Mohammad Choirul Anam, Commissioner, National Commission on Human Rights: Good Intentions Alone are Not Enough
President Joko Widodo once again received the red card from the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) for failing to live up to his human rights commitments.
ALREADY in its second term, his administration has not resolved any past gross human rights violations; instead it has been dogged by allegations of fresh civic right violations as it pushes on infrastructure development. “Jokowi has to be careful not to get himself caught in plunder that robs the people of their welfare,” said Komnas HAM Commissioner Mohammad Choirul Anam during an interview with Tempo on December 7.
Anam, 43, pointed out that the infrastructure development during Jokowi’s era had triggered a lot of land conflicts. Throughout the period of 2014-2019, for example, more that 30 percent of the cases reported to the Komnas HAM are related to agrarian conflicts. The Commission received 196 agrarian cases during 2018-April 2019 and in fact agrarian conflicts have become the most reported issues during the pandemic. The problems are getting more complicated as some of the conflicts were brought on by shady land transfers during the New Order regime.
Jokowi inherited a large backlog of past human rights cases in addition to facing a myriad of current challenges. There are at least 11 gross human rights violation cases that are yet to be probed. The Attorney General’s Office even returned the Paniai tragedy case file twice to the Commission albeit Jokowi’s reminder to solve the case that occurred during his first term. “It’s like the attorney-general has locked up all the major violation cases in a coffin,” said the Komnas HAM’s monitoring and investigation commissioner.
The state of law enforcement and human rights under Jokowi’s watch has even got grimmer following the killing of Pastor Yeremia Zanambai in the Hitadipa District, Intan Jaya, Papua, last September. Anam who led the investigation went to Hitadipa for a week to gather evidence and witness testimonies. On November 16, the Komnas HAM handed over the investigation result to President Jokowi. Before that the Commission also handed the report to the Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Mahfud Md.
Anam met with Tempo journalists Mahardika Satria Hadi, Abdul Manan and Raymundus Rikang on two occasions, on November 17 and December 7. The former attorney for the family of the late human right activist Munir Said Thalib explained how infrastructure programs were putting the public’s rights at risk as well as about the stalled investigations into past human rights violations. He also expressed his suspicions that the government was trying to close all the gross violation cases.
In several regions, infrastructure development projects continue to create social conflicts in local communities. What has the Komnas HAM observed?
One of the major challenges of Jokowi’s infrastructure programs is to always consider the past land problems because all the projects are related to land. President has to be careful not to get himself caught in plunder that robs the people of their welfare. If Pak Jokowi aspires to the people’s welfare through infrastructure, please remember the history of the lands (involved). That is the key.
What has been the main problem in land acquisition for national projects in the past?
Throughout the New Order era, land acquisitions for national projects were fraught with all sorts of problems. Locals said they were forced to give up their lands. It’s a plunder. Some were paid but only a meager sum.
How should a land acquisition be done?
It’s not possible to transfer lands involuntarily. For instance, you own a land and you can release it through sale, as a gift or an inheritance. If there are elements of forced release, it means there is power involved. That’s why you can’t handle land conflicts only by looking at documents. That would be an insult to owners who had to face the totalitarian regime. Land acquisitions for a lot of national projects particularly in the eastern Indonesia in 1990, 1991 and 1993 were like that.
The Mandalika zone, one of the major projects, for example. It was an empty lot and because the owner went bankrupt, the Indonesian Bank Restructuring Agency had confiscated and declared it as a state asset. Then it was turned into a national project, and it sparked disputes. The government said it was a state asset and a state-owned enterprise refused to release it. Meanwhile, the locals claimed it was theirs.
What actually should the government have done before it launched a strategic project on a land on such an ownership status?
The government must open a new investigation. People say those who owned a land at the location must be given an opportunity to explain. Pak Jokowi should remember that people in the past were not allowed to freely speak like now.
What if the locals are claiming without legal land ownership documents?
The paradigm must be reversed. The impetus should be investigation into historical events. If the focus is document, well the people are bound to lose. That’s why the ownership status has to be clear because people often forget that coercion was the name of the game in the past. The totalitarian regime at the time was the regime that denied people of ownership. In the end, it is the state and the government that have the power in terms of procedure and document.
The investigation into the past requires time. Wouldn’t it instead cause tugs-of-war that can hamper infrastructure projects?
