Alumni of the Month: Haris Azhar

To celebrate Human Rights Day on 10 December, and to mark the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Mega spoke to Haris Azhar (Essex University, 2008) about his new NGO.

Q: You are known as one of Indonesia’s most prominent human rights activists. What motivates you to work in this field?

A: ?I was moved and motivated to work on human rights issue since I was in undergraduate–law school in Trisakti University. I was in the middle, witnessing the shooting to the thousand of student colleagues on May 12 in the front to my university. ?At that moment I experienced firsthand the human rights abuses I used to hear about during Soeharto’s New order regime. That moment committed to my dream to be a lawyer who could benefit a large number of other people. A week after I was graduated I joined KontraS working under Munir, the Coordinator at that time.

Q: What has been the greatest challenge you have faced in your career and how you overcome it?

?A: There are several challenges working on human rights in the Indonesian setting. First, the negligence of the government to commit to human rights standards. Especially these days, where populism dominates political campaigns rather than addressing the real substance of rights. Human rights are being subordinated by the interest of the political community.

Secondly, the shrinking space for civil society is a concern. Civil society face increasing restrictions by the government and conservative groups, limiting the space for expression.

Thirdly, the challenge to expand the human rights movement. The growth of  the human rights movement in Indonesia continues but there are some weaknesses; where knowledge of certain human rights is not well developed even among the human rights practitioners. Some of them have taken the side of the government or political interests blindly. There still remain too many gaps between academics, survivors, and advocates.

I have developed certain ways to address these weaknesses. I always try to tackle human rights issues, not only the individual cases. I follow the development of the principle, laws, and legal interpretations. I have tried as much as possible to use my eyes and ears to listen and understand the problem from the perspective of those impacted. From them, I learn more about the situation and ask how we can work together to uphold their rights in a way that rings true for them.

Q: You have just established an NGO called Lokataru. What would you like it to achieve?

?A: I am proud to have worked in KontraS for 17 years. I learned a lot from there. I am grateful. However, my commitment to human rights stretches beyond KontraS or any one organisation. Since retiring from KontraS I have dedicated myself to establishing new areas where my friends and I could support the human rights movement in Indonesia without jeopardizing the work of existing NGOs in Indonesia. I hope my experience will help us sharpen the human rights movement, promoting rights issues on economic justice, rule of law, social security and civil liberties, which have previously received less attention. We are currently carrying out research and strategic litigation on cyber law and human rights, infrastructure policy, the right to health, a report on Indonesia’s shrinking civil society space, the Innocence Project, and a few others. Hopefully this new initiative will help plug the gaps between civil society, the government and corporates. That’s why we established Lokataru.

Q: Do you have any messages for Chevening alumni who are working in this field as well?

?A: Keep up the good work. We have to realize that the people often do not realise human rights are needed until they are wounded. Therefore we have to build more attractive, more creative platform to raise people’s consciousness of human rights in advance.
twitter: @haris_azhar
instagram: @azharharis ?