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'Human rights in the sense of human solidarity has created a new universal and equal language going beyond racial, gender, ethnic, or religious boundaries. That is why we consider it a doorway to dialogue for people of all socioeconomic groups and all ideologies'. - Munir
30th March, 2005.
"Justice for Munir" (Edited Extract: SBS Dateline - Garuda's Deadly Upgrade).
The investigation into the death of the Indonesia's leading human rights activist is rapidly developing into a serious challenge for President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who last year came to power vowing to clean up his country's tarnished human rights reputation.
As tragic as it was, last September's bizarre poisoning of Munir Said Thalib seems to involve the Indonesian intelligence, the military, politicians and curiously, Garuda, Indonesia's national airline. Since the story broke, now nearly seven months ago, SBS Dateline video journalist David O'Shea has been trying to unravel the mystery surrounding Munir's death.
David O'Shea: "Munir Said Thalib was Indonesia's bravest and hardest working human rights campaigner. He led a tireless crusade against state-sponsored thuggery and militarism. His colleagues in human rights circles are feeling the loss terribly.
SMITA NOTOSUSANTO (Translation): We have not all recovered from it. You know the movement, which is completely in disarray now. He's the glue, he's the bridge. We have no willingness and no capacity to, you know... so I don't know. I am trying not to think about it because I am afraid that I might just quit.
Munir began his rise to prominence as a legal aid lawyer in East Java in the early 1990s. He met his wife Suciwati around this time. She was a union leader at the local factory.
SUCIWATI, MUNIR’S WIFE (Translation): Because our wages are low, we want to go on strike. After leading a strike she was sacked and Munir took up her case. For Suciwati, it was love at first sight.
SUCIWATI (Translation): I really, how do you say it? I really liked him. And I thought, Wow! Things I never found in other men, I found in him. To tell the truth....there were many reasons why we got on so well. So in the end... I fell in love with him.
It was 1996 and Suharto's military dictatorship was still strong and ruthless. From the very beginning Suciwati says she worried about his safety.
SUCIWATI (Translation): I knew the risks he took ... I began to think about it when he... when he took me to a discussion group. I even thought that among the audience, there might be a soldier or a spy. I thought they might shoot him. Because he was being so critical during that discussion.
REPORTER: It was just a feeling?
SUCIWATI (Translation): Yes, I told him and he just laughed. That's what he was like.
Rachland Nasidik heads one of the human rights groups founded by Munir. He now dedicates all his time to helping solve the murder of his mentor.
REPORTER: You must be a brave man, stepping into the shoes of Munir, to lead the organisation he formed with his death still fresh in your mind?
RACHLAND NASIDIK: My destiny was written by Munir's. What I know is that he was my good friend and he was murdered, he was a world-class human rights defender. He did many noble things for his country. So I don't have any reason at all you know. I would be very ashamed to see my face in the mirror, if I say no.
September 6, 2004 - Munir says farewell to his family and friends in Jakarta before boarding Garuda Flight 974 to Holland. After postponing his departure several times Munir was finally heading off to do a Masters degree in humanitarian law..
(Tragically Munir dies of poisoning during the flight after drinking orange juice on the Garuda Flight to Holland).
In no time, the news reached the then presidential candidate, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. A former general in the Indonesian military, or TNI, he broke into his campaign speech to announce the death.
SUSILO BAMBANG YUDHOYONO (Translation): We all knew Munir. He was my friend. He was critical of the TNI, critical of those in power, but he was my friend. Let us now have a minute's silence.
In the hush, many here would have been immediately suspicious about Munir's death. He had many enemies, particularly in military and intelligence circles, whose impunity he had been challenging for years.
General Muchdi, for example, the former deputy intelligence chief under General Hendropriyono, is known to have hated Munir, who exposed his role in kidnapping and disappearing student activists in 1998. Munir never let up. He organised a demonstration just two weeks before he was to leave for Holland. True to form, the fearless activist lashed out at Indonesia's generals, many of whom would have been glad to see him gone.
MUNIR (Translation): "They've seized power, they carry guns, they kill people and hide behind those in power. Should we let these cowards keep acting tough? No. They're only tough when they are in uniform..They are irresponsible and they'll pay".
...GEORGE NEGUS: That's the amazing political thing, isn't it? I mean, it's almost become a microcosm of Indonesian politics now that SBY himself has committed himself to getting to the bottom of this. Surely it's not because, as he said in your piece, Munir was a mate of his, a friend?
DAVID O’SHEA: He would have known him. He would have known him very well. It is amazing. I think what we're seeing is a President who's still relatively new. He's trying to find his power base. He's trying to figure out whether he has got the support to take on these powerful institutions and the powerful people behind them. And I think something's happened. Something's triggered inside him that has given him the confidence to actually see it through.
GEORGE NEGUS: Because he did commit himself, didn't he, during the election campaign, to clean the place up?
DAVID O’SHEA: He has and, as far as I know, he is personally very committed to seeing the people behind it brought to justice...
GEORGE NEGUS: So this could become an acid test of a lot of things. It could become an acid test of a new embryonic democracy in Indonesia, in a way, couldn't it? If they get serious about getting to the bottom of this, whether it involves the military, the intelligence forces, other politicians or Garuda executives, this could shake the whole joint up?
DAVID O’SHEA: Munir's wife is in Geneva at the moment lobbying the United Nations. She's going to Brussels, to the European Union. This has got a momentum of its own and the world is waiting to see what happens here. And it does seem that this time they are serious and the Indonesian people themselves are sick and tired of being - of being walked all over by powerful people who get away with everything they do.
GEORGE NEGUS: So it could be said - it's a horrible thing to have to say, but being journalists we do say these things occasionally - it could be the case that Munir didn't die in vain, if this thing goes as far as you're suggesting it might?
DAVID O’SHEA: I asked his wife that and she found that one hard to answer, but she did say, "Yes, he wouldn't have died in vain if that happens," but that's not going to bring him back to her.
GEORGE NEGUS: True. And from what you've been hearing, apparently the poisoning thing is not over yet either. A lot of other people are getting very nervous about putting things in their mouth, about taking a lot of care.
DAVID O’SHEA: Well, after the autopsy came out, it was only another month or so that the Vice-President of Indonesia - his minders found a small amount of arsenic in his chicken soup at a conference. The Defence Minister is apparently having his food tested. The President himself sent back a cup of tea that he thought tasted a bit odd. Everyone is a bit jittery about this.
GEORGE NEGUS: Eating could be a dangerous thing to do in that country?
DAVID O’SHEA: It seems so...
(Click on the link above to access the complete transcript and audio files of this important Dateline story)
September 10, 2004
Human Rights First Mourns the Passing of Prominent Indonesian Defender Munir.
Human Rights First was saddened to learn of the passing of Indonesian human rights defender Munir. On early Tuesday, September 7, the 38-year-old activist died of unknown causes after falling ill on a flight to the Netherlands, where he planned to continue his studies. Munir came to prominence as an outspoken critic of the military in the chaotic years surrounding President Suharto’s fall from power. Munir and the organizations he helped to build went on to play an important role in many of the major human rights issues in the country, combining fearless advocacy and meticulous research. When Munir was named by Asiaweek as one of 20 leaders for the new millennium, a fellow activist told the magazine, “Those who are brave enough to speak out in the face of death inspire the courage of others. This is the most important contribution Munir has made in the struggle to uncover violent acts by the state."
Originally from East Java, Munir worked in various positions at the Legal Aid Foundation before founding the Commission for Disappearances and Victims of Violence (Komisi untuk Orang Hilang dan Korban Kekerasan, or Kontras) in 1998. Kontras played an important role in the struggle for accountability after the disappearance of pro democracy activists during the transition. The organization was also at the forefront of human rights investigations into state violence in East Timor, Ambon, and Aceh. Munir had recently helped found a new NGO, Imparsial, and was serving as its Executive Director.
Munir also served on the Commission to Investigate Human Rights Violations in East Timor (KPPHAM), created by the National Human Rights Commission after the violence in 1999. He played an important role in uncovering evidence of military responsibility for the violence and recommending action against high-ranking officers. Unfortunately, despite this groundbreaking report, the resultant trials have been seriously flawed and the few convictions of military personnel of have since been overturned due to the continued influence of the military on Indonesian political life.
More recently Munir was closely involved in the debate surrounding draft laws on the role of the military and on a truth and reconciliation commission.
Munir was even praised by those he took to task. On Tuesday, presidential candidate and retired general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told an audience, “Sometimes his criticism made many ears redden. He criticized the Indonesian military and, often, me. But we need a person like Munir to remind us if we stray away from democracy."
Munir’s work helped expose major human rights violations and advanced accountability during a turbulent time in Indonesia’s transition to democracy. His untimely death leaves a legacy through the organizations he built and the young activists he inspired. Human Rights First offers its condolences to Munir’s family, and to the Indonesian human rights community for its loss.
September 8, 2004.
Indonesia: Rights Champion Dies. (Human Rights Watch)
Human Rights Watch today mourns the death of Munir, one of Indonesia's most prominent human rights advocates. The 38-year-old lawyer died unexpectedly yesterday while en route from Indonesia to the Netherlands to pursue graduate studies.
Munir, best known as a founder and director of the highly effective Commission for 'Disappeared' Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), was most recently the director of the Jakarta-based human rights group Imparsial.
'Munir was in a class by himself', said Human Rights Watch deputy program director Joe Saunders. 'He had an electric intelligence and an encyclopedic memory. In meetings, he was able to draw on a kaleidoscope of detailed fact and sharp analytical insight to present a clear image of what needed to be done'.  
Munir's legal aid career began in Surabaya in 1989 and included stints as director of the Semarang Legal Aid office and as chief of field operations for the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI) in Jakarta. He represented many human rights victims and activists in high profile cases, and regularly spoke out for justice in the face of intimidation, including death threats. His work encompassed the full range of human rights concerns in Indonesia, from abuses by the Indonesian military and police, to attacks on labor activists, to impunity for human rights crimes in Aceh, East Timor and Papua (Irian Jaya) to the rights of the Chinese ethnic minority.  
Munir was the winner of numerous honors, including being named Man of the Year in 1998 by a leading Indonesian Muslim periodical UMMAT and a 'young leader for the Millenium' by Asia Week in 2000. Also in 2000, he was one of the winners of 'The Right Livelihood Award', known as the 'Alternative Nobel Prize', for 'his courage and dedication in fighting for human rights and the civilian control of the military in Indonesia'.
'It's a great personal loss because he was a friend and colleague', said Saunders. 'It's a tremendous loss for the human rights movement because he was a tireless and uniquely effective researcher, strategist, and spokesperson. Our condolences go out to his family and colleagues.  
'Human rights in the sense of human solidarity has created a new universal and equal language going beyond racial, gender, ethnic, or religious boundaries. That is why we consider it a doorway to dialogue for people of all socioeconomic groups and all ideologies'. - Munir
by SBS Dateline / Human Rights Watch

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