiers kicking the victims, threatening one with a knife to his face, and repeatedly jabbing the second in the genitals with burning wood.

“Yet, a U.S. Defense Department official characterised the prosecution of this case as “a success,”” HRW said.