Associated Press September 7, 2004

Indonesian Human Rts Activist Dies On Flight To Amsterdam

JAKARTA (AP)--A top Indonesian human rights activist, Munir, died Tuesday aboard a plane heading to Amsterdam. He was 38.

Munir, who goes by a single name, was executive director of Imparsial, an Indonesian human rights group established in June 2002 by 17 of the country's most prominent human rights advocates.

Lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis said Munir fell ill on board the Garuda flight bound for Amsterdam, vomiting repeatedly. He died just before the plane landed.

The cause of death wasn't known and Munir's body was with airport authorities in Amsterdam pending an investigation, The Jakarta Post quoted Indonesian Embassy officials in the Netherlands as saying.

Lubis said Munir had been planning to take an 18-month course in humanitarian law at Utrecht University in Amsterdam.

"He was a hard fighter who never gave up," Lubis told the private El Shinta radio.

Munir gained prominence as the leader of Kontras - the Commission for Disappearances and Victims of Violence - which was formed months before the downfall of dictator Suharto in May 1998.

Since then, he was a frequent critic of the country's powerful military and worked to expose abuses committed by troops. He also called for an investigation into the disappearance of activists during Suharto's 32-year rule.

In recent weeks, Munir led opposition to a bill pending in Parliament that would give increased authority to the military.

Born in Malang, East Java, Munir is survived by a wife and a son. He was a recipient of a UNESCO award as well as Indonesia's Yap Thian Hien prize for his struggle to promote human rights in Indonesia.


The Jakarta Post, September 8, 2004

Rights campaigner Munir dies on plane

Tiarma Siboro and Muninggar Sri Saraswati, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Outspoken rights campaigner Munir, 38, died onboard a flight to the Netherlands on Tuesday morning, to the shock of many who knew him as "the voice of the voiceless."

One of the founders of the independent Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) passed away on a Garuda Indonesia flight to Amsterdam, which departed from Jakarta via Singapore late Monday. The cause of the death remains unclear.

Garuda spokesman Pujobroto said Munir died about two hours before landing at Amsterdam's Schipol airport.

His friends and colleagues said he appeared healthy and cheerful before departing to continue his studies on human rights at Utrecht University, where he had been offered a scholarship.

They, however, said that Munir had, at one time, been in the hospital in Jakarta for liver ailments. He also suffered from gastric problems.

Pujobroto said the purser or crew supervisor Najib reported to Capt. Pantun Matondang after seeing that Munir, sitting in seat 40-G, appeared to be very ill.

"The cabin crew immediately reported to the pilot in command that a passenger was sick -- a condition which had forced him to go to the restroom several times," Pujobroto said in a press statement.

Matondang then ordered Najib to ask for medical assistance from another passenger, a doctor who also happened to be onboard. After giving initial first aid, Munir was moved to a seat near the doctor.

"At that time he (Munir) looked comfortable and was able to rest comfortably, but about two hours before the plane landed, Najib and the doctor found that Munir had died," Pujobroto said.

Authorities at Schipol airport examined Munir's body in accordance with airport regulations.

"Garuda is ready to take Munir's family to Amsterdam and transport his remains back to Indonesia," said Pujobroto.

Kontras coordinator Usman Hamid said Munir's remains are expected to be flown to Jakarta on Wednesday, pending an autopsy.

Munir is survived by his wife, Suciwati, and a son and daughter. As Suciwati prepared to leave for Amsterdam on Wednesday, the family home in Bekasi, East Jakarta, was crowded with praying people, including victims and survivors of the several cases of violence including the Semanggi shootings.

The news of Munir's death shocked colleagues include those who work for Kontras, a non-governmental organization which provides legal counseling to victims of state-sponsored violence.

"Someone phoned the Kontras office at about 11 a.m. and told us Cak Munir died, but we didn't take it seriously. We considered it a hoax, but then around 1 p.m. Pak Todung confirmed he had died," Kontras researcher Batara Ibnu Reza said, referring to noted lawyer and rights campaigner Todung Mulya Lubis.

