Munir Museum Brings Human Rights Issues to East Java

By Hamzah Ramadhan on 11:23 am Feb 10, 2014
As you walk in to the front porch, you will be greeted by a human-sized cardboard. (Photo courtesy of Hamzah Ramadhan)

As you walk in to the front porch, you will be greeted by a human-sized cardboard. (Photo courtesy of Hamzah Ramadhan)

Omah Munir (a Javanese for “Munir’s House”) is a haven for those who want to delve into the life of one of the most prominent human rights activists in Indonesia, Munir Said Thalib, and catch the glimpse of the human rights development in Indonesia.

Munir began his career as a human rights advocate in Surabaya Legal Aid Foundation (LBH) in 1989 before holding the title as executive director at Imparsial; an NGO that acts as a watchdog and investigate any violation related to human rights in Indonesia.

As you walk in to the front porch of Omah, you will be greeted by a human-sized cardboard as if Munir himself welcomed you to his house. Located in Batu, Malang, East Java, the house was originally the residence of Munir’s family. The space is transformed into a spacious living history museum that tells a story of a man who strives to reach equality for the society.

When the museum opened itself to the public on Dec. 8 of last year, the mission is to create a space that educates the public about the application of human rights in our everyday life. As you explore Omah, you will see various pieces of information related to human rights movement in Indonesia.

The central attraction of Omah is in a room that has Munir’s desk that he used during his work at LBH to finish his law cases. The desk is a silent witness, observing the struggle of Munir to ensure that human rights are implemented in the society.

You will also find a story about Marsinah and her struggle to fight the rights of her fellow labor workers, as well as the struggle of Yap Thiam Hien, the founder of the very first Legal Aid Foundation in Indonesia.

Marsinah was a woman who worked as a factory laborer in Porong, East Java. During her employment in 1993, the East Java governor instructed all businesses to increase minimum wages. The company where she worked, however, refused to implement the regulation since it would hurt the profit.

Her bravery and solidarity led the group of workers in the company to liaise them with the management to ensure that they received a legitimate compensation. Unfortunately, the management refused the ‘soft-diplomacy’ technique offered by Marsinah, thus they went on strike to demand the management to increase their wage. Marsinah then was seen as a threat to the company.

She was found dead a few days after. Her murderers are still unidentified and there was no clear explanation on the cause of her death.

Marsinah’s case is an example of impunity. Some people considered themselves powerful and untouched by the law. I asked myself, when does killing a person for standing up for their principle become a legitimate act? During the New Order era, as long you had the power and money then you became a powerful person in the country. Nobody could tell you what to do, what was right or wrong. These people ran freely in our society without the feeling of guilt.

Munir began his career as a human rights advocate in Legal Aid Foundation (LBH) Surabaya in 1989 before holding the title as executive director at Imparsial. (Photo courtesy of Hamzah Ramadhan)

Munir began his career as a human rights advocate in Legal Aid Foundation (LBH) Surabaya in 1989 before holding the title as executive director at Imparsial. (Photo courtesy of Hamzah Ramadhan)

Omah Munir tried to tell us that impunity should not be repeated. Munir’s death in 2004, however, was a proof that impunity still exists. Law is merely a written statement that does not have a legitimate power to put down a person who commits a crime.

In addition to the good cause promoted by Omah Munir, the museum is still not fully completed due to the limited fund. The museum only uses one-third of the whole space in the house. It is a shame to know that some people focus their effort in building commercial spaces to create profit rather than investing on this project that can give a long term benefit to the society.

As future leaders of this nation, we should acknowledge that everyone possesses the same opportunity to lead their own future without any fear. Everyone should realize that the law affects everyone despite their wealth, education background and socio-economy level. With this principle, then the opportunity to express ourselves is limitless. Whether you want to focus yourself in serving the government, developing your community or striving for a better education to those who needed, nobody is stopping you. You have nothing to worry because our nation guarantees through its legitimate law that we can practice our democracy.

Next time you plan to visit East Java, do not forget to put Omah Munir as a part of your itinerary. Learning about human rights in Indonesia can be interactive and fun, thus you will receive a deeper insight about the democracy of our nation today through the story of Marsinah. The freedom of speech that we possess today was paid with a high price. Everyone should not have the fear to full express themselves. Therefore, people like Munir, Marsinah and Yap Thiam Hien played their part in developing the movement of human rights in our country.

To get more insights about Omah Munir and its update, visit facebook.com/omahmunir

Hamzah Ramadhan is a public relations and journalism student at Monash University, Australia. He is the recipient of Academic Scholarship Awards from the Ministry of Education and Cultural Affair.