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Hearing the silent cries of the mothers

Women not only crying for the fate of their own children or partners but for all Indonesians

Hearing the silent cries of the mothers
Konradus Epa
Konradus Epa, Jakarta

March 7, 2011

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It is common nowadays to see dozens of mothers of dead human rights fighters, standing silently across the road from the presidential palace. Dressed in black, holding black posters, banners and umbrellas, they say nothing. Onlookers might wonder what was going on. As a matter of fact, in silence, these women are crying out loud, seeking justice for their kidnapped or killed activists. They have been present there now for more than 200 times. They regularly gather at 4-5pm local time, the normal time for President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono leave the palace. They hope the president and his aids will see them. But what do they get in return? No response from the president, who lately even escapes through another exit, running away from these women. These women have pledged to make their voices heard against shooting of university students in Semanggi and University of Trisakti during the 1998 riots in Jakarta. Many activists disappeared during the period of political turmoil in the country when massive protests escalated nationwide. The women are not only crying for the fate of their own children, husband or partners but for all Indonesian people, for Papuans who are tortured by military, for farmers, migrant workers and minority groups who are tortured and discriminated against. They include killings in Talangsari massacres in Lampung in 1989, Wasior and Wamena in Papua in the 1990s. "We struggle for national interest and voice out the voice of the voiceless,” said Catharina Sumarsih, a Catholic woman, one of coordinators of the initiative. This is the way the women remind the government not to ignore abuses in the past, she added. Indonesian women nowadays are more and more vocal in fighting for women’s rights, including against bylaws that perpetuate discrimination against women. Rights groups, including National Commission on Human Rights, National Commission on Violence against Women, the Commission for Missing Person and Victims of Violence (KontraS) and the Indonesian Human Rights Monitor (Imparsial), have supported the struggles of Indonesian women. “Indonesia must strive for justice, fair laws, and against impunity for human rights violation in the past and now,” said Souhayr Belhassen, president of The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). Though after 1998 (post New Order regime) human rights situation in Indonesia has shown positive development, the mothers considered the government failed to handle human rights abuses. Ifdal Kasim, National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) chairman, said human rights violation in the past must be settled and prevent it from happening in the future. “We saw people killed in past, and it must not happen again,” she said. In 1999 the United Nations agreed the “Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms” (UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders). It describes the rights, frameworks and scope of works which might be undertaken by human rights defenders in doing their advocacy and also including the responsibilities of states to secure those rights. Some cases in Indonesia have been handed over to the attorney general, but no follow up has been made, prompting the women and rights defenders to take the lead, despite threats and intimidations from rivals. The mothers have also met with People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) and related institutions to settle their cases, but they were not given their due. Nevertheless their spirit to fight for human rights is not subdued. Indonesians need government protection against any perpetrators, not only against torture and physical abuse but also minority groups and over 30 million people living below poverty line, who need access to social security, education, healthcare and food. Unsettled human rights abuses just show the ignorance of current administration. Konradus Epa is a journalist living in Jakarta IJ13530.1644
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