The bridge that connects us: Munir through the lens of co-production

September 7, 2020, marks the sixteenth year since the assassination of an Indonesian human rights defender, Munir Said Thalib. Munir was poisoned on his flight to Amsterdam by Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto, a state-owned airline Garuda Indonesia pilot, on September 7, 2004. An autopsy result published in November 2004 reveals that the perpetrator used arsenic to killed Munir (ICTJ, 2011). In June 2005, the Fact-finding Team on Munir’s killing (TPF Munir) found shreds of evidence that the murder was premeditated, involving a retired Special Forces (Kopassus) general who acted as Deputy Chief of the State Intelligence Agency (BIN) named Muchdi Purwoprandjono (ETAN, 2016). Munir died at the age of 38.

Although Pollycarpus and three other Garuda Indonesia officials were sentenced to jail time, the airline and BIN’s lack of cooperation resulted in no intellectual perpetrators were brought to justice (ETAN, 2016). Furthermore, although the TPF Munir had submitted its findings directly to the president, it was never made public despite the pressure from domestic and international society. The lack of transparency, therefore, made it impossible to organize other judicial processes. Until today, there is no effort from the government to continue the investigation of Munir’s killing.

Nevertheless, Munir’s legacy carries on. The public still commemorates him as an individual actively fighting for justice and humanity killed by his own country. Munir was relentless in supporting the victims of past human rights abuses that took place in Indonesia during the authoritarian New Order regime. From the mass killings in 1965–1966, the brutal military campaign in East Timor 1975–1999, Petrus operations 1983–1985, the abduction of activists 1997–1998, the Trisakti-Semanggi I and II shootings 1998–1999, up until the Wamena tragedy 2003, Munir was there to give voice to the voiceless.

Munir had helped countless lives. This article will analyze how human rights defenders, such as Munir, act as co-production agents in a country where systematic marginalization is preserved. Such a discussion is still relevant since contemporary Indonesia turns out to bear much resemblance with the Soeharto’s period in intimidating, criminalizing, or oppressing activists one way or the other.

Activists as Co-production Agents

Ostrom (1996) argues that co-production is a process of recognizing inputs given by the public outside of the governmental system and transforming them into public goods or services. She rejects the idea which differentiates between the regular producers of public policies and their clients. According to Ostrom, such a notion locates citizens as helpless and passive while positioning the government and private sectors within the higher hierarchy and power relations (1996).

The key to the co-production process is the marginalized’s participation from the beginning of any state projects (Ostrom, 1996). Regular policy-makers need to provide a sufficient framework and opportunity for the vulnerable to give their wishes (Bergold & Thomas, 2012; Colette 2016). Hence, co-production assumes that the people’s significant involvement in the decision-making process could lead to producing a more desirable and fitting policy to those the regular policy-makers are supposed to help (Ostrom 1996; Bulloch, 2017).

However, Ostrom’s idea of co-production puts too much emphasis on only three actors: the state, the private sectors, and the citizens. It assumes that civil society acts coherently without realizing that it was not and never will be a monolithic entity. Co-production, for instance, does not explicitly endorse the role of activists or non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who, in reality, often act as the middle-men between the regular producers of public policies and their clients. Acknowledging human rights defenders as agents within the messy web of co-production is both important and necessary.

Munir: Working for and with the people and the state

During the authoritarian New Order period in Indonesia, there was little to no access for the victims of past human rights abuses to confront state authorities directly due to the tangible threat that they could potentially face. Henceforth, one can argue that the necessary framework for co-production was not prepared during this time. Thus, Munir acted as an activist that bridges the demand of the victims with state authorities. He encouraged the victims to get organized and realized the power in numbers (Tornquist, 2004).

Co-production practices were evident even in Munir’s early years in the Indonesian human rights scene. As a starter, Munir, an alumnus of the Faculty of Law of Brawijaya University, began his career as a lawyer in the Surabaya Legal Aid Institute (LBH Surabaya) in 1989. He was then elected as the Chief of the Malang Chapter of LBH Surabaya in 1993 (Guntoro, 2017). During his tenure in LBH Surabaya, Munir was involved in several advocacies, including land disputes between the people of Nipah Island, Madura, and the military and the well-known killing of a female garment labor Marsinah, also allegedly done by military personnel (Guntoro, 2017). In advocating Marsinah’s case, Munir and several other activists established the Solidarity Committee for Marsinah (KSUM), which organized countless campaign strategies, including strikes and meetings with key opinion leaders from labor unions (Istakhori, 2018).

From 1996 to 1998, Munir lived in Jakarta and worked for The Indonesian Legal Aid Institute (YLBHI). In Jakarta, he was engaged with students who, at that time, started to felt that the authoritarian regime failed to carry its duty to protect human rights in Indonesia. However, the emergence of critical consciousness amongst the students resulted in a number of students being abducted (Hamid, 2017). Then, Munir campaigned against the enforced disappearance of student activists and worked alongside other civilian actors in demanding the state to hold the perpetrators accountable. Such a tragedy led to Munir establishing an NGO called the Commission of Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS), who has been working tirelessly with the victims of past human rights abuses as well as state authorities until now.

Munir not only advocated for civilians, but he also fought for the welfare of military personnel. He was one of the Indonesian Armed Forces Bill drafters discussed in 2004 and worked closely with the Minister of Defense and President Abdurrahman Wahid (Guntoro, 2017). During the formation process, Munir actively demanded a wage increase of the military personnel to avoid further unnecessary military intervention in business sectors enabled and preserved during the New Order era (Guntoro, 2017). He even rejected the abuse of power by personnel in the higher hierarchies toward their sub-ordinates. Instances of field personnel ordered to do extra work without any formal instructions, such as during the clash between students and the military in May 1998, led Munir to take such a stance (Guntoro, 2017).

Returning the favor

Shreds of evidence have shown how Munir acted as a platform that connects the people with state authorities. He was a co-production personified: providing opportunities for the marginalized to assert their demands to the government. From the people who lost their lands, to Marsinah, to the abducted activists, and even the military personnel. He empowered the people through promoting humanity in every possible opening and demanding the state to respect, protect, and fulfill human rights.

It is vital to continue his legacy. One of the ways to respect his legacy is by demanding the state to establish an effective accountability mechanism for Munir’s killing; because after sixteen years since his death, it is apparent that even if Munir embodies the best of us, the government does not. Munir once worked relentlessly for the people; it is our time to return the favor.

Reference List

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Bulloch, H. C. M. (2017). In Pursuit of Progress, Narratives of Development on a Philippine Island. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

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Ostrom, E. (1996). Crossing the Great Divide: Coproduction, Synergy, and Development. World Development, 24(6), 1073–1087.

Tornquist, O. (2004). Munir: In Memoriam. Economic and Political Weekly, 39(48), 5066–5184. Retrieved September 3, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/4415815

Student in the dual degree program Master in Transdisciplinary Development and International Law for Human Rights in AdMU and University for Peace.

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