The trouble with Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa is that he has probably spent too much of time travelling abroad to really understand what’s going on in his own country. On Monday he said the government has done enough to protect the interests of Indonesia’s religious minorities.
On the eve of a periodic review of Indonesia’s human rights record before the UN Human Rights Council, Marty toed the official line, saying the government has done whatever was necessary to protect the followers of Ahmadiyah by citing a number of laws and regulations enacted in the name of religious harmony.
Here is a piece of news most of us are already aware of: The country’s laws and regulations mean nothing when it comes to protecting freedom of religion. They did not protect the Ahmadis scattered across the country from being attacked and even killed by radical groups who dislike www.cea.nic.in their presence. They failed to protect the followers of the GKI Yasmin Christian Church in Bogor or the Filadelfia HKBP Church in Bekasi from attacks even when the courts clearly ruled in their favor.
The government may be right in claiming that these attacks were perpetrated by private organizations so that it can deny, as it would, that there has been an official persecution against religious minorities.
But the attacks on Ahmadis and the Shiites have the official blessing, if not approval, of Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali. In the case of the GKI Yasmin and Filadelfia HKBP churches, the mayors in Bogor and Bekasi chose to turn a blind eye and even refused to uphold the court ruling.
And where were the police in all this? They were dismally absent.
Religious intolerance is indeed a big problem, and in today’s atmosphere, perhaps a problem not exclusive to
Indonesia. But the bigger problem facing Indonesia is that our government through the police has simply failed to protect people, most particularly minorities, from attacks against those who have demonstrated their intolerance through violence.
A state that is failing to protect its own people is called a failing state. Forget about Indonesia’s status as the world’s third-largest democracy or the largest democracy in the Muslim world. Unless the government puts a stop to this soon, Indonesia would soon become a pariah state.
It is not only freedom of religion that is at stake now that the government is clearly unable or unwilling to clamp down against radical groups that have been tormenting, harassing and killing others. Of late, we have seen cases where freedom of expression and freedom of gatherings are also being violated without the state lifting a finger to protect the people.
We welcome the government’s voluntary decision to put Indonesia’s human rights records to test at the Human Rights Council in Geneva this week, but we lament the report that the government has submitted for its less-than-honest assessments about the true conditions in the country. We fully understand that it is the job of our diplomats to lie for the country, but this state of denial is the beginning of a downhill fall for the nation’s human rights conditions. How are we expected to address and solve them unless we admit our own failings first and foremost?
We hope governments represented in the Human Rights Council will use the opportunity in Geneva this week to grill Indonesia thoroughly and come up with a strong reprimand and specific recommendations about what the government should do. While improving human rights is ultimately a battle that the Indonesian people must wage themselves against a stubborn and failing government, a little push from outside always helps.