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Indonesia's activism on Syria

Publication Date : 09-01-2013

 

Just days after Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa outlined the nation’s more activist foreign policy approach for 2013, Indonesia came out with a bold statement, urging Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down to end the ongoing bloody civil war in the Arab country.

While Indonesia is not the first country to make such a call, this is the first time in as long as we can remember that the government has come out in so forceful a manner to tell a head of state to quit.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono made the statement during a meeting with seven visiting sheiks on Monday. The president’s spokesman, Julian Aldrin Pasha, said: “In the meeting, President Yudhoyono said it would be better if President Assad stepped down to end the bloodshed in the hopes that there will be a political transition toward leadership that can be accepted by all parties.”

Yudhoyono effectively broke a long-standing foreign policy tradition of not meddling in the affairs of other nations — one of the chief principles that came out of the historic Asian-African Conference in Bandung in 1955.

We can think of many other instances when Indonesia’s leaders could have offered similar advice to tyrants who were just as bad, if not worse. However, Indonesia previously kept silent, preferring to let the UN take the initiative.

Pending a further explanation of Yudhoyono’s comments, it is questionable whether Indonesia is departing from the tradition for good. The limit to Indonesia’s foreign policy activism remains non-interference, in the same way that the government would not want other countries to meddle in its internal affairs.

It is a welcome development nevertheless. As the third-largest democracy in the world, Indonesia should have the confidence to make bold statements on issues such as freedom, democracy and human rights. After all, Indonesia is a signatory of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and many other international political and social covenants.

However, having spoken so boldly, Yudhoyono should be prepared to face criticism from other countries about his own failings at home. That’s how the game is played. All we can say is that activism is worth it, for the sake of our sisters and brothers in Syria, and for our own people.

 

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