Friday, March 11, 2005

Protecting Human Rights Defenders in Indonesia

Tonight I came to PBI* (Peace Brigades International - Canada) public forum about protecting human rights defenders in Indonesia. Christine Jones gave a brief introduction about PBI and the speakers.

There are 3 speakers: Rachel Sutton, Richard Rais Zaidi on behalf of Celia Guilford, and Connie Sorio.

Rachel Sutton, currently living in Ottawa, grew up in Collingwood, Ontario. She joined PBI's Indonesia project in September 2003 and returned to Canada in December of 2004. Having studied Molecular Biology and Genetics, Rachel is now considering a career in medicine. Her other interests include travel to Malaysia, HIV research and anti-war activism. Rachel is passionate about dancing, of any sort, but especially contact improvisation!

Her sharing was very touching, at least for me. She said that she was always fascinated with human rights activists. She calls them people of inspiration. Are they for real? Are they extraordinary people? What keeps them going despite many threats and tribulations? So, she’s so happy when she got the opportunity to be a PBI’s volunteer in Indonesia. She got posted in Jakarta, and then to Papua.

The key takeaways from Rachel’s presentation:

  • When she was in Jakarta she tried to build a rapport with government officials and international agencies, while tried to support the team for Aceh.
  • She met “Zul” an activist from Aceh in Jakarta. “Zul” came to Jakarta when he felt that he’s not safe in Aceh anymore—military was looking for him. The violence of military operation in Aceh gave him no option but to join GAM (Free Aceh Movement). But “Zul” thought that it’s not a good and permanent solution.
  • She went to Papua to assess the situation for PBI’s presence there. There was no anonymity in Papua especially for foreigner. In Papua to build trust was through face-to-face meeting with the local people (government officials, NGO, and community leaders). She worked with Abepura Poor Victims Community (that was formed after the Abepura incident and testified in human rights courts for Abepura incident).
  • PBI will consider their service to other parts of Indonesia (for example Maluku) if a request from the local people is justified by PBI’s assessment.
  • The cultural of impunity is still prevalent in Indonesia.
You can read Rachel’s experience in Papua in PBI's Indonesia Project’s Bulletin—October 2004 edition: A Day in Jayapura (in PDF format, 600KB).

Celia Guilford's background is in organic agriculture and will start a Master's degree in peacebuilding and human security this spring. When not working to support Indonesian human rights defenders, she works to defend global food security. Celia lived and worked in Indonesia with CUSO for 2 years prior to joining PBI as the Indonesia Project coordinator in 2000.

She was in Aceh from Jan. 17 until Feb. 23. Due to her pressing family matter she couldn't present and share her experience with us. Rais read us her report. Following are key takeaways from her report:
  • There are 260 organizations working together in the field of food, sanitation and health relief. UN organizes all of these organizations.
  • There are about 2,000 foreign volunteers in Aceh. Most of them are in Banda Aceh, Lhokseumawe, and Meulaboh.
  • Locals appreciate foreign NGOs.
  • Need protection for IDPs and human rights defenders.
  • As of Jan. 26: sweeping and beating were still happening despite foreign presence, military operation continues, conflict continues, report of violence in northeast Aceh.
  • There are military supported militias such as Red & White Front, Anti Separatist Front.
  • The military is in complete control and charge, especially outside those 3 mentioned cities.
  • There was illegal road tax.
  • Sexual assault and harassment towards women, including in IDPs’ camps, were widespread.
  • There’s a restriction for IDPs to return to their village.
  • There’s a potential of horizontal and communal fight over land rights and unequal distribution of aids.
  • To keep low key to prolong the foreign presence in Aceh.
  • Rebuilding and restructuring civil society will start in March 26.
  • Papua 2004: provided peace education to handle community-level conflict.

Connie Sorio, is the program coordinator for Asia-Pacific, Global Partnerships of KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives. Connie just returned from a recent partners' visit and program monitoring trip and was in Aceh visiting KAIROS partners. Connie is human rights activist and community organizer involved in a number of organizations here in Toronto and in Brampton.

Key takeaways from Connie’s presentation:
  • Need for demilitarization and cessation of hostilities in Aceh.
  • Facilitated a meeting between human rights activists and Canadian’s foreign affairs in Jakarta. It’s a way to channel their voice to the Canadian government.

To learn more about PBI's Indonesia Project you can visit their website at the IP Project. I quote the brief summary of the IP Project here. PBI has contributed to the work of peace building in civil society in Indonesia since 1999, and currently has three programs of focus: Aceh, Papua and Peace Building.

The general objectives of the Indonesia Project are to:
  • open and help maintain a peaceful space for civil society to operate and grow;
  • model nonviolence and promote nonviolent resolution to conflicts;
  • foster social and political dialogue and reconciliation;
  • promote international understanding of the situation of Indonesian and East Timorese;
  • empower civil society in all of the above, so as to reduce and eventually end the need for a PBI presence.

Since winning independence from the Dutch in 1949, Indonesia has faced several internal problems. Its outermost islands have been particularly vulnerable. Recent and long-standing conflict in these regions led to invitations for a PBI presence by local humanitarian, non-governmental groups and Komnas HAM (National Human Rights Commission). These individuals and groups are routinely threatened and are often kidnapped, killed or simply dissapear.

Currently PBI has 15 volunteers forming three sub-teams serving in Aceh, Papua and Jakarta. The sub-team in Jakarta continues to focus on human rights advocacy by frequently meeting with Indonesian authorities, national organizations and the diplomatic community in order to share key information on the conflict areas of Papua and Aceh, and its impact on local civil society groups. On 17 January 2005 a PBI assessment team arrived in Aceh to examine the consequences of the tsunami on the work of PBI client organizations and to assess their long term needs.

PBI works with a number of courageous humanitarian groups and activists including: Relawan Perempuan untuk Kemanusiaan (RPuK), Flower Aceh, Koalisi HAM, Lembaga Bantuan Hukum (LBH), Lembaga Bantuan Hukum - Apik (LBH-Apik), RATA and PB-HAM. These organizations work to provide food, shelter, legal and other assistance to the Acehnese people.

The IP has had a 5-year relationship with the province of Aceh, where we had an extensive protective accompaniment and peace education program starting in early 2001. We were forced to leave in July 2003.

After the devastation of the December 2004 earthquakes and tsunami, PBI responded with a return to Aceh. PBI plans to supplement the global relief effort with two concrete initiatives: re-establishing our protective accompaniment team in Aceh, and assessing the need for trauma counseling in the affected areas.

PBI is concerned that the conflict's protagonists are taking advantage of the current situation, and this may hamper the distribution of aid and sisaster relief. Local groups may be more at risk now than before the catastrophe.

About PBI
Peace Brigades International (PBI), founded in 1981, is an international non-governmental organization comprised of unpaid volunteers and some paid staff. Inspired by Gandhi, PBI uses nonviolent action to help deter politically motivated violence and expand space for human rights and peace activism in areas of civil conflict.

PBI teams don't try to impose solutions from the outside. Instead, they provide moral support and a "breathing space" in which local activists can continue to be protagonists of change. PBI teams can pursue avenues not open to governments or partisan organizations. Free of the strings attached to the UN and other governmental bodies, our independent presence earns the trust of local grassroots activits helping them to endure in the face of severe repression.

Offering human rights defenders a measure of protection, through our use of protective accompaniment is one element of PBI's objective in providing an international presence. Encouraging people to handle conflict in peaceful ways by sharing knowledge and skills is another.

PBI has received international recognition including the 2001 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders and a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. Currently we have projects in Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala, Indonesia, and will assees possibility in Nepal.

To learn more and to explore ways that you can get involved:
visit their website at:
address: Peace Brigades International - Canada
427 Bloor Street West, Suite 202, Toronto, ON M5X 1S7
phone: 416-324-9737

PBI Canada is a member of CAGI (Canadian Advocacy Group on Indonesia).

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