Here's Everything We Learned from Indonesia's Recent Visit to the UN Rights Council
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Here's Everything We Learned from Indonesia's Recent Visit to the UN Rights Council

The United Nations had recommendations on LGBT rights, the blasphemy law, nuclear weapons, and the death penalty. How did Indonesian officials respond?
September 27, 2017, 10:04am

It was a telling week for what the Indonesian government believes its human rights priorities are for the next year. Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi was in Geneva for a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council last week to listen to the council's recommendations on how to improve human rights in Indonesia. She agreed with 167 recommendations and rejected 58 others. So what did we learn?

Nuclear weapons:

Indonesia signed on to the UN treaty banning the use and development of nuclear weapons alongside dozens of other countries. The treaty would ban any country from using nuclear weapons under international law. But it will take the signatures of at least 50 countries before the UN can ratify the treaty into law.

"There remain some fifteen thousand nuclear weapons in existence. We cannot allow these doomsday weapons to endanger our world and our children's future," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said at the treaty's signing.


So what does it mean? Are we heading toward a world free of nuclear weapons? Nope. None of the world's nuclear powers signed the treaty—including the United Kingdom, United States, and, of course, North Korea. Three of them even released a joint statement clarifying that they won't even consider signing the anti-nukes treaty in the future.

"France, the United Kingdom and the United States have not taken part in the negotiation of the treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons," the statement read. "We do not intend to sign, ratify or ever become party to it. Therefore, there will be no change in the legal obligations on our countries with respect to nuclear weapons."

At the height of the Cold War there were an estimated 70,000 nukes out there. Today that figure has dropped to some 15,000 nuclear warheads still in the world, according to a report by nuke watchdog Federation of American Scientists (FAS). It's a significant decrease, but it's also still a whole bunch of incredibly dangerous weapons still sitting there in global stockpiles. Now, it's not enough to, I don't know… blow up the world. Or kill everyone instantly. But it's more than enough to render it inhabitable. Dark days indeed.

So what's the point of the UN's anti-nukes efforts if all the countries with nuclear weapons boycott the treaty? It's basically an attempt to guilt the world's nuclear powers into getting rid of their nukes, explained Stewart Patrick, director of the International Institutions program at the Council on Foreign Relations.


"This campaign is an effort to make these weapons declared, in a normative or moral sense, beyond the pale: in other words to say that they have no place in humanity and civilization," Patrick told Quartz.

The death penalty:

Indonesia rejected the UN's recommendation that it end the death penalty. The country's UN representative said that ending capital punishment is "not in line with the priorities in Indonesia's human rights agenda."

"The death penalty is still a prevailing positive law in Indonesia," Michael Tene, the deputy permanent rep. to the UN, told local media. "However, the revision of the penal code had provided a more robust safeguard in due process of law on the death penalty."

Capital punishment has been around since Indonesia declared independence from Dutch colonial rule back in 1945. But the use of the death penalty has been greatly accelerated under the country's current leader Joko Widodo. President Jokowi restarted the execution of convicted drug traffickers shortly after taking office to combat what he called a "drug emergency."

The veracity of this emergency, and the data on drug deaths used by the central government to justify the executions has been repeatedly challenged as inaccurate by human rights activists, scientists, and academics.

To date, Indonesia has executed at least 25 people for drug trafficking related offenses—the vast majority of them (18) under Jokowi's watch. As calls mount for the central government to end the death penalty, the country's law enforcement is swinging the other way, arguing for a harsher crack down on drug traffickers.


Indonesia's anti-narcotics chief has repeatedly applauded Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte for his brutal war on drugs—a policy that metastasized as a wave of extra-judicial killings that left more than 5,000 dead, including the recent death of 17-year-old high school kid who was dragged into an alley by police, handed a gun, and told to run before officers opened fire.

The anti-narcotics chief has said that he wants police to shoot drug traffickers who resist arrest dead in the streets. And police seem to be listening. So far, at least 55 alleged drug traffickers have been gunned down during police raids, according to Amnesty International.

Indonesia initially planned to execute an additional 30 convicted drug traffickers this year, but those plans seem to have been put on ice. There's no official word on when the executions will resume.

The blasphemy law:

Indonesia has no interest in scrapping its controversial "blasphemy laws." The UN council urged the central government to "introduce legislation to repeal the blasphemy law," after it was used to jail former Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama amid a series of Islamist-led protests.

The decision to reject calls to repeal the law sent an "ominous signal" to the country's beleaguered religious minorities, according to Human Rights Watch. The rights group's Indonesia researcher told VICE that the decision to keep the law on the books meant that the recent upswing in religious intolerance was likely going to haunt the country for some time.


"The blasphemy law is the root of all religious discrimination," Andreas Harsono, the Indonesia researcher from Human Rights Watch (HRW), told VICE. "Rejecting these recommendation means the blasphemy law will still be used to discriminate against minorities."

The law was used more than 200 times during the term of former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, according to data compiled by Andreas. In the past, the blasphemy law was mostly used against minorities like the Ahmadiyah and Shia Muslims. There are currently efforts to deny Ahmadiyah Muslims access to government ID cards, and members of the banned Fajar Nusantara Movement (Gafatar) are still unable to practice their faith.

"Any religions besides the official six recognized by the state, will always be vulnerable for as long as the blasphemy law exists," Andreas told VICE. "Now minority groups are facing difficulties in terms of religion. They cannot get an ID, permits to build houses of worship, and birth certificate. These cases will keep happening."

The government's reluctance to address the potential impact of its blasphemy laws could eventually pose a threat to the country's democracy, explained Rafendi Djamin, the director of the Human Rights Working Group (HRWG).

"The law politicizes religion," Rafendi told VICE. "It opens a big space for anyone with an interest to politicize religion. And religious minorities are obviously feeling threatened. The main duty of the government is to protect the vulnerable communities. But in reality, it's the opposite."

LGBT rights:

Indonesia initially said it would reject any calls by the UN for greater rights and protections for the country's LGBT community. The group has been at the center of a recent national panic over same-sex relationships. Gay, lesbian, bi, and trans Indonesians have been called a plot by Western governments to hurt Indonesia, a weapon more dangerous than a nuclear bomb, and oppositional to so-called "Asian values."

On the ground, this panic has resulted in sweeps of underground gay clubs and saunas, the arrest of individuals under an opaque pornography law, and the public shaming of those who didn't break any law, but were still seen as participants in "deviant acts."

In the end, Indonesia accepted two vague recommendations that promised to "take further steps to ensure a safe and enabling environment for all human rights defenders," as well as prioritize efforts to ensure the equality of all people. Both included language about the LGBT community in the text.

But officials also rejected explicit calls to stop the caning of gay men by Sharia police in Aceh and a wider recommendation that would "guarantee the rights of…[LGBT] persons, through effective legal action against incitement to hatred and violent acts, as well as by revising legislation that can have discriminatory effects," according to a statement by HRW.

So HRW is calling it a good—but tepid—step toward providing the LGBT equal rights in Indonesia.