SIDNEY JONES and ADAM SCHWARZ: Political Change and Human Rights in Indonesia

Article excerpt

On 8 September the NZIIA joined the Asian Studies Institute, the Institute of Policy Studies, and the Centre for Strategic Studies in holding a roundtable discussion on Indonesia. It was led by two American visitors who know Indonesia well -- Sidney Jones, the director of Human Rights Watch Asia in New York, and Adam Schwarz, author of the book Nation in Waiting, which he is up-dating.

Sidney Jones had found on a recent return visit that the human rights situation in Indonesia has changed greatly since the resignation of President Soeharto. The press is now free to publish more or less what it likes, most political prisoners have been released and 72 political parties have been registered. President Habibie has conceded autonomy for East Timor, except for foreign affairs, defence and customs, but the independence movement has not accepted the offer because there is no commitment by the government to hold a referendum in East Timor. There is talk of setting up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission like the one in South Africa. The role of the Indonesian Army's strategic command is under the spotlight: its commander, General Prabowo (a son-in-law of ex-President Soeharto), has been dismissed from the Army: there is a risk that the move to court martial him may lead to further violence. Communal and religious tensions are growing, especially between Muslims and Christians, many of whom are Chinese.

Adam Schwarz said that the economy was spiralling downwards, although some progress has been made on food distribution. The constitutional body called the MPR is to meet in November to organise elections next year: Habibie seems to want them, but it is still uncertain whether they will actually take place. The role of the Army is under debate, within the Army itself as well as outside it. The military are divided on the issue: at present their morale is low and their attitude defensive. The riots against the Chinese in May raised fears among other minorities that they also may be persecuted. But the Muslims, who represent 87 per cent of the population, are also divided, and their divisions will weaken them politically. The members of the Cabinet and the MPR are mostly hold-overs from the Soeharto regime, whose main concern is not to lose their own jobs. Schwarz thinks that a reversion to authoritarianism is unlikely, mainly because there appears to be no strong leader in sight. …