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The menace of incitement
Harison Citrawan, Jakarta
Certainly, the tragedy that occurred in Cikeusik, Banten, last February remains very clear in our memory.
A circulating video recording of the incident displayed human cruelty and the degrading attitude of a mob over Ahmadiyah followers. The judicial process was subsequently taken to serve justice.
Nonetheless, on July 28, the public was startled by the Serang District Court verdict that sentenced perpetrators of the violence to only three and six months’ imprisonment for assault and inciting hatred.
I agree with many human rights activists who voiced their criticism of the court’s decision; that the punishment in Cikeusik trial was too lenient. From a human rights perspective, the verdict could also send a message that a non-discrimination principle can be compromised. It seems that the court did not realize that the crimes have an adverse impact on our human rights practices.
Legally speaking, the state has a duty to prohibit people from inciting hatred against others, including Ahmadis. Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights reads as follows: “Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.”
Consequently, any expressions that fail to comply with such limitation shall be condemned as a human rights violation.
In international practice, particularly in the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), the term of incitement has a significant position to construct mass atrocity and even genocide.
An important case in this regard would be the Simon Bikindi case. In this case, the prosecutor charged Bikindi with having “participated in the anti-Tutsi campaign in Rwanda in 1994 through his musical compositions and speeches made at public gatherings inciting and promoting hatred and violence against Tutsis”.
In its judgment, the chamber of the tribunal found that the prosecution had proved beyond reasonable doubt that “Bikindi’s songs ‘Nanga Abahutu’ and ‘Bene Sebahinzi’ extolled Hutu solidarity against a common foe, characterized Tutsi as Hutu enslavers, enemies or enemy accomplices and were composed with the specific intention to disseminate pro-Hutu ideology and anti-Tutsi propaganda, and to encourage ethnic hatred”.
The chamber advanced its decision by ruling that the songs titled “‘Twasezereye’, ‘Nanga Abahutu’ and ‘Bene Sebahinzi’ were deployed in 1994 in Rwanda in a propaganda campaign to promote contempt for and hatred of the Tutsi population and to incite the listening public to target and commit acts of violence against the Tutsi”. He was then sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment.
Learning from the case, one might conclude that words have a significant role in triggering hatred and any other forms of crime. That is why, furthermore, incitement to commit genocide is also recognized in the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) jurisdiction. Article 25 (3) (e) of the Rome Statute of the ICC enshrines that “a person shall be criminally responsible and liable for punishment for a crime within the jurisdiction of the Court if that person: in respect of the crime of genocide, directly and publicly incites others to commit genocide”.
Lastly, another relevant international norm related to incitement would be the 1948 Genocide Convention, as enshrined in Article III (c) that states that direct and public incitement to commit genocide shall be punishable.
Based on those international norms and practices, there are at least four criteria to test incitement as a way to provoking genocide: (i) purpose; (ii) text; (iii) context; and (iv) relationship between speaker and subject.
Of course, in terms of gravity, the persecution that happened to our Ahamdi fellows is not similar to the Rwandan tragedy. However, learning from the history of genocide, the act of incitement against the Ahmadiyah followers consequently may constitute religious hatred, discrimination and, to some extent, amount to genocide.
In my opinion, the Serang District Court has failed to weigh the crime of incitement from a human rights point of view. The judges appear to have merely applied the law without taking contemporary human rights practice into consideration. They also failed to foresee some potential defects of the incitement of hatred against the Ahmadis. In brief, unfortunately, we have missed another opportunity to enhance our national human rights protection.
To sum up, any incitement of hatred against the Ahmadis shall not be separated from the applicability of human rights principles and standards. Whilst there are two competing religious interests at play, the compliance of equality for all the citizens shall prevail over any predominant religious pressure. Finally, as most cases of genocide all over the world have begun in words, in our free society we should pay closer attention to every word we speak.
The writer is a staffer at the Human Rights Research and Development Agency under the Law and Human Rights Ministry. The opinions expressed are his own.