Grata Endah Werdaningtyas is Deputy Director for the Rights of Vulnerable Groups at the Directorate of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs of Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Her work directly impacts women, children, persons with disabilities, the elderly and other vulnerable groups in Indonesia. She attended our December 2013 Lemkin Seminar.
How has your work impacted a specific individual or group of people?
My work could be considered a success if I contribute in changing the collective mindset of the society, one person at a time. For example, there is still a pervasive misconception in our society that human rights is a “Western” product and thus incompatible with the traditional and religious values of our country.
Through our office’s work, I am helping to raise awareness of relevant stakeholders and the general public regarding Indonesia’s adherence and commitment to international human rights norms and values. Building new perceptions take time. The impact may not be shown instantly, but I do hope that it will have a long-lasting effect.
What does a day or week in your life’s work look like?
My work schedule typically revolves around the agenda, programs and intiatives of international organizations such as the UN and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), particularly in areas that I am working within, which include women, children, persons with disabilities, the elderly and other vulnerable groups. So you will likely find me very busy during the months preceding a General Assembly meeting or others at the UN, including meetings of the Commission on the Status of Women (in which Indonesia is a member), the Committee on Population and Development, and the Human Rights Council. In addition, I also work to support the agenda and initiatives in regional organizations like ASEAN, or assist in other bilateral partnerships.
My day-to-day tasks usually involve providing inputs and policy recommendations for the Minister or other units in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as coordinating with other Ministries and relevant stakeholders regarding issues of human rights.
A current example of our work in the Ministry is to support the global initiative to prevent sexual violence in conflict. Spearheaded by the UK, Indonesia is one of the countries who have been working with the initiative since the beginning. Last June, the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict was successfully convened and resulted in a set of recommendations for practical actions to prevent this atrocity.
What actions and policies do you feel are most effective in the long term prevention of atrocity?
First and foremost, we should address the root causes of genocide, whether they are inequalities between identity groups or the persistence of violence in society. Early detection is therefore necessary to recognize signs of friction and to stop the conflict before spreading.
I also believe in the power of dialogue to promote tolerance and respect for ethnic, religious and cultural diversity. To prevent history from repeating itself, it is important to share best practices and to learn from the experiences of other regions and about the diverse ways of handling the tensions arising from conflicting ethnic or religious identities, and in turn, apply these lessons to each country’s unique characteristics.
For a government official who may be just entering the field, what advice do you have to give towards effective work in genocide prevention?
To think outside the box! Preventing future large scale violence and mass atrocities should go beyond “business as usual.” Courage and bold vision are required to come up with practical and long-lasting solutions.
Learning from past mistakes when governments failed to end gross human rights violations and just stood idly by are also good reminders for us to not make the same mistakes. Engaging and sharing ideas and experience, not only with other countries, but also with related stakeholders, ensures that history will not repeat itself.
I also encourage government officials to learn how to effectively use various tools of diplomacy, be it international law and human rights conventions, and partner with international organizations including NGOs, in their work.
For me, learning is a lifelong process. After 15 years of working in my field, I constantly am being challenged by many new issues and problems. I still have much to learn.
Why are you so dedicated to the field of genocide and mass atrocity prevention?
To say that I am dedicated to this particular field—at the expense of other important areas of human rights—would be an overstatement. Having said that, it has been a great interest of mine to contribute in the effort to prevent and end human rights abuses and discrimination, regardless of the forms, scale, or gravity of said acts.
For me, this field of work is related to the question of humanity. To rapidly or gradually wipe out a certain ethnicity or cultural and religious group, whatever the reason, including economic or political, and wherever it occurs, be it in Rwanda, Bosnia or the recent situations in the Middle East, is an unjustifiable crime that should be condemned and punished. What happened to Jewish people during the second World War has tainted our history books—let’s not shed more blood by refusing to call acts of genocide a “genocide.”
Who or what inspires or motivates you?
For me, inspiration or motivation presents itself from people of all walks of life. I am grateful to have met with various interesting personalities who enrich me, both as a human being, and as an individual who happens to work in the field of human rights.
The insightful experiences and expertise of activists and volunteers working in the field have also enriched my knowledge and understanding of issues that, at times, I could not grasp. They’ve also shown me how hard work pays off.
And the moving stories of survivors of violence have inspired me and taught me that even in the darkest periods of trial and pain, hope, courage and strength triumph over it all—they have taught me that change is possible.