There was little improvement in Indonesia’s human rights situation last year, with women and religious minorities in the archipelago facing increasing violence and discrimination and more than 100 citizens imprisoned for political reasons, according to the international NGO Human Rights Watch, which launched its 2013 World Report in Jakarta yesterday.
The organization called on President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s government to amend or abolish local bylaws that discriminate against women and religious minorities and to release Indonesia’s political prisoners, who it said were mostly Papuan and Moluccan activists imprisoned for peaceful dissent.
“President Yudhoyono is all talk and no action when faced with government officials and militant groups intent on curbing the rights of women and religious minorities,” Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a written statement.
“Unless Yudhoyono takes decisive action in the final months of his presidency in 2014, his legacy will be marred by his failure to defend the rights of all Indonesians.”
Research by the Jakarta-based Setara Institute, cited in the report, found there had been 243 attacks on religious minorities in Indonesia in the first 10 months of 2013, almost all of them perpetrated by Sunni militants.
The World Report also referenced research by Indonesia’s Commission on Violence Against Women, which identified 60 new discriminatory regulations passed by governments in Indonesia in 2013, bringing the total number of such laws to 342.
The new regulations include 79 requiring women to wear the hijab, one – in Lhokseumawe, Aceh – banning them from straddling motorcycles and another – in Bireuen, Aceh – prohibiting them from dancing.
Plans by an education office in Prabumulih, southern Sumatra, to introduce mandatory “virginity tests” for high school girls, have been shelved, but similar tests are being considered in Pamekasan, East Java, according to the report.
In the Papuan provinces, where a small and poorly organised Free Papua Movement continue to carry out attacks against government forces, conditions remain volatile, the organization reports, with state security forces continuing to commit human rights abuses with virtual impunity.
These include “excessive and at times lethal use of force against peaceful proponents of independence”.
The report also identified breaches in relation to land rights and freedom of expression and of the rights of refugees and asylum seekers in Indonesia.
Australia was also criticized in relation to its handling of asylum seekers, with the government’s policy on those arriving by boat described as having reached a “new low”.
Australian director at Human Rights Watch Elaine Pearson expressed concern about the secrecy surrounding Australia’s policy and the framing of asylum seeker arrivals as a military issue.
Australia’s position was costing the country moral authority, she said.
The 667-page World Report reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries.
Globally, it condemns the failure of world leaders to act to stop atrocities taking place in Syria.
But the organization sounds a positive note in acknowledging the international community’s capacity to launch swift responses to crises in the Central African Republic, South Sudan and the eastern Congo.