Prevention of Mass Atrocities: A Little Known but Crucial Responsibility to be Implemented in Indonesia

Jakarta, 12 November 2015—The Asia Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (APR2P) at the University of Queensland and the Human Rights Working Group (HRWG) held a Roundtable Expert Meeting on “Developing and strengthening national mechanisms for mass atrocities prevention in Indonesia.” The half-day meeting was attended by representatives from research organizations, Indonesia’s National Human Rights Institutions, as well as relevant government ministries, and lively discussion ensued on current developments in the application of the Responsibility to Protect at the international level as well as in Indonesia.

The Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) is based on the concept that while a sovereign State has the right to govern its territory, it also has the responsibility to protect the rights of those within its borders. The scope of RtoP includes the prevention of mass atrocities which is comprised of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing, and their incitement. World leaders made a historic commitment to this responsibility during the 2005 UN World Summit, which was reaffirmed by the Security Council the year after through UNSC Resolution 1674. The three pillars of RtoP are: (1) the State is the bearer of primary responsibility (2) the international community is responsible to encourage and assist States in fulfilling this responsibility, and (3) the international community should use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means to help protect populations, and to be prepared to take collective action in accordance with the UN Charter should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities are manifestly failing to protect their populations.

The discussion opened with a presentation from Ms. Lina Alexandra from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), outlining the findings in its 2011 report titled Indonesia and the Responsibility to Protect. Ms. Alexandra emphasized that presently there is a general lack of understanding on RtoP among governmental and non-governmental institutions in the country, with the exception of officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who have been involved in discussions in international forums on the issue. Ms. Alexandra also outlined that the third pillar is most contentious when discussing implementation, due to fear of its potential abuse by stronger States and double standard in interpreting the necessity threshold to justify the international community’s intervention. There is less debate with relation to the first pillar, with the parties interviewed by CSIS identifying that it is already enshrined in Indonesia’s Constitution, and that aside from the fact that Indonesia has had an NHRI since 1993 (Komnas HAM) and Human Rights National Action Plans, the State has also been actively involved in regional human rights mechanism development, like the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR).

One of the implementation methods for RtoP is the appointment of an RtoP National Focal Point. The Focal Point is meant to be a senior level official or an office responsible for promoting RtoP domestically and for fostering international cooperation to ensure the responsibility’s implementation. The discussion in the expert meeting found that there is yet to be a serious discussion to establish this mechanism amongst the relevant government agencies in Indonesia, but there was a general agreement that such office is necessary. The participants generally agreed that utilizing existing agencies such as Komnas HAM or the Ministry of Law and Human Rights will be more ideal than building a new mechanism.

The expert meeting also highlighted actions that the Government of Indonesia needs to do in implementing RtoP in Indonesia, especially diffusing the fourteen situations that increase the risk of mass atrocities. The prescribed actions include repealing discriminative policies and laws, increasing human rights training amongst law enforcers in tandem with post-training performance monitoring as well as establishing an effective punishment and reward system, and protecting human rights defenders from arbitrary violence. The meeting also emphasized the need to bring the discussion on RtoP to the local regions and to develop an early warning system that is built at the grassroots level. The discussion also touched on the necessity of addressing past mass atrocities in Indonesia, to provide justice for the victims but, just as importantly, to prevent recurrence of similar tragedies.

There was no in-depth discussion on how RtoP should be implemented in ASEAN during the meeting. However, the report of a High Level Advisory Panel titled Mainstreaming the Responsibility to Protect: Pathway Towards A Caring Community was briefly described. The report, presented before the United Nations in 2014, outlined recommendations for ASEAN in implementing RtoP, including raising awareness and public knowledge on RtoP, developing and strengthening the regional capacity for early warning and assessment through existing institutions, mechanisms and relevant sectoral bodies within ASEAN, and considering the incorporation of the prevention of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity into the future agenda of the AICHR.