Still Work in Progress
Category: Column By : James Kallman Read : 369 Date : Friday, June 02, 2017 - 16:22:47

Is the glass half empty or half full? That is the question to be asked when reviewing the results of Indonesia’s quadrennial Universal Periodic Review, conducted by the United Nations Human Rights Council in May. There will, of course, be those that denigrate Indonesia’s human rights record, yet it’s wise to reflect that the U.S. is also among countries still clinging to the death penalty. Progress comes with enlightened regulation and that is a slow process as nations grow in maturity and their citizens see fit to support such measures.

Yet looked at from another viewpoint, Indonesia has made some notable advances in other areas. Since the last review, Bandung has become the world’s first accountable human rights city with its own citizen-led charter, implementation of which is subject to periodic independent audit. Another world-first is in the fishery industry, as it is now mandatory for companies in the industry to pass a human rights inspection before obtaining an operating license. While notable achievements, they apply only to selected segments of Indonesian society. What encourages me are measures that provide for Indonesia’s largest minority group—those with disabilities.     

Changes in terminology match the views of Indonesian society. Up until the early 1970s the prefix ber was used, thus identifying them as with defects, mirroring the general belief that they were in some way not whole. As attitudes softened, the terminology became penyandang disabilitas (“persons with disabilities”).   

Like a growing number of countries, Indonesia applies a quota system for employing people with disabilities, whereby a minimum number must be employed in the workforce. As with other regulations, however, actual enforcement is less than desirable. Again, there are two ways in which to view the regulation: as an imposition with which to comply by employing the minimum number in the most menial of jobs; or to provide opportunity for people with disabilities to be productive members of society, and build careers that enable them to fully utilize their abilities.     

From my own experience, I have found the hearing impaired to make excellent accountants, not least because they can turn their disability into a positive advantage; they can literally switch off the outside world and thus fully concentrate on their jobs. Moreover, employment of the disabled builds camaraderie among their colleagues, not just because they change attitudes by fitting seamlessly into the work team, but their very presence builds a sense of pride in working for a firm where ability is the yardstick.

According to the World Bank, some one billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, have some form of disability. How we define disability varies in each nation but continues to evolve within countries and the world. Indonesia has introduced a number of measures to provide for the disabled, but like other human rights matters, this remains a work in progress.  



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