Thursday, November 5, 2009

Human Rights Defenders -- Munir Said Thalib

Munir Said Thalib, or Munir as he was affectionately known was born into a family of Hadhrami Arab and Javanese origins on December 8, 1965, he died at the hands of an assassin shortly before his 39th birthday on September 7, 2004.

In a country that has raised numerous human rights defenders Munir is probably the most internationally well known. Munir studied law at Brawijaya University in Malang in the province of East Java, and in 1989 started his career as a legal aid officer in the East Java provincial capital of Surabaya where he was legal counsel for a number of victims of official violence and repression.

Munir became one of Indonesia's leading human rights campaigners and constantly faced intimidation and death threats. He first came to public attention at the end of the Suharto period through his role in a campaign in late 1997 and early 1998 when two dozen pro-democracy activists were abducted in suspicious circumstances. It was during this period that Munir founded the human rights organisation Kontras (Commission for Disappearances and Victims of Violence) with the backing of 12 pro-democracy NGOs

It was in September 1999 that Munir was appointed to the Commission to Investigate Human Rights Violations in East Timor (KPPHAM) which was set up by Indonesia's National Human Rights Commission. The report of this commission provided evidence of the Indonesian army's involvement in recruiting, financing, training and using the militia which caused such havoc at the time of the UN Referendum. This in turn lead to judicial investigations into the conduct of six senior army officers, including the former Chief of Staff, General Wiranto. Munir also taught human rights in police and army training, seminars and workshops, and was appointed to the drafting committee for law on human rights courts, which was intended to be presented to the Indonesian Parliament during 2000.

It was following this that he accused the Indonesian military of running a criminal network involved in illegal tree logging and drug smuggling.

On September 7, 2004, Munir died on a flight from Indonesia to The Netherlands. The autopsy by the Dutch authorities revealed lethal levels of arsenic in his body. Subsequently much has been written about the trial of the Indonesia agents that carried out the assassination and their subsequent release, re-remand and re-release. However, the purpose of this article to offer praise for this man who made the ultimate sacrifice to secure human rights for his fellow countrymen and bring to the notice of the Indonesian public and the world at large the blatant abuses being carried out by the military and the corruption that was, and sadly still remains, in the government.

Munir was named Man of the Year by the leading Muslim periodical, UMMAT, and as a "young leader for the Millennium in Asia" by Asia Week in 2000. Kontras, one of the many organisations for which Munir worked so hard, received the prestigious Yap Thiam Hien human rights award in 1998.

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