A report by the group Human Rights Watch discussed at length the subject of academic freedom as a basic human right, using the country of Indonesia as a case study. Under a 32-year rule of the Suharto government, the voices of much of the country in academia were highly repressed, if ever even head at all. Although academic freedom in itself is not an inalienable human right, those who violate academic freedom are often closely linked to other more clear-cut abuses of basic human rights as outlined in the UDHR.
The UDHR states that “…every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for [human rights].” Interestingly, the document advocates for the right to an education and the right to free speech. This begs the question – when the two are combined, isn’t it intrinsic that academic freedom should be a basic right?
The Case of Indonesia
Over a three-decades long authoritarian rule in Indonesia, students and educators quietly shifted towards a more democratic society. Many legal limitations on the basic rights of citizens were in place, and the military rule over the country quelled any mass uprisings of speech or ideology against the government in the name of “national stability.” Reports of any civil unrest namely attacks on minority populations within the country, was tainted by surveillance and censorship by the ruling powers. The intimidation, harassment and even imprisonment of outspoken critics was widespread.
Suharto was considered a controversial figure. His regime was responsible for the deaths of over 500,000 political opponents, and almost completely censoring the media and banning any and all political dissent. In contrast, Suharto has been credited for propelling the country into true independence form their colonial era rule by the Dutch.
The Consensus on Academic Freedom
Academic freedom was not, nor to this day is considered, a basic human right. It should be noted, however, that the right to conduct research and scholarship cannot be separated by the rights to exercise basic civil and political rights. Such as was in the case of Indonesia, the Suharto government oversaw politically-charged attacks on faculty and students. The right to teach was strained by political and ideological screenings, restrictions on seminar topics and limitations on organizational activities on campus. These factors
Although academic freedom might not be an unalienable human right, the barriers that prevent it from coming to fruition often are.