Indonesia: Investigate Environmental Lawyer’s Death – Human Rights Watch

13 October 2019

Golfrid Siregar Helped to Protect Sumatra’s Rainforests, Villagers

(Jakarta, October 11, 2019) – Indonesian authorities should immediately and impartially investigate the death of an environmental lawyer, Golfrid Siregar, in Medan, North Sumatra, Human Rights Watch said today.

After midnight on October 3, 2019, a pedicab driver found Siregar unconscious and seriously injured on a street in Medan, the provincial capital, and took him to a local hospital. He never regained consciousness and died on October 6. He had suffered multiple injuries and his wallet and other personal effects were missing.

“Golfrid Siregar was an environmental lawyer and grassroots activist who had dedicated his life to protecting Sumatra’s rainforests and helping villagers protect their land,” said Andreas Harsono, senior Indonesia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “His death under suspicious circumstances demands a prompt, thorough investigation of all those implicated.”

Siregar, 34, represented the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Wahana Lingkungan Hidup Indonesia, or Walhi), Indonesia’s largest environmental group, in a lawsuit against North Sumatra’s governor over his 2017 approval for the construction of the US$1.5 billion Batang Toru hydroelectric dam. Walhi had argued that the permit issuance process was problematic and was appealing two earlier court verdicts they had lost. He had also sought legal action against the police in a related matter for their alleged failure to adequately respond to a complaint.

On the evening of October 2, Siregar had visited his uncle’s house in Medan, playing board games and having tea, his relatives said. He left by motorcycle at about 11 p.m. to return home. The hospital CCTV shows the pedicab driver who brought Siregar’s unconscious body into the hospital at 1:12 a.m. on October 3. The driver and two people who accompanied him left two minutes later, the police said.

The police later reported that Siregar’s laptop, wallet, ID card, cell phone, and wedding ring were missing, making it more difficult to locate his family. Walhi’s North Sumatra director told the media that Siregar had serious head injuries, swelling in the right eye, and a blue mark, probably internal bruising, on his left hand.

At 11 a.m. on October 3, after locating his motorcycle, the hospital, with police assistance, called Siregar’s family. Surgeons operated later that day and removed a portion of his skull to relieve pressure on the brain.

He died on October 6, leaving his wife, Resmi Barimbing, and their baby daughter, Velycia.

The local police precinct initially claimed that Siregar was injured in a traffic accident. But his family and Walhi have raised concerns that  Siregar was murdered: his motorcycle was not damaged and did not have any asphalt marks. His legs and hands did not have any cuts or wounds typical in traffic accidents. His uncle said Siregar only drank “bottled tea” that evening.

North Sumatra police told journalists they are now conducting an autopsy. On October 10, the police arrested the pedicab driver and the other two men for robbery, for allegedly taking Siregar’s possessions after the traffic accident.

Walhi colleagues said that Siregar had received several threats since they had filed the lawsuit against the Batang Toru dam construction in August 2018 although the threats had probably stopped over the last four to six weeks. Siregar was also taking part in a legal case concerning an alleged forged signature in the Batang Toru dam’s environmental assessment report. He was also involved in other controversial North Sumatra litigation, defending villagers against a concrete company in Siantar, helping villagers in Karo regency over illegal logging, and assisting fishermen in Pantau Labu contesting a sand company.

“The nature of Siregar’s death and the threats he received raise numerous alarm bells,” Harsono said. “All those concerned about Indonesia’s environment will be watching the authorities to ensure that a credible investigation occurs and that any crime associated with his death is appropriately prosecuted.”

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Indonesia, please visit:
https://www.hrw.org/asia/indonesia


Laos: UN member states must continue to ask “Where is Sombath?” during human rights review

19 July 2019

FIDH – International Federation for Human Rights

and its member organization for Laos

Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR)

Joint press release

Paris, 18 July 2019: United Nations (UN) member states must use the upcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Laos to continue to demand the Lao government determine the fate or whereabouts of civil society leader Sombath Somphone, FIDH and its member organization Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) urged today.

The two organizations made the call in their joint submission for the third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Laos, which is scheduled to be held in January-February 2020 in Geneva, Switzerland.

Sombath’s case is emblematic of the pervasive culture of impunity for human rights violations in Laos and the climate of fear that has been gripping local civil society. The international community must continue to press the Lao government to deliver justice for Sombath and his family and hold those responsible for his enforced disappearance accountable,” said FIDH Secretary-General Debbie Stothard.

In January 2015, 10 UN member states (Australia, Canada, Finland, Germany, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, and the UK) recommended the Lao government conduct an adequate investigation into Sombath Somphone’s enforced disappearance.

In July 2018, the government said it had been “trying very hard” to investigate Sombath’s disappearance. However, this statement has been contradicted by the government’s ongoing refusal to accept international assistance in conducting the probe and to provide any details about the progress of its investigation.

Sombath Somphone was last seen on the evening of 15 December 2012 in Vientiane. Closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage showed that police stopped Sombath’s car at a police post. Within minutes after being stopped, unknown individuals forced him into another vehicle and drove away. Analysis of the CCTV footage showed that Sombath was taken away in the presence of police officers, a fact that supports a finding of government complicity.

“The UPR represents a rare opportunity for all UN member states to engage the Lao government on human rights issues. The international community should be relentless in its calls on the Lao government to address the serious and systematic human rights violations that continue to occur in the country,” said LMHR President Vanida Thephsouvanh.

The joint FIDH-LMHR submission focuses on the following human rights issues in Laos since the second UPR cycle, which began in January 2015: freedom of opinion and expression; freedom of peaceful assembly; freedom of association; enforced disappearances; torture; prison conditions; freedom of religion or belief; the right to participate in the design and implementation of infrastructure and investment projects; and the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs.

Press contacts

FIDH: Andrea Giorgetta (English) – Tel: +66886117722 (Bangkok)

LMHR: Vanida Thephsouvanh (French, English, Lao) – Tel: +33160065706 (Paris)


More than 35 countries defend China over mass detention of Uighur Muslims in UN letter – The Independent

16 July 2019

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/china-mass-detentions-uighur-muslims-un-letter-human-rights-a9003281.html

More than 30 countries have signed a letter defending China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang region in response to Western criticism.

Ambassadors of 37 states from Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America praised China’s “contribution to the international human rights cause” in the letter sent to the UN’s Human Rights Council on Friday.

The states, including prominent members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, said China had faced terrorism, separatism and religious extremism in Xinjiang.

But the signatories said China had restored peace and security in the region through counterterrorism measures and vocational training.

“We note with appreciation that human rights are respected and protected in China in the process of counterterrorism and de-radicalisation,” the letter read.

The letter was a riposte to the action taken by 22 mainly European countries at the start of the week.

They had urged China to halt the arbitrary detention of Xinjiang’s ethnic Uighurs and other minority groups, which academics and human rights groups estimate have swept around one million people into forced re-education.

China did not sign the letter submitted on Friday, but the text closely echoed the language of statements delivered by Chinese diplomats to the council on Thursday and Friday.

China condemned the “distortions” and “hypocrisy” of Western media and the countries criticising its actions in Xinjiang. It said that the region’s people “feel much better and much more happy and secure”.

The letter from the 37 countries lauded China’s “remarkable achievements in the field of human rights” and particularly its contribution to “protecting and promoting human rights through development”.

This is a theme China has advanced in separate resolutions to counterbalance the Western attention to political and civil rights.

Signers of the pro-China letter, including Russia, North Korea, Cuba and Venezuela, also took the opportunity to repeat a position frequently expressed in the UN’s Human Rights Council opposing the “naming and shaming and publicly exerting pressure on other countries” by calling them to account for human rights violations.

New York Times


ANFREL Launches IEOM Report on Thai General Election 2019

8 July 2019

The Asian Network for Free Elections, being the only accredited international election observation group for Thailand’s 2019 General Election, held a panel discussion in Bangkok on 21 June 2019 to present its final International Election Observation Mission (IEOM) report.

In its report, “ANFREL found the 2019 Thai General Election lacking the most important element that makes elections democratic: a healthy political climate. Although the election was peaceful and without obstruction, its legitimacy is questionable”, said  its executive director, Chandanie Watawala. In part, this was because the Thai people were denied access to information that is so vital in any electoral process.

The final mission report of ANFREL’s IEOM emphasized that the election operated in a legal environment designed to prop up the ruling establishment while severely curtailing press freedom and the right to freedom of expression. Freedom of expression for individuals and the media in the lead up to the 2019 Thai general election was more controlled and restricted than during the 2011 general election.

The report was based on the findings gathered by its observers during the entire election period, including election preparation, election day processes, and electoral dispute resolution mechanisms. ANFREL’s assessment is the product of a comprehensive methodology based on international standards and best practices for elections. The  mission was composed of 58 international election observers, including two electoral analysts.

Read full report by clicking on the link below:

Thai 2019 General Election: A Missed Opportunity for Democracy


Endless debate on UN reform – The Jakarta Post

5 July 2019

https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2019/07/05/endless-debate-un-reform.html

Indonesia has set its top priorities and one special item that it wants to achieve during its two-year term as a nonpermanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), which ends in December 2020. As the frontline executor of policy, the Foreign Ministry is expected to stick to achievable targets, like a UN resolution to save the lives of millions of Rohingya in Myamar and at the Bangladeshi border.

Indonesia tends to speak and act on behalf of developing countries in the face of much richer and more advanced nations. These efforts have often been effective and workable, but they have not resulted in changes on many occasions.

For example, Indonesia has for almost four decades pushed in vain for UNSC reform. On this international platform, reforming the UNSC means questioning the veto power of the five permanent members and expanding the big five by giving veto power to a representative country of developing nations, which form the majority in the UN.

“Our position is basically that the membership of the UN Security Council must be adjusted to the situation and the number of countries in the world today,” said Febrian Ruddyard, the Foreign Ministry’s director general for multilateral cooperation.

Indonesia apparently hopes its UNSC nonpermanent member status will amplify its voice on the reform issue and elicit a response from the UN’s powerful members. Experience has shown, however, that such antiestablishment calls fall on deaf ears.

Indonesia therefore needs to set more realistic targets and fight it out, especially the four priority issues — promoting world peace, engendering synergy between regional groupings and the UN to maintain peace and stability, encouraging cooperation in the fight against terrorism, extremism and radicalism, and pushing for concerted efforts to achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs) — as well as pay special attention to the Palestine issue.

Its consistent participation in UN peacekeeping missions, experience in counterterrorism and democratic credentials will surely help Indonesia convince the UN to support its priority agenda while contributing to world peace and order, for which the UN was founded.

As a regular provider of Blue Helmet troops, Indonesia is committed to boosting peacekeeping and peacebuilding and to improving the quality and effectiveness of peacekeeping missions.

In the area of terrorism, extremism and radicalism eradication, Indonesia is considered a role model for championing law enforcement, unlike other countries that have pursued extrajudicial measures.

While the four priorities and the Palestine issue may not be realized anytime soon, or even by the time Indonesia completes its term on the UNSC next year, the country’s two-year tenure would be more relevant if the impacts are felt at home and in Southeast Asia.

Indonesia’s push for a resolution on the Rohingya crisis will be meaningful, given the many years that the minority Muslim people have endured their ordeal. It will be a Herculean task, because a resolution requires the support of at least nine member countries — and veto powers apply. If Indonesia realizes a resolution, it will be a landmark diplomatic achievement for the country in advancing humanity for the world.


UN publishes human rights communications to ASEAN governments ahead of 41st Human Rights Council session

20 June 2019

The United Nations has made public recent urgent appeals and allegations letters sent by its independent human rights experts to ASEAN member states.

Before the start of each of its regular sessions, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) would make public all the letters or appeals that its independent human rights experts (known as Special Procedures mandates) have sent to governments and other actors (such as businesses) regarding individual cases of alleged human rights violations, laws and practices, or thematic issues. The UNHRC’s next session (41th) starts on 24 June 2019.These letters or appeals (known as communications) and any replies from the concerned governments or other actors are published on a searchable database and summarized in a communication report.

For more please visit Ye Shiwei’s post at https://link.medium.com/mjLLIs8cFX.