Todung said a friend of his who also flew to Amsterdam on Malaysian Airlines called to inform him about Munir's death.

Curious rights activists have demanded an autopsy on Munir, according to Todung.

Munir, who also cofounded the Imparsial human rights watch, has won much credit, including from military figures, whom he persistently criticized.

"He (Munir) was a critical, staunch figure. Sometimes his criticism made many ears redden. He criticized the Indonesian Military, and, often, me. But we need a person like Munir to remind us if we stray away from democracy," former Army general presidential frontrunner Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said.


The Jakarta Post, September 8, 2004

Rights campaigner Munir dies

Born in the Central Java town of Malang on Dec. 8, 1965, Munir's small, aggressive demeanor rose to prominence in the late 1990s amid a rash of kidnappings and disappearances during the last years of former president Soeharto's rule. His co-founding of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), not long before the May riots, on April 21 1998, challenged the dismissing of acts such as kidnapping, torture and involuntary disappearances as ordinary crimes.

People began to talk of "state violence" as Kontras provided legal counsel for victims, investigated individual cases and made public the results of its investigations, which often implicated the security forces. Not long after Kontras was established, Munir and his colleagues received a number of threats, including a bomb threat targeted at his family home in Malang, East Java.

Munir almost immediately was recognized internationally for his work, and was honored with awards such as the Yap Thiam Hien Human Rights Award and the Right Livelihood Award 2000, or the "alternative Nobel", from the Swedish government.

He was involved in various high profile investigations, including the violence in East Timor both before and after the 1999 referendum. He reflected later that the national rights body, which set up a team on East Timor, was much more effective than when it investigated the Tanjung Priok case of 1984, even though the national rights body was backed by legislation.

The father of two and husband of Suciati, a former labor activist, also became a hero to the Acehnese as his presence in the war-torn province emboldened a populace used to fear. But as communal violence spread in Indonesia, Kontras was overwhelmed, and he was criticized for neglecting thousands of victims such those in Maluku.

In 2002, Munir cofounded Indonesian Human Rights Watch (Imparsial).

Of the truth and reconciliation commission, the bill for which was finally endorsed on Tuesday, he once said that the prolonged plan to set up the commission was nothing more than "an excuse for impunity."


A Short Note about Munir A true friend of Acehnese

By Aguswandi

"The most dangerous thing about the struggle for justice and human rights here [in Aceh] is not the threats, the repression, the blackmail, the arrests, the torture or other kinds of terror, not all of that, but the fear that we have in our heads. The fear that the system clouds over us. This fear is the biggest obstacle of the struggle. We should not let this fear be sewn in our heads. We have to remove it if we want our dreams of justice and democracy to become a reality."

This is from the speech by Munir in Banda Aceh when he installed me as the coordinator of Kontras Aceh in February 2000. People packed in to hear the speech because Munir had become very famous among the victims of human rights abuses in Aceh. He represented the hope that something could be done to help them. Whereas others saw people as simply as relatives of the rebels, Munir saw them as victims, victims on whose behalf he continued to advocate until the end of his life's journey. While many saw people as related of the separatists, Munir saw them as friends, friends who were struggling with him for a better system.

The last time I met Munir was a few months ago. He was the same Munir I first met in the early days of my work with Kontras. For many Acehnese there are not many places we can visit in Jakarta to talk about Aceh. Munir's offices, Kontras and Imparsial, were the best places to go. Acehnese who go to Jakarta don't have a lot of friends willing to listen to them. Munir was one of the best friends the Acehnese could meet and he would listen intently.

Munir continued to tell the public that the problem of Aceh cannot be separated from the problem of politics in Indonesia. Aceh's problem is part of the politics of the military. Munir was endlessly trying to draw attention to the fact that the conflict in Aceh is about more than the battle between GAM and the TNI, it is also about the TNI using the conflict to justify an enhanced role in Indonesian security and political affairs. Like many who understand Aceh correctly, he continued to advocate politics and not military power as the answer to the conflict. Now at a time when Munir is most needed by the Acehnese, a time when Acehnese need more Munirs and difficult to find it, we have lost the one who was so dear to us.

Aguswandi is Researcher for TAPOL the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign in London and was the coordinator for Kontras Aceh in 2000

TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign
111 Northwood Road, Thornton Heath, Croydon CR7 8HW, UK.
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The Jakarta Post, September 9, 2004

Condolences pour in for Munir's family

Tiarma Siboro and Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Condolences poured in on Wednesday for the family and relatives of top human rights campaigner Munir who died on board a Garuda flight to Amsterdam, while the precise cause of his death remained a mystery.

"We have lost one of the most persistent fighters for democracy, someone who never stopped struggling for what he believed was true. He has contributed his understanding and comprehension of human rights to the country," President Megawati Soekarnoputri said.

"I have also expressed my deep sympathy for Munir's bereaved relatives," she said before departing for Brunei Darussalam.

Her husband, Taufik Kiemas, visited the Munir family home in Bekasi on Wednesday evening to pay his last respects.

Separately, Minister of Foreign Affairs Hassan Wirayuda said that no Indonesian officials had been allowed to see Munir's corpse, which was kept under close guard by the Schiphol airport authorities while awaiting for an autopsy to be performed.

"However, we are cooperating with the Netherlands authorities in handling this matter," he added.

Activist Asmara Nababan said that a team of Dutch doctors had begun an autopsy on Munir, and that it would take around two days.

"Curiosity about Munir's sudden death is rife, and it has encouraged doctors in the Netherlands to conduct an autopsy with or without the consent of his family," he told The Jakarta Post..

Asmara said Munir's body could only be flown to Indonesia on Saturday at the earliest.

Munir's wife Suciwati, his father and fellow activist Usman Hamid left for the Netherlands on Wednesday night to bring Munir's body home for burial in his hometown of Malang, East Java.

Deepest condolences were also expressed by the Indonesian Military, which was often the target of staunch criticism from Munir over its repressive policies.

"We can only pray that God will bless his family. I know that during his life, Munir never stopped criticizing us (the military), but we accepted such criticism with an open heart," TNI spokesman Maj. Gen. Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin told the Post.

Dozens of rights activists along with victims of violence gathered at the offices of human rights watchdog, Impartial, which Munir chaired, and prayed to mourn his death on Tuesday.

Colleagues who worked with him in the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), which Munir founded in 1988, also held a gathering to pay their last respects to him.

Smitha Notosusanto of the Center for Electoral Reform (Cetro) called on all Indonesian people to fly the national flag at half-mast for a week to mourn the death of Munir at the age of 38.

Meanwhile, National Police chief Gen. Da'i Bachtiar said the police would investigate the cause of Munir's death.


"The death happened on board a Garuda Indonesia plane. That means that the incident took place in Indonesian territory. We will conduct an investigation pending the autopsy report from a hospital in the Netherlands," Da'i added.


The Jakarta Post, September 9, 2004


Activist par excellence

Munir's life and career exemplify that of a man who answers his calling to the end. The diminutive rights activist championed a great cause during an extremely difficult period in Indonesian history.

The 39-year-old confided recently to a friend that he was "exhausted" with the endless demands on his energy that came with endless rights violations. He was looking forward to "a rest" in the Netherlands, where he had been offered a scholarship to continue his studies on human rights.

But Munir died aboard the aircraft on Tuesday, just hours before it landed at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport.

Munir rose to national and international prominence at the end of the 1990s, when many activists went missing. "Thanks to his efforts, not only did most of those activists survive, but Munir turned disappearances into an issue that helped push the New Order into history," Sidney Jones, Southeast Asia Project Director of the International Crisis Group and one of his many friends, wrote in a personal email.

