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June 18, 2009
Debate Fails to Tackle Human Rights Issues
Millions of Indonesians across the country would have tuned in on Thursday night to watch the first official presidential debate. The overall tone of the debate was civil and the three candidates were asked a range of questions. But on the most crucial issue, that of human rights and how the next government would deal with past abuses and ensure basic freedoms, none of the candidates addressed the questions squarely or adequately.
None of the candidates, for example, touched on the most fundamental human right — the right to freely worship one’s God. Our national ideology, Pancasila, enshrines the belief in one God and the right to worship one’s God without fear. This is a God-given right, but sadly neither the state nor previous governments have prevented church burnings or the open persecution of the Ahmadiyah sect.
Religion is at the very heart of our society. If we do not respect each other’s beliefs, how can we discuss human rights? This also applies to the how we treat women in our society. As long as women are not accorded full and equal rights, we have no starting point on this issue.
The second most important human right is the right to a secure life. Governments in the past have trampled on the lives of ordinary citizens through kidnappings and torture. It is the duty of the next president to provide hope and succor to ordinary citizens by creating good policies, displaying leadership and investing in infrastructure, education and health care. In a nutshell, to empower the people to create better lives for themselves.
Do we as a country excel in the promotion and protection of these human rights? Do our citizens feel safe and secure in their own country from their own government?
Human beings have several basic needs that must be met for a fulfilled life. These start from meeting physical needs, such as food and shelter, to feeling safe and secure, being loved and having self-esteem. Irrespective of race, religion, skin color and ethnic background, is every Indonesian proud to be an Indonesian?
In today’s Indonesia, unfortunately we do not have a Martin Luther King Jr. or a Kartini championing human rights. One of the worst perpetrators of human rights in this country has been the military establishment, and all three presidential candidates have direct or indirect links to the military. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is a retired general while the vice presidential running mates of both Megawati Sukarnoputri and Jusuf Kalla are former generals.
There is no denying this fact and it colors the whole debate over human rights. Two of the vice presidential candidates are connected to human rights issues that have not been resolved. If we are to move forward, we must resolve and account for what happened in May 1998, when innocent Indonesians were raped and murdered. No inquiry has been held and no attempt has been made at punishing the perpetrators, as well as those who fueled the violence.
Unless this issue is resolved, there can be no credible discussion on human rights. Educated Indonesians watching the debate will have made up their own minds.