Human Rights and UNHRC Membership: Indonesia’s Love/Hate Affair.. and other matters

Winda A. Pratiwi
6 min readOct 18, 2019
Courtesy of/Indonesian Permanent Mission to the UN

After a successful United Nations Security Council non-permanent membership bid in 2018, Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) is just getting started. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs along with Ambassador Dian T. Djani just scored yet another membership in UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), a fifth term for the country. UNHRC consists of 47 countries selected by the majority of members of the UN General Assembly, with a solemn pledge to promote and protect human rights.

What does the UN Human Rights Council do, exactly?

According to, UN Human Rights Council addresses situations of human rights violations and make recommendations on them. It has the ability to discuss all thematic human rights issues and situations that require its attention throughout the year. It meets at the UN Office at Geneva.

One of the most notable features of the council’s agendas is Item 7 on “Human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories”. In March 2016, the Council voted to produce a database of all business enterprises conducting activities related to Israel’s settlements. However, as expected, United States is never really keen on dicsussing about Item 7 the way it similarly depicts in the Security Council. On 2018, the United States (US) announced its intention to withdraw from the United Nations Human Rights Council due to anti-Israel bias. From this example, we also can see why Indonesia aims for strategic roles within influential UN councils where the issues of Palestine are discussed, due to our country’s reputation as one of the world’s most prominent Muslim-dominated countries. Indonesia also repeatedly announces its firm stance on the Rohingya crisis (and obviously, against Myanmar’s policies).

Who’s in and who’s out?

Let’s sum it up the way we talk about football transfers.

In: Armenia, Brazil, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Libya, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Namibia, Netherlands, Poland, Republic of Korea, Sudan and Venezuela

Out: China, Croatia, Cuba, Egypt, Hungary, Iceland, Iraq, Japan, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Tunisia, and the United Kingdom

Let’s break down the In countries and its notable human rights track records, all according to Human Rights Watch 2019 Report:

  1. Armenia: Nikol Pashinyan became Armenia’s PM following weeks of protests in April and May 2018 against Serzh Sargsyan, who tried to hold onto power as a prime minister, but ultimately had to step down. Pashinyan inherited a country facing serious corruption and human rights problems, including lack of accountability for law enforcement abuses, domestic violence, violence and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, lack of access to quality education for children with disabilities, and institutionalization of people with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities.
  2. Brazil: Chronic human rights problems plague Brazil. Some police officers kill unlawfully, torture detainees, and mistreat children in conflict with the law. Many Brazilian prisons are severely overcrowded, and the lack of adequate state control leaves inmates vulnerable to violence, extortion, and recruitment by gangs. Other human rights problems include violence against women, killings of journalists and bloggers because of their work, and violence against rural activists and indigenous people involved in conflicts over land. Perpetrators of abuses during the military rule of 1964 to 1985 continue to be shielded from justice by an amnesty law passed by the military regime.
  3. Germany: Nothing too controversial (or not that we know of), Germany still struggles with large numbers of asylum seekers. Attacks on asylum-seeker accommodation and refugees and asylum-seekers continued. On the bright side, Germany’s federal parliament has approved measures that raise concerns about privacy rights and freedom of expression online.
  4. Indonesia: President Joko Widodo has yet to lead meaningful human rights policy initiatives. Religious minorities still face harassment, intimidation, and violence. Indonesian authorities restrict foreign media access to Papua on the pretext of a low-level insurgency. The government has failed to deliver on a promised reconciliation mechanism for the 1965–66 massacres. The Indonesian government abets widespread attacks on sexual and gender minorities.
  5. Japan: Pretty similar to Germany, Japan has less controversies than other member states. Rather than controversial violations, Japan tends to to lean more on the absence of various laws against racial, ethnic, or religious discrimination, or discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Japan also has no national human rights institutions.
  6. Libya: In all seriousness, do we need to mention all of them?
  7. Marshall Islands: This country is also more lenient towards the absence of notable anti-discrimination and anti-Semitism laws, rather than visible controversies. The government is also deemed unreliable at times due to the lack of investigations or prosecutions of officials who committed human rights abuses.
  8. Mauritania: Mauritanian authorities restrict freedom of speech and assembly especially to muzzle criticism of Mauritania’s record on slavery, discrimination based on caste or ethnicity, impunity for past state-sponsored ‘atrocities’, and the president’s intolerance of dissent. Individuals are prosecuted under loosely interpreted laws criminalizing “incitement of racial hatred” and religious offenses. Child marriage, female genital mutilation and other forms of gender-based violence still occur.
  9. Namibia: According to a recent report by Amnesty International, the right to adequate housing in the countrywas restricted and the situation was exacerbated by high levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality. Eight prisoners of conscience in the long-running Caprivi trial were held 14 years after their arrest, on treason and sedition charges.
  10. Netherlands: The Dutch government is continuing with its policy of time-limited and conditional support to rejected asylum seekers who cannot be removed, despite international criticism of its approach.
  11. Poland: The Polish government’s efforts to undermine the rule of law and human rights protections continued during the year. Curbing judicial independence remained a focus, despite growing international criticism.
  12. Republic of Korea (South Korea): The Republic of Korea (South Korea) is a democracy that generally respects civil and political liberties. However, it maintains unreasonable restrictions on freedom of expression, association, and assembly. Discrimination against racial and ethnic minorities, and foreigners — especially refugees and migrants — continued to be a major problem.…… that was boring. Let’s not talk about human rights. The recent photo below (from a fellow neighbor) is more substantial.
Yee-haw. Courtesy of Reuters

13. Sudan: Sudan’s rights record shows very little change. Conflicts in Darfur, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile continued. The National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) used excessive force to break up protests and arbitrarily detained dozens of activists and opposition party members. The authorities censored the media, confiscated newspapers, detained outspoken critics, and barred key opposition figures from traveling outside the country.

14. Venezuela: No independent government institutions remain today in Venezuela to act as a check on executive power. The government has been repressing dissent through often-violent crackdowns on street protests, jailing opponents, and prosecuting civilians in military courts. It has also stripped power from the opposition-led legislature. Severe shortages of medicines, medical supplies, and food leave many Venezuelans unable to feed their families adequately or access essential healthcare. The massive exodus of Venezuelans fleeing repression and shortages represents the largest migration crisis of its kind in recent Latin American history. Other persistent concerns include poor prison conditions, impunity for human rights violations, and harassment by government officials of human rights defenders and independent media outlets.

Of all 14 newly-elected member countries, all of them have problems (and as far as I’m concerned, a country with zero human rights problems does not exist), and most of them clearly have severe troublesomes. Indonesia’s keen ambition towards being a member state of UNHRC still makes way more sense if we compare it to other member state counterparts like Venezuela and Libya.

On the bright side, the writer sincerely hopes that the newly-elected members, including Indonesia, will make more visible outputs rather than cliché ol’ grand gestures-turned-feuds, and know that we’re all in this human rights shenanigans together. (I hope you get the High School Musical reference!)