On 3rd June I accompanied Kusfiardi to a meeting of the All-party Parliamentary Human Rights Group in Portcullis House, Westminster.
Jubilee Scotland’s main reason for wanting to attend this meeting was to keep our campaign engaged with civil society perspectives on the human rights situation in Indonesia. Earlier in the year Ben and I had met with Richard and Benny from the Free West Papua campaign, and had been horrified to learn of the extent of continuing human rights violations in West Papua. What would be the consequences of cancellation in this context?
Meeting Ardi made a huge difference to my understanding of the links between debt and human rights. The point that he made, strongly and repeatedly, was that it was at the point of bad loans being issued that they shored up the impunity of odious regimes, as the projects to which they were attached presented ample opportunities for corrupt elites to skim off money. Debt cancellation, by making more money available to the scrutiny of civil society and parliament, serves instead to increase the sovereignty of the people.
After the meeting – which was attended by several MPs and one Lord – Ardi confessed to me that at points he had felt uncomfortable about some of the language in which the discussion was couched, particularly the way in which the UK government was asked to ‘save’ people from the villainies of the Indonesian government. In his contribution to the discussion he preferred to look at the role of the Western backers of the ‘comprador’ Indonesian regime, at the activities of multinationals like Rio Tinto and BP, to whom Suharto was bribed to open Indonesia and its economy, and who now preside over the environmental and human despoliation we see in West Papua. By extension, he also perhaps led us to look at the possibility of using leverage on Western economic institutions – corporations, IFIs and Export Credit Agencies – to bring about positive change in the field of human rights.
It was a real privilege to meet the Indonesian and UK campaigners who battle – often at great personal risk – for the human rights of people in Indonesia. It was also exciting to see how much Ardi brought to the table. When global justice campaigners look at individual national cases many difficult questions are thrown up, which can be side-stepped when one talks in general terms about ‘the world’s poor’. But this meeting showed that by engaging with these issues head on campaigners who traditionally ply different paths can enrich and strengthen each others work. I hope that the alliances forged at this meeting play a strong role in the future of Jubilee Scotland.