President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo meeting with Kamisan protesters at the State Palace in Central Jakarta on Thursday (31/05). (Antara Photo/Wahyu Putro A)

Despite Presidential Instruction, Addressing Past Human Rights Abuses Still a Challenge


JUNE 07, 2018

Jakarta. Just when the government seemed ready to take responsibility for resolving cases of past human right abuses and despite a commitment by President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo to this effect, a statement by the attorney general indicated that there may still be some tough challenges ahead.

Attorney General H.M. Prasetyo said on Tuesday (05/06) that investigations into past human rights abuses would require all relevant institutions to work together, which he said may be difficult to achieve.


"This is not solely in the hands of the attorney general. We have to receive a report from Komnas HAM [National Commission on Human Rights] and if it satisfies the requirements, then we will proceed with an investigation," Prasetyo said, as reported by BeritaSatu TV.

He added that his office has been working hard to address these cases and that they must wait for an instruction from the president.

"When it comes to past human rights abuses, the challenge is time. They happened a long time ago, so it is not easy to find witnesses; they may not even be alive anymore … Even the perpetrators may not be alive anymore," Prasetyo said.

He reportedly also referred to Komnas HAM's report as "assumptions and opinions."

State-run news agency Antara reported that the president instructed Prasetyo on Thursday last week to address cases of past human rights abuses, following a meeting with participants in the weekly Kamisan protest movement.

Kamisan is a silent protest that has been held in front of the State Palace in Central Jakarta every Thursday since 2007.

The protesters consist of survivors and the relatives of victims of past human rights abuses. The movement demands that the government resolve these cases, including the unsolved murders of student activists during violent street protests in Jakarta in 1998 and the 1965-66 mass killings.

The State Palace finally opened its doors to the protesters for a meeting with Jokowi on May 31, after 11 years and 540 protests. Former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono also received the protesters in March 2008, when he was still in office.

"President Jokowi said he would read the documents we have given him and instruct the attorney general to coordinate with the coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, as well as Komnas HAM," Maria Catarina Sumarsih, one of the protesters and an initiator of the Kamisan protest movement, told BeritaSatu TV.

She added that Jokowi told her to continue checking the progress of the investigation in the coming days and weeks.

In a statement issued on Monday, Komnas HAM said it had concluded its investigations on past human rights abuses and forwarded the report to the Attorney General's Office.

"Komnas HAM regrets the attorney general's statement that said the contents of our report are merely 'assumptions and opinions.' The attorney general's statement does not fit existing law in our country," Komnas HAM said in the statement, referring to the 2000 Law on a Human Rights Court.

The commission further emphasized that its report on past human rights violations contains testimonies by victims and witnesses and that this is supported by evidence.

The attorney general has repeatedly returned Komnas HAM's reports through the years, citing various reasons, including an inability to use the reports as a basis to investigate such cases, as reported by the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras).

A coalition of human rights groups, which includes Kontras, the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH Jakarta) and the Indonesian Association of Families of Missing Persons (IKOHI), issued a statement in response to Prasetyo's comments, demanding that he be replaced with someone more competent or responsible.

"The attorney general's statements showcased two possibilities, either the attorney general does not understand how the law works in Indonesia, or that he does understand but is deliberately seeking excuses to avoid assuming his responsibility," the statement said.