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Amnesty International opens Indonesia office

Rights group boosts presence, launches campaign to combat ethnic minority discrimination, protect farmers

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Amnesty International opens Indonesia office

Javanese farmers whose lands were taken by cement factory develpers turn out for the launch in Jakarta of an Amnesty International office in Indonesia. (ucanews.com photo)


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Amnesty International has established a permanent presence in Indonesia by setting up an office in Jakarta with the aim of working more effectively with local human rights organizations and victims of abuse.

The global movement of more than seven million members in 150 countries, has advocated human rights in Indonesia since 1964, three years after the organization was established by British lawyer, Peter Benenson in London.

The Indonesian office opened last week and has 160 local volunteers and members.

"The establishment of this office gives the organization more opportunities to protect and empower people such as farmers, laborers, victims of human rights violations, and also campaign against the death penalty and discrimination," Usman Hamid, executive director of Amnesty International Indonesia, told ucanews.com.

To mark the opening Amnesty launched a nationwide campaign called JoinForces in seven major cities to combat and raise awareness of growing "scapegoat" politics and the rise of a negative form of populism that has "undermined the basic rights of minority groups, laborers, farmers, and urban society."

Hamid said activists and local people are experiencing violations as a result of infrastructure projects, such as airports and roads.

Although needed and designed to benefit the masses, many people are suffering because of developers and the government riding roughshod over landowners and the environment, he said.

About 500 people participated at the start of the campaign in Jakarta on Dec. 7 to raise awareness of the problem.

Effendi Ismoyo, 50, a farmer who lost his house and land to a cement factory in Central Java, said the government failed to protect the rights of people like him. He hoped human rights organizations such as Amnesty can help fight their cause.

"We'd like Amnesty to help us talk with the government," said Ismoyo, adding that farmers are facing a serious battle against big plantation companies and developers. 

Hamid also said that Amnesty should tackle what he called "scapegoat politics," namely, attacking ethnic minorities such as the Chinese.

"This is dangerous for the future of human rights and our society," he said, citing former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama who was accused of blasphemy and imprisoned for two years earlier this year as an example.

Maria Katarina Sumarsih, a Catholic whose son was killed during protests that brought down former dictator Suharto in 1998, said she wanted Amnesty to seek justice in past rights abuse cases.

"We hope it can bring past human rights violation cases to international [court]," she said.

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