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As the country looks towards electing its next president, World Refugee Day brings an opportunity for Indonesia to reflect on the future of a significant foreign policy issue: the regional protection of refugees and asylum seekers and prevention of human trafficking. Suaka, the Indonesian Civil Society Network for Refugee Rights Protection, notes that for any policy response in this area to be effective, there must be a rights-based approach that puts protection issues at the center of the discussion.

Around the region, the question of refugee protection is cause for significant concern, with the persecution of minorities such as Burma’s Rohingya minority being closest to home. Further afield, the ongoing crisis in Syria and the developing situation in Iraq are but two drivers of forced migration that have an impact on the region.

While Indonesia is not a party to the United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees (Refugees Convention) Indonesia has ratified, among others, the following international and regional human rights instruments:

  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR),
  • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
  • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
  • Convention on the Rights of the Child
  • Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
  • ASEAN Human Rights Declaration.

In the region, Indonesia is a leader in its commitment to these international treaties and charters, showing that it is well placed to be a strong and engaged member of the global community. This idea was most recently set out in the Joint Statement from ASEAN at the 26th Session of the Human Rights Council, delivered by H.E. Mr. Triyono Wibowo Permanent Representative of the Republic of Indonesia on 10 June 2014, who said:

“ASEAN firmly believes that all human rights are universal, indivisible, interrelated, interdependent and mutually reinforcing, and that all human rights must be treated in a fair and equal manner, on the same footing and with the same emphasis. ASEAN as a diverse regional organization also believes that universal human rights are best realized taking into account the regional and national specific contexts, which add value to the promotion and protection of all human rights. It is of utmost importance for the international community to uphold these noble principles in their work of promotion and protection of human rights.”

Now that multinational corporations are paying more and more attention to socially and environmentally responsible practices due to the demands of consumers, this approach makes sense on both economic and political levels.

Indonesia can also be proud of having a strong human rights culture and robust civil society that has developed within our democratic nation. Our continuing advocacy for gender equality, religious freedom, and anti-corruption show the will of the Indonesian people for a just and equitable society that respects peace and freedom.

But our democracy depends as much on the security of our region and the world as it does on our domestic situation. To continue to protect human rights within Indonesia, we as a nation must advocate for better human rights standards with our regional and global counterparts. Human rights must begin at home, yet equally, it is necessary to support our neighbors to ensure that peace, security, and prosperity can flourish for all.

Suaka commends the initiative of Indonesia in ensuring protection concerns were recognized within the Jakarta Declaration of 2013. The next step for Indonesia to lead on this issue is to ensure the domestic protection of refugees and asylum seekers that takes into account human rights principles and standards. The ASEAN Human Rights Declaration recognizes the right to seek asylum in accordance with domestic law, so therefore it is important for Indonesia to establish our own domestic legal framework on asylum seekers and refugees, either through accession to the 1951 Refugees Convention or the issuance of the Presidential Decree mandated by Law No. 37 of 1999 on Foreign Relations.

Only then will it be possible to take a strong stance to ensure our regional neighbors follow suit. Weak protections for human rights in other countries in the region will only lead to instability that will affect us here.

Policing mechanisms can never be enough to stop the spread of such volatility. Without taking a rights-based approach, border security concerns including the prevention of transnational crime in the region cannot be properly addressed. The reality of forced migration is that people who have no choice but to move in order to save their lives will cross borders despite the most robust attempts to stop them. The human need for freedom for persecution will always lead people to escape to safety.

Civil society organizations in Indonesia are ready to support the leadership of the Indonesian government to promote human rights both at home and in the neighborhood to ensure peace and security for all.

Director of Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH Jakarta)

Muhammad Hafiz
UN-OIC Advocacy Program Manager, Human Rights Working Group (HRWG)

Suaka – Indonesian Civil Society Network for Refugee Rights Protection
c/o HRWG, Human Rights Working Group
Jiwasraya Building Lobby Floor
Jl. R.P Soeroso No 41 Gondangdia, Menteng
Jakarta Pusat 10350, Indonesia
Suaka.Secretariat@gmail.com | suaka.or.id