The work of Munir meant breaking through a somewhat twisted perception of violence and their victims here.

Amid student shootings, riots, a war against separatists and orgies of violence in places like Maluku, there was a sense that victims were divided into those who were said to have "deserved it" and those who didn't; there were "real" martyrs of reformasi and merely unfortunate bystanders.

Those who "deserved" to be dead or missing included ungrateful citizens siding with separatists. A perception also existed that one human rights case was more important than another Thus the May 1998 riots, for one, remains unresolved.

Munir tried to put the picture in focus, and said that such selective sympathy was because "all Indonesians feel they have been victims" at one time or another in their turbulent history.

This may not have been a satisfactory answer, but the feeling that some get what they deserve or some cases should be left untouched reflects a more serious problem -- one more serious than dealing with the dark forces that inevitably cropped up in Munir's investigations of rights violations.

Yet Munir simply went digging up facts -- to show that a crime is a crime and someone should be held accountable for it.

He made many a respectable person "red to the ears", as former chief security minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono put it. But even Susilo was forced to acknowledge that it was people like Munir we needed when we strayed from the ideals that we preached.

His passing leaves a huge vacuum in a nation that needs a thousand Munirs to address its appalling human rights record.

Perhaps the only consolation is the hope that the young people with whom he worked will now strive even harder to keep alive -- and realize -- Munir's wish

to live among a people who enjoyed the right to be free from fear.


The Jakarta Post, September 9, 2004

Risks at high altitude

The reason for the sudden death of rights campaigner Munir onboard a Garuda flight to the Netherlands will be disclosed only after an autopsy is performed on his remains.

According to two Indonesian doctors, people in general have run the risk of heart attacks and respiratory problems when flying due to lower oxygen pressure.

A doctor at the Air Force's Saryanto Aviation Health Institute, Col. Herman, said that flying at a height of between 5,000 and 8,000 feet could lead to a drop in oxygen pressure in the cabin.

"For people who suffer a number of ailments, including problems with the brain or heart or lungs, and low blood pressure, they will be at risk while flying," Herman told The Jakarta Post.

"The symptoms can vary, ranging from breathing difficulties and headaches to stomachaches. They might vomit and defecate frequently," he said.

Supporting Herman's analysis was Merdias Almatsier, the director of the Cipto Mangunkusumo general hospital. He said people who were exhausted could also suffer from hypo-oxygen while they were onboard.

"Most of the symptoms affect aging people whose brains can suffer damage due to the lower oxygen pressure," he told the Post. -- JP


Note from TAPOL on Munir's death

From TAPOL, September 8, 2004

In an item we posted yesterday, we stated that the Munir had died of a heart attack, as suggested by contacts in Holland.

This was too hasty. Reports indicate that Munir had a violent attack of vomiting during the flight and was treated by a doctor who was travelling on the plane. The vomiting stopped and it appeared that Munir fell asleep but when a steward approached him later, she realised that he had passed away.

A friend of Munir, Dr Lily Djojoatmodjo told Radio Netherlands that the cause of death will not be known until the results of the autopsy are known. That is not likely to happen until Friday. Munir's remains are now in the hands of the Dutch Ministry of Justice. Munir's wife, Suciwati, has now arrived in Amsterdam.

Dr Lily is the wife of Endi, a close friend of Munir, with whom he stayed during a previous trip to Holland. Dr Lily told Radio Netherlands that she believed that those carrying out the autopsy would handle the matter correctly. She said that she spoke to Munir before his departure from Jakarta and they had agreed that he would stay with them again when he arrived, until he could find alternative accommodation. She herself had been unable to go to Schiphol to greet him on arrival because of professional commitments and only later heard the dreadful news that he had died on the plane.

As far as we know, Munir's remains are still in the hands of the Dutch authorities.

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