Pak Jokowi is not leading a ready-made country. He carries over the burden caused by wrong policies in the past. Whether he likes it or not, he has to be patient. Why the rush while the people living closest to those infrastructures can’t enjoy them. Pak Jokowi has the logic of other leaders who are developing their countries based on the developmentalism concept to bring investment, capital and market channels closer to the doorstep of each community. But if those closest cannot enjoy the developments, then for whom are these infrastructures?
Doesn’t the government always say that the infrastructures are to boost investment?
It’s simple to seek investment. It has strategic and value calculations which should make negotiations with the communities easier. Infrastructure projects are national strategic projects meaning that they are not unprofitable projects. So, negotiate with the local communities on a paradigm that these are mutually beneficial projects
Choirul Anam (center) at a press conference on a human rights violation case in Jayapura, Papua, October 17./ANTARA/Alfian Rumagit
The government also argues that the infrastructures will drive the economy.
We can learn from Latin America. Locals were driven out of their lands in the name of infrastructure development. The same fate befell the Indians of North America. What has happened in Indonesia is exactly like in cowboy movies which mostly centered on the construction of railroads. The opening of each new rail line was accompanied by land grabbing, losses suffered by cattle ranchers, high crime rates, the loss of local culture due to new arrivals. Land owners could only grit their teeth. It’s not enough with the declaration of his good intention to improve people’s welfare but Pak Jokowi must do it the right way.
Is the government’s approach in implementing infrastructure projects not correct?
President Jokowi has tried to clean up the land problems. His latest effort was the appointment of Surya Tjandra as deputy minister of agrarian and spatial planning/national land agency who is an agrarian conflict resolution specialist. It’s a good approach but one of the most important initiatives is to listen to the people’s voice. That’s where participation is important.
According to the Komnas HAM’s records, how did alleged human rights violations in infrastructure projects take place?
The use of security apparatus was not dominant. They only came when tensions with local communities break out. The most dominant was violation in land acquisitions. That is a reflection (of the poor governance). Community participation was low including in negotiations. Usually the project kept going amid the tension. Only when clashes broke out, cases were brought to court which eventually ended in consignment or dispute. Imagine that the disputed lands were the lands seized during the New Order regime. The people for sure wouldn’t have the data and the land authorities wouldn’t recognize non-document evidence.
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What did the Komnas HAM inform the president when it delivered the result of the investigation into the shooting of Pastor Yeremia Zanambani?
We request that the law be enforced. This case is very important and must be handled seriously because it could offer a new chapter for the President to end all sorts of problems in Papua. He wasn’t maximal in the first chapter, the Paniai case.
What are the Komnas HAM’s findings?
We traced back the death of Pastor Yeremia not just to the night he was visited by the perpetrators who tortured and shot him to death. We reconstructed the incident starting from September 17 when a weapon sweep was carried out following the death of Chief Sgt. Sahlan, a member of the Indonesian army. As they didn’t find the weapon they were looking for, the soldiers on September 19 rounded up the villagers near the field in front of the church at around 11am-12 noon. Pastor Yeremia was there. They were threatened that they would be chased after if the weapon was not returned. The soldiers also mentioned five names including Pastor Yeremia as OPM (Free Papua Movement) members saying, “he’s a shepherd in the church but outside, he’s a wolf.”
What happened afterwards?
At around 1pm, soon after the soldiers left for the preparation military command post in Hitadipa, Intan Jaya, Pvt. Dwi Akbar Utomo was shot, infuriating the soldiers further. They failed to find the weapon and now their comrade was dead. It meant they were indeed targeted. They launched a more serious sweep including burning the house of a health care official and the search for Pastor Yeremia. We have to look at the entire series of events.
What is the Komnas HAM’s conclusion after looking at the series of events?
Pastor Yeremia was indeed targeted as part of the operation to find the weapon and OPM members. That’s why he wasn’t immediately killed, but subjected to violence which we suspect was to extract information. This is categorized as torture which in human rights context is a severe term.
From the Komnas HAM’s investigation, who shot Pastor Yeremia?
We categorized two perpetrators. The first are field executors, be it the ones who had direct physical contacts with the victim or those who acted as lookouts at the site. They were totally four people. The second is the one who gave the order to carry out the sweep although he probably was not at the location. Other equally important factors are attempts to divert attention from the incident and to erase their trails.
What are the indications of attention diversion?
Both the army and the police initially said the perpetrators were OPM members.
How far can you trust that claim?
We got information that the perpetrators were not OPM members. We contacted the family of the pastor three or four days after his death. He had managed to reveal several names to his wife and other witnesses before he died. One of the names was Alpius (Deputy Commander of the Hitadipa Rayon Military Command).
What about the efforts to erase the trails?
According to the initial version, Pastor Yeremia was shot by an OPM member from a distance of more than 200 meters. From the inspection of the site (the pigsty), we found 19 bullet holes within a maximum range of 9-10 meters. Even the victim’s left arm was shot from no more than a meter away. He also had a strangulation mark on the neck. The evidence of direct physical contacts ruled out the long-range shooting narrative.
What recommendations did the Komnas HAM propose to the President to solve the case?
To bring all the perpetrators to court.
Can the case be categorized as a human rights violation?
This is a human rights violation under the category of torture or other forms of violence and as well as shooting. That is our case. The victim was initially perceived to have died from gunshots. We were the first to say that he died from blood loss.
Can the case be taken to a human rights court?
We asked for a koneksitas court (a joint civilian-military court panel). A trial at a general court is out of the question as the alleged offenders are armed forces members and the victim is a civilian. A court-martial of the case involving Papua? Who would have faith in it? No matter how well the trial was run, if there is no trust, it will turn out badly. If the case is brought to a gross human right violation case, the investigation will take at least a year.
Why did the Komnas HAM hand over the result to the President?
To make sure that the law enforcement runs well because the Papua case isn’t just another case, even more so when the victim is not an ordinary victim and the attention the case got is also unusual.
The Paniai tragedy was classified as a gross human rights violation in 2019. How has it been handled so far?
There’s no progress. Instead, there’s been a setback. From the Komnas HAM’s experience handling past gross human rights violation cases, the attorney general’s letter reeks of politics. It is confidential and only contained one sentence. I’m sure President will get mad if he reads it. The letter sounds like they only intend to bury the cases, not solve them.
(On May 20, the attorney-general returned the Paniai case file to the Komnas HAM for the second time.)
MOHAMMAD CHOIRUL ANAM
Place and Date of Birth:
Malang, East Java, April 25, 1977
Bachelor of Law, Brawijaya University, Malang (2001)
• Volunteer, Division of Labor of the Surabaya Legal Aid Institute, Malang Post-Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI) (1999-2001), • Coordinator, YLBHI Labor Division for Java-Bali (2000-2001), • Head/Director, YLBHI Labor Division (2001-2002 ), • Head of Human Rights Research and Development, Voice of Human Rights (2002-2003), • Staff Member, Human Rights Working Group (HRWG) (2003-2004), • • Deputy Executive Director, HRWG (2004-2016), • Acting Executive Director, HRWG (2011-2012), • Member, Legal Team, Solidarity Action Committee for Munir (KASUM) (2004-2010), • Executive Secretary, KASUM (2010-2017), • Commissioner, National Commission on Human Rights (2017-2022)
What about the President’s commitment to settle all human rights cases?
Actually, the President did send a very strong signal in 2018 even asking to take three cases to court. Initially, he wanted two but we requested to add another one of the western Indonesia. It shouldn’t be only Papua but also Aceh. Jokowi’s biggest challenge actually is the Paniai case because it happened during his era and he made a personal promise to the Papuan people on December 27, 2014 (to solve the case).
What are the three cases?
It wasn’t disclosed but until now none of them has seen the light of day.
How many gross violations cases in total has the Komnas HAM handled?
Eleven. I’ve completed the investigations of the Paniai case, the two Aceh cases, and the murders of shamans during 1998-1999.
What hurdles are stalling the resolution of the Paniai case?
The attorney-general said that there wasn’t enough evidence although we received all the evidence from the coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs’ team which had unraveled all the factors surrounding the case. Out of the three coordinating ministers—Tedjo Edhy Purdijatno, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan and Wiranto—who were in office during the case, we’ve questioned two.
Whoever are they?
One gave a written statement. Another one came to our office and said that the one responsible was A. The person with a policy-making capacity made such a statement and we were told we didn’t have enough evidence. I think it all comes down to the political will.