Opening remarks by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al 
at a press conference during his mission to Indonesia
Jakarta, 7 February 2018 
I would like to begin by thanking President Joko Widodo and the Government 
of Indonesia for inviting us to visit this remarkable, diverse country. 
Inviting us is, in itself, a testament to how seriously a State takes its 
human rights obligations. It demonstrates an openness to constructive 
dialogue and the willingness to collaborate to ensure the promotion and 
protection of the human rights of all. All countries have human rights 
obligations and many have achieved a great deal but all, without exception, 
have human rights challenges to grapple with.
During my visit, I have listened attentively to voices from across 
Indonesian society. I had the honour of meeting President Widodo and 
several other high-level officials, national human rights institutions and 
civil society members working on a wide range of issues in this vast 
archipelago of more than 17,000 islands.
I am also grateful to the robust and dynamic representatives of civil 
society, some of whom travelled long distances to share their experiences 
and raise their voices in defence of their rights and those of their 
The farmer who spoke about her rights to land and her fear of dispossession 
due to extractive industries. The father from Papua whose son was shot. The 
wife of a human rights defender who was poisoned in 2004 but the authors of 
his murder remain at large. The minority worshippers who want their place 
to pray. The mother who, 20 years after she lost a child during the 1998 
violence in Jakarta, still pines for him. The elderly woman who is fighting 
for justice 53 years after she was imprisoned and stigmatised as a 
“communist” during the 1965 tragedy. And the lawyer who has seen up close 
the judicial injustice that is the death penalty. They all asked me to help 
amplify their voices, and I thank them for their tenacity and grit and 
salute their courage.
I have raised in my meetings with the Government all of the situations they 
highlighted and will share with you in a moment my observations and 
But first, let us take stock of the achievements of the people of 
Indonesia. Indonesia has come a long way in a short time. Having emerged 
from more than 300 years of colonial occupation, followed by decades of 
restricted civil liberties, Indonesia has, since 1998, managed to 
transition to democracy and couple it with strong economic growth. Today, 
Indonesia is one of the most progressive States in the region on human 
rights. Its active engagement regarding the plight of the Rohingya Muslims 
is commendable and much needed.
The Government has embraced the Sustainable Development Goals, 
incorporating them into its National Human Rights Action Plan. Indonesia 
also has made considerable progress on the realisation of the right to 
health, expanding universal health coverage. And it has provided the space 
and resources for Komnas Ham and Komnas Perempuan to be strong, independent 
national human rights institutions. I encourage the Government to ensure 
that the important recommendations made by these institutions are 
There are two important pieces of draft legislation that have been 
introduced to parliament that recognise and protect the rights of 
indigenous people and provide essential protection for victims of sexual 
and gender-based violence. I urge parliament to pass these important bills.
Indonesia has enjoyed continuous economic growth for several years and has 
a wealth of natural and human resources. However not all Indonesians have 
benefited from the dividends. The true measure of development and economic 
growth should be its impact on the most vulnerable, those who have the 
least to begin with. The President has taken many positive steps towards 
social equity. Nevertheless, gaps remain in the protection of the economic 
and social rights of Indonesians. Severe malnutrition has been reported in 
remote areas of the country, including in the highlands of Papua, and many 
still struggle with poverty and preventable diseases.
Civil society actors have told us how, from the islands of Sumatra to 
Papua, mining and logging by large corporations have been a source of 
serious human rights violations against farmers, workers and indigenous 
communities. By and large, these projects are approved and implemented 
without meaningful consultation with the local communities. Land grabbing, 
environmental degradation, contamination of water supplies and resulting 
health hazards have ensued. Having lost control over their natural 
resources to corporations that wield enormous power, people spoke to me 
about their great frustration. There is a clear need for inclusive dialogue 
and consultation and such projects must not be undertaken without the free, 
fair and informed consent of the affected communities. Civil society 
estimates suggest that some 200 land rights and environmental defenders 
were facing criminal charges as of August last year.
As I said at the Jakarta Conversation regional human rights conference on 
Monday, development can certainly bring with it access to fundamental 
services and goods that vastly improve many people's well-being. But if 
they cannot voice their concerns and participate in decisions, the 
resulting development may not increase their welfare. I urge the Government 
of Indonesia and the corporations involved in the extraction of natural 
resources, plantations and large-scale fisheries, to abide by the UN 
Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights by ensuring that business 
activities are not carried out in violation of people’s rights.
I also appeal to the Government to ensure the protection of human rights 
defenders, in particular those advocating on land and environmental issues, 
and to see to it that they are not penalised or prosecuted for their 
exercise of the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
I am also concerned about increasing reports of the excessive use of force 
by security forces, harassment, arbitrary arrests and detentions in Papua.
I am greatly concerned about the discussions around revisions to the penal 
These discussions betray strains of intolerance seemingly alien to 
Indonesian culture that have made inroads here. The extremist views playing 
out in the political arena are deeply worrying, accompanied as they are by 
rising levels of incitement to discrimination, hatred or violence in 
various parts of the country, including Aceh.
At a time when it is consolidating its democratic gains, we urge 
Indonesians to move forward – not backwards – on human rights and resist 
attempts to introduce new forms of discrimination in law. Because these 
proposed amendments will in effect criminalise large sections of the poor 
and marginalised, they are inherently discriminatory. LGBTI Indonesians 
already face increasing stigma, threats and intimidation. The hateful 
rhetoric against this community that is being cultivated seemingly for 
cynical political purposes will only deepen their suffering and create 
unnecessary divisions.
Moreover, should the penal code be revised with some of the more 
discriminatory provisions, it will seriously impede the Government’s 
efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, and would run counter 
to its international human rights obligations.  In a similar vein, I have 
also expressed to the Government my concerns about the implementation of 
the ill-defined blasphemy law, which has been used to convict members of 
minority religious or faith groups.
If we expect not to be discriminated against on the basis of our religious 
beliefs, colour, race or gender, if Muslim societies expect others to fight 
against Islamophobia, we should be prepared to end discrimination at home 
too. Islamophobia is wrong. Discrimination on the basis of religious 
beliefs and colour is wrong. Discrimination on the basis of sexual 
orientation or any other status is wrong.
My Office last year brought together a diverse group of religious scholars 
and other faith-based and civil society actors in Beirut who articulated a 
“Faith for Rights” framework to set out the role of “Faith” in standing up 
for “Rights”. This Faith for Rights Declaration draws upon the common 
commitment in all religions and beliefs to “upholding the dignity and the 
equal worth of all human beings”, mirroring Article 1 of the Universal 
Declaration of Human Rights. It affirms that “violence in the name of 
religion defeats its basic foundations, mercy and compassion” and sets out 
the responsibilities of religious communities, their leaders and followers 
to ensure that no one is subjected to discrimination by anyone.
The imperative to uphold the dignity of all human beings is also crucial in 
dealing with the difficult issues of drug-related crimes. Drugs can destroy 
individual lives, entire families and communities, but shooting dead 
suspected drug offenders is not the way to tackle this problem. Everyone 
has the right to a fair judicial process. All allegations of excessive, 
even lethal, use of force against suspected drug offenders also must be 
investigated. No judiciary is mistake-free and research shows that capital 
punishment is ineffective as a deterrent as well as being 
disproportionately applied against already disadvantaged communities. I 
have urged the Government to halt the use of the death penalty against 
those convicted of drug offences. Human rights jurisprudence has repeatedly 
affirmed that drug-related crimes do not fall within the category of most 
serious offences.
I would also like to urge the Indonesian Government to take steps towards 
accountability for the gross human rights violations of the past. This is a 
delicate but crucial undertaking.
Almost all countries have an extremely difficult time dealing with the 
darkest periods of their respective pasts, but it must be done. As one 
senior official told me, Indonesia is still stuck in 1965 – unable to 
reckon with the terrible events that took place then, including the 
killings of at least 500,000 people accused of being communists, and the 
detention of many more. But this country can move on – through 
truth-telling, reconciliation, investigations and prosecutions. The 
national human rights institution, Komnas Ham, has highlighted nine key 
cases of gross rights violations between 1965 and 2003 that need to be 
resolved. I urge the Attorney-General to tackle these cases, in particular 
by bringing the perpetrators to justice and affording victims long-overdue 
redress as a matter of priority.
When my predecessor as High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, 
visited Indonesia in 2012, she said she saw a country that showed great 
promise in transforming itself into a vibrant democracy. In many ways, 
Indonesia is living up to this promise. But of course all States are 
fragile and all of them works in progress. This country is no exception. 
There are some dark clouds on the horizon but I am encouraged by the 
positive momentum and hope the common sense and strong tradition of 
tolerance of the Indonesian people will prevail over populism and political 
I hope that during this 70th year of the Universal Declaration of Human 
Rights, Indonesia will go from strength to strength in advancing the rights 
of its people. I also hope my visit has set the stage for strengthened 
cooperation between my Office and the Government and people of Indonesia. 
In the course of our discussions over the past two days, the Government of 
Indonesia invited us to visit Papua and we will send a mission soon. I 
thank the Government for its invitation.
My representative in the UN Human Rights Regional Office in Bangkok will 
continue to build upon our partnership to do what we can to assist 
Indonesia in consolidating and furthering its human rights gains.
Thank you.

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