Indonesian activist condemns Keating's 'music'

Issue 

Indonesian activist condemns Keating's 'music'

By L. Pramana

Prime Minister Keating's suggestion for US President Bill Clinton to take a softer stance on human rights in the Asian region has been condemned by Indonesian labour activist Ahmad Ruslan, from the worker research organisation, Advance Together Foundation in Jakarta.

"Keating's comments have echoed the Indonesian government's position on the issue of human rights: that it is a Western concept and is understood differently by developing countries, where development is first priority", Ahmad told Green Left Weekly.

"In the last two months, the issue of human rights has been widely discussed in Indonesia, sparked by the murder of a factory worker who negotiated with her employer on behalf of striking fellow workers, as well as by the conditions of workers generally. The banning of the congress of the non-government trade union SBSI recently also contributed to the debate."

This debate has prompted response by government officials, who begin to see that the issue of human rights could affect the perceptions of investors.

Ahmad points out that Australia's soft position on human rights in the region is influenced by the government's aspirations to advance the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) as a regional trading bloc. The inclusion of the US and Australia into a regional bloc is opposed by Malaysia, but supported by Indonesia, which wishes to encourage foreign investment in the Timor Gap and in the eastern regions of the country.

An interview with Habibie, Indonesian minister for research and technology, in the September 17 Australian Financial Review shows that the Indonesian government wants closer economic cooperation with Australia. Keating's comments were like "music in my ears", he said.

Days before Keating's comments were made in Washington, 10 students in Yogyakarta were arrested for participating in a demonstration against traffic laws that would impose hardship on low income earners (see page 18). "Keating's position on human rights is welcomed by the Indonesian government, despite the evidence that human rights abuses continue to occur every day in Indonesia", Ahmad concludes.

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