In the bustling halls of the Komisi Penyelidik Pelanggaran (KPP) HAM, a high-ranking TNI general was about to undergo an investigation. The year was 1999, and the Komnas HAM had formed an ad hoc institution to probe into the chaos, murders, and destruction that engulfed East Timor post-referendum. The general, however, was reluctant. He refused to be examined by a Komnas HAM commissioner who wore nothing but sandals. The commissioner was none other than Asmara Nababan.
“Do you want me to examine you with my words or with my shoes?” Asmara challenged the general. His words cut through the tension, and the general, feeling somewhat diminished, agreed to the examination.
Asmara Nababan was no stranger to controversy. He had been a member of Komnas HAM since 1993, a time when skepticism surrounded the organization, with many believing it to be a tool of the New Order to appease both internal and international pressures. Asmara was unique in this setting; unlike his colleagues, who were mostly bureaucrats, military, or police officers, he hailed from a civil society background. When he joined, he was the youngest commissioner at the age of 47.
Asmara’s journey into activism had started long before his Komnas HAM days. In the 1970s, he was actively involved in various social movements. He co-founded the Anti-Corruption Committee (KAK) and campaigned against the 1971 elections, advocating for Golput (non-participation). He even opposed the construction of Taman Mini Indonesia Indah (TMII), considering it a waste of public funds. As a staunch critic of TMII, he refused to step foot in the park, a stance he maintained throