“Our homework is to resolve past human rights violations, including the Munir case. This must be resolved too.”
So said President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo after a meeting with a group of legal experts and human rights activists in September 2016. Five years since he made that statement and 17 years on since Munir’s murder on Sept. 7, 2004, there has still been no progress in completing that “homework” and bringing to justice those responsible for the extrajudicial killing of the renowned rights activist.
Munir’s importance to promoting human rights in Indonesia cannot be overstated. He was a giant who has continued to inspire and influence rights defenders and activists across the country, if not the globe, even after his death.
Munir founded the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) and played a significant role in uncovering evidence of human rights violations in Aceh, Papua and East Timor (present-day Timor Leste) that were perpetrated by members of the security forces and the military. He also campaigned staunchly for trying highranking officials for alleged human rights abuses. In September 1999, he was appointed to the National Commission to Investigate Human Rights Violations in East Timor (KPP HAM).
These and other achievements highlight the great loss Munir’s death incurred for the promotion and protection of human rights in Indonesia. His murder robbed Indonesia of a stout defender of human rights who would have been at the forefront of many rights issues to come, had he lived.
Yet, with every day that goes by without a clear resolution to Munir’s case, the risk increases that the abhorrent nature of his extrajudicial killing will fade in the public consciousness, particularly among the younger generation.
Make no mistake: Munir’s death was not a random killing, but an assassination carried out by state actors.
Even before his death by arsenic poisoning, a series of threats had been made against his life. In 2002 and 2003, the Kontras office where Munir worked was attacked by mobs that destroyed office equipment and took files on ongoing human rights investigations. In August 2003, a bomb exploded just outside his home in Jakarta.
His death aboard flag carrier Garuda Indonesia flight GA 974 was a horrific and premeditated crime of conspiracy, and the fact that the only people convicted of his murder in the past 17 years are two Garuda employees is just one of many blights on Indonesia’s human rights record.
Munir, his wife Suciwati and their two children Alif and Diva clearly deserve justice. But the failure of successive governments to treat this premeditated murder with the appropriate gravity has also incurred debt to posterity.
“Impunity” is a word often used when discussing human rights in Indonesia, so much so that its significance may have been weakened by overuse. But allowing such a blatant crime to go largely unpunished for so long leaves a mark that cannot be easily removed. The consequences of the grim precedent the case set, that human rights defenders are not protected under law, can already be seen.
According to data from Amnesty International Indonesia, 2021 alone has already seen 99 recorded attacks against human rights defenders with a total of 267 victims. Without a firm response, this type of attack will only increase and escalate.
But it is not too late to take the steps to right these wrongs.
First of all, the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) must immediately recognize the murder of Munir as a gross human rights violation.
As the Solidarity Action Committee for Munir (KASUM) said in a legal opinion that was published and submitted to Komnas HAM last year, the Munir murder met all criteria under Indonesian law to be designated as a gross human rights violation.
The evidence introduced in previous trials clearly indicates that Munir’s murder was premeditated. The alleged involvement of employees of Garuda, a state-owned enterprise, as well as the State Intelligence Agency (BIN) at the very least point to the state’s knowledge of and complicity in the crime. One of the judges who convicted former Garuda president director Indra Setiawan for his involvement in the murder even called Munir’s death the result of “a high-level conspiracy”.
Designating the case as a gross human rights violation will ensure that everybody, from President Jokowi down, is reminded of the seriousness of the crime as well as the importance of bringing all those responsible to justice. The designation will also remove the 18-year statute of limitations for murder and thus provide more time and opportunity for the case to be solved fully and justice to be served.
Second, President Jokowi must, at long last, take concrete action to back up his pledge to settle the case. This process can start with a review of the past criminal proceedings into Munir’s murder, including alleged violations of international human rights law.
This is the bare minimum that we can do, the very least of what we owe to Munir for all he has done and suffered. It is also the bare minimum that we can do for our children, so they will not be burdened by the sins of our past.