AJI files to prosecute Myanmar Human Rights Violations in Indonesia

Aliansi Jurnalis Independen (AJI) Indonesia, an affiliate of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), and pro-democracy activists have recently petitioned the Constitutional Court of Indonesia to prosecute the human rights violations committed by the Myanmar military junta in Indonesia. AJI Chairperson, Sasmito, tells the IFJ how this solidarity action developed, and the justice he hopes to achieve, writes Ratna Ariyanti.

If AJI Indonesia's petition is successful, human rights violations commited by the Myanmar junta could be prosecuted in Indonesia Credit: Adek Berry / AFP

In July 2022 the Myanmar military junta executed four pro-democracy activists, including veteran activist Kyaw Min Yu, also known as Ko Jimmy, and National League for Democracy lawmaker Phyo Zeya Thaw. The four activists were sentenced to death under the 2014 Counterterrorism Law and Penal Code in a closed trial by, what the United Nations has referred to as, “an illegitimate court of an illegitimate junta”. The execution was the first use of capital punishment in the country since 1988.

Since the military seized power on February 1, 2021, Myanmar has seen a relentless assault on human rights and press freedom. As of September 28, the Assistance Association For Political Prisoners has identified the junta killings of at least 2,324 pro-democracy activists and civilians, with a further 12,540 current political prisoners.

The broadcast of these grave human rights violations has mobilised networks of advocacy groups in South East Asia and beyond. AJI Indonesia has been an outspoken force, practicing solidarity through domestic pressure and international messaging.

Working with human rights activists Marzuki Darusman and Busyro Muqoddas, AJI Indonesia filed a petition to the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Indonesia to review the Law on the Court of Human Rights (No. 26/2000), arguing that the court allows the trial of non-Indonesian citizens for human rights abuses. This decision could allow Indonesian courts to prosecute human rights violation cases from Myanmar through the Indonesian legal system, echoing similar efforts from the Argentinian and Gambian investigations into the Rohingya Genocide, and the Turkish investigations into the Myanmar Junta for allegations of torture.

The first hearing of this petition was held on September 26 in Jakarta. The Constitutional Court Session was attended by Marzuki Darusman (Petitioner I) and Sasmito, Chairman of Aliansi Jurnalis Independen, AJI (Petitioner III), along with 17 Attorneys for the Petitioners. The next hearing by the Constitutional Court will be held on October 11.

In an interview with the IFJ, Sasmito discussed the purpose and potential impacts of the petition for journalists and media workers.

How did AJI and its partners decide to file a judicial review of Law 26 of 2000 concerning Indonesia's Human Rights Court and specifically demand the constitutional court to remove the phrase "by Indonesian citizen" from Article 5?

We know that the Myanmar Military Junta executed four pro-democracy activists. Dozens of other activists are awaiting their next execution. More than 2,000 people were killed, 15,000 people were detained or disappeared, 1.2 million people were displaced, and according to the United Nations, more than 14 million people needed humanitarian assistance. Considering these human rights violations, the petitioners, who are activists and have been involved in human rights issues for many years, agreed to explore the construction of Indonesian Law. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the goals of Indonesia to contribute to global peace are a part of the preamble of the 1945 Constitutions of the Republic of Indonesia and several articles in the constitution.

However, Article 5 of Law Number 26 of 2000 of the Human Rights Court limits the protection of human rights in the 1945 Constitution. A trial of perpetrators of human rights violations can only be carried out if the violations are committed “by Indonesian citizens”. Even if the human rights crime occurred outside the territory of Indonesia, a court could be established as long as the perpetrator is an Indonesian citizen. This article is clearly in the framework of protecting the Indonesian people, then what about the nature of the constitution that protects human rights universally? Therefore, we challenge this article so that human rights crimes outside Indonesia can still be prosecuted and human rights can be enforced.

What will be the impact of the judicial review if the Constitutional Court grants these amendments? How will this benefit journalists and media workers in Indonesia?

One of the 4 pro-democracy activists killed by the Myanmar military junta was a journalist. Previously, the Myanmar military junta had also arrested more than 100 journalists, many of whom are still in detention. Journalists are human rights defenders who disseminate information on human rights crimes that have occurred in various countries. Therefore, we see that it is essential for journalists to get full protection by prosecuting the perpetrators of human rights violations.

Can you explain your strategy to win this case?

Our strategy is to clarify constitutional losses, both that have existed and also potential risks in the future. Besides, we also strengthen the reasons for the petition with logic and arguments, in relation to what is now happening to convince the panel of judges. AJI and the legal team will also maximize international support from various organisations so that this lawsuit can be granted by the Constitutional Court.

What is your perspective on the escalating human rights violations in Myanmar which are specifically targeting Burmese journalists and media workers?

Criminals, including human rights violators, generally do not want the public to know about their actions. They target journalists and media workers to cover up their human rights crimes. Therefore, the international community must ensure that journalists and media workers work safely so that the public will the situation and various human rights violations. By understanding the conditions, we expect more support from the international community to address the critical challenges.

Can you explain the support AJI has offered to our colleagues in Myanmar?

AJI Indonesia has great concern for journalists and media workers in Myanmar. This can be seen through the solidarity conveyed by AJI in our official releases and on various international forums, including rejecting Myanmar's leadership in the South East Asian Press Council Network.

The lawsuit against the Human Rights Court Law is another strategy to ensure protection for journalists and media workers. At the same time, we also call on governments from throughout South East Asia to increase their solidarity to improve the safety of media workers and other pro-democracy movement supporters in Myanmar.

What can journalist and trade union networks, particularly in South East Asia, do to increase solidarity with human rights activists and media workers in Myanmar?

The petitioners hope that journalists' networks and media workers' unions can assist in reporting the lawsuits against the Law on Human Rights Courts in the Indonesian Constitutional Court. We hope that this lawsuit can put pressure on the military junta in Myanmar and stop various human rights crimes there.

This breakthrough could also be an alarm for the leader of the Myanmar military junta not to come to Indonesia if they do not want to be tried in Jakarta. It is hoped that other ASEAN countries will follow such a breakthrough. And lastly, we hope Myanmar will no longer be under an authoritarian regime and will form a democratic government. Therefore, solidarity and concrete pressures from journalists' organizations and unions from various countries are important.

Ratna Ariyanti is an expert on media rights in South East Asia and is the South East Asia Coordinator of the International Federation of Journalists Asia-Pacific.