By Samantha Feuer
On Wednesday July 19th 2017, The Henry Jackson Society and John Hemmings, Director of the Asia Studies Centre, hosted Benedict Rogers of Solidarity Worldwide, Patrick Burges of Asia Justice and Rights, and Galuh Wandita of Asia Justice and Rights. The panel engaged in a roundtable discussion regarding the importance of transitional justice in Asia for victims of human rights abuses to reduce the number of individuals turning to violent extremism.
Patrick Burges began by explaining his aims to reduce the culture of impunity, particularly in Indonesia, through bolstering avenues for accountability. His experience in the area has made him aware of the necessity of transitional justice to combat extremism. He used the example of Mindanao’s rejection of a piece of legislation concerning transitional justice as a reason behind the increasing support for ISIS in the region. He referenced a cycle of communities feeling let down, leaving young people especially vulnerable and seeking answers. In the absence of governmental protection for minorities, ISIS has filled that void. He notes that legitimate ethnic and minority groups fighting for their rights now see their “claims being lumped with illegitimate violent extremist agendas”, diminishing their external support base. Mr. Burges applied the same principle to the oppressed Muslim population in Myanmar’s Rohingya. He concluded his speech with a call to action, stressing the importance of attaining some kind of settlement for victims of human rights abuses, lest we leave young people as a vulnerable source of recruitment for terrorist organisations.
The floor then turned to Galuh Wandita who reiterated Mr. Burger’s support for accountability, calling it “the foundation for lasting peace and security”. She went on to remind us however that religion has been the catalyst to obtain political support all over the world for many years, citing former Indonesia President, Suharto, as an example. Ms. Wandita’s work involves bringing victims of human rights abuses together in an effort to understand why these violations have occurred and increase inter-faith alliances. Additionally Ms. Wandita works with networks of female survivors to document their stories and encourage advocacy. Using the success of working with communities at the local level, she believes that empowering survivors will achieve small and big pieces of justice.
Benedict Rogers was the last to take the floor and used his 20 years of experience working in Myanmar to illustrate a transition of actors perpetrating atrocities in the country. He recalls that prior to 5 or 6 years ago, violations were committed solely by the military with religion used an element of repression. However, recently he has seen the violence evolve to a socially and governmentally perpetrated issue. Mr. Rogers highlighted the importance of working to break down social barriers in order to facilitate inter-faith exchange and provide support mechanisms amongst individuals with similar experiences. Mr. Rogers was explicit in his concern over the situation in Indonesia citing not only increasing pessimism from the Indonesian people but also the recent defeat of the former governor of Jakarta, Ahok, in his campaign for presidency. Mr. Rogers did not hesitate to attribute Ahok’s defeat and subsequent conviction to his religion and rising intolerance in Indonesia. He expressed his sadness that motivations behind Ahok’s sentencing are being replicated in other areas of Indonesia such as Yogyakarta, once labelled the city of tolerance. He concluded his remarks by acknowledging that Indonesia’s pluralism is in peril.
The Q&A session that followed debated whether the government of Indonesia’s trajectory in managing its problem of terrorist organisations will be effective in the future. Concern was raised over whether new pieces of legislation could be directed against civil society groups. Other topics discussed were in relation to extremist financing, the relative power of the moderate voice versus the extremist one, the role of the diaspora in the transitional justice aspect of Sri Lanka and whether the models of Indonesia and Myanmar can be applied to the situation in Iraq. Mr Hemmings concluded the event by thanking the audience for their participation, noting that although we had only just touched the surface, the remarks from the panel had clearly demonstrated the complexity of justice in the region.