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UN Says Situation of Human Rights Defenders in Indonesia Still Needs Improvement 

The United Nations says Indonesia must take concrete steps to protect human rights defenders and counter what it says is the culture of impunity often enjoyed by the authorities. But, as VOA's Nancy-Amelia Collins reports from Jakarta, a top U.N. official acknowledges that the situation of rights defenders in Indonesia has improved compared to the recent past.

Hina Jilani, the special representative of the U.N. Secretary General on the situation of human rights defenders, said Tuesday Indonesia has taken some steps to protect human rights defenders.

The steps include strengthening the legal and institutional framework for the promotion of human rights, such as a 2002 constitutional change that guarantees human rights and fundamental freedoms. She also mentioned the establishment of several commissions to deal with various aspects of human rights, such as preventing violence against women.

But Jilani says the lack of coordination and cooperation between these institutions has limited the impact of human rights work on the community.

"I note that there is a resistance to changing attitudes and institutional culture which has made it difficult for these institutions to make a full commitment to eliminate impunity for human rights violations," said Jilani. "In light of my discussions with authorities in Jakarta and the provinces, I observe that there is even less commitment to removing impunity for past abuses."

Jilani cites as an example the murder of a prominent human rights defender, Munir Said Thalib, who was poisoned in 2004 while en route to Europe on a plane belonging to Indonesia's national airline, Garuda.

An independent investigation implicated senior officials of the country's shadowy spy agency, but the government never took any action or fully released the report.

Last October, the Supreme Court acquitted the only person convicted in the case so far, Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto, an off-duty pilot accused of slipping arsenic into Munir's drink.

Jilani says Munir's case is a test for the government to prove it is serious in protecting human rights defenders.

"I remind the government that this case represents the situation of the human rights community in general and is a test of the government's will to protect defenders in the country," said Jilani. "I fear that any lapses in the conclusion of this case would make all human rights defenders throughout the country insecure."

Jilani notes the situation for human rights defenders in Indonesia's Papua province, which is in the midst of a low-level separatist insurgency, is particularly grave. She said one human rights defender who tried to help her during her visit there had been threatened by the security forces.

Jilani, who has been in Indonesia for the last week, will prepare a detailed report on her Indonesian visit to the United Nations Human Rights Council.