Indonesia needs true free press and clean court: German expert

Alvin Darlanika Soedarjo, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Indonesia needs a free press and an independent judicial system to become a stable democracy and to be able to prosecute past human rights violations, a visiting German legal expert says.

Former president of Germany's Federal Constitutional Court Jutta Limbach said Friday that Indonesia was in a transition phase from dictatorial rule to democracy.

"The first important element for a stable democracy is a real free press," Limbach told a public discussion held by the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras).

The Indonesian media became a free press when the New Order regime ended in 1998 and the publication permit was dropped.

Limbach, currently the president of German cultural agency the Goethe-Institute, added that improving the wellbeing of judges was important for the independence of a judicial system.

"Justices must get appropriate salaries so they're not tempted to take money from others. Moreover, you must establish a good pension system for all judges," she added.

Limbach compared the issue to Germany's experience in prosecuting Nazi war criminals, which took a long time before bearing results.

"We needed much time for the German judiciary to prosecute criminal offenses (by Nazi members) at concentration camps during World War II.

"At first, many of those who wanted to bring them to justice felt discouraged because they felt they hadn't enough support. At the time, charging former politicians had its own risks and prosecution could result in a civil war."

Jutta, who headed the German Constitutional Court from 1994 to 2002, said that victims and perpetrators had to discuss together what had happened in the past so the culprits could have amnesty.

Meanwhile, Kontras chairman Usman Hamid said that it was still difficult for Indonesia to become a stable democracy because of the strong grip of the Indonesian Military during the New Order era.

"The military doctrine of the New Order regime was that they were the protector and stabilizer of the country. Secondly, they also controlled the business. They have become deeply rooted and embedded," Usman said.

Prejudices toward Indonesian people with communist affiliations were still present, he said, especially among the political elite.

Usman said that Indonesia had to follow the example of Germany in handling past human rights abuses.

"Germany needed three decades to prosecute their war criminals. Indonesia actually requires a shorter period if we want to because we already have fundamental human rights in our 1945 Constitution."

The rights enumerated in the Constitution include the right to life and the right to equal treatment under the law.

Many perpetrators of human rights offenses in Indonesia, such as the kidnapping and killing of activists and students in 1998 as well as the murder of human rights activist Munir Said Thalib, are yet to be brought to court.

Usman said that one of the hardest aspects relating to human rights abuses was forgiving.

"Germany needed two generations to heal the wounds of the past," he added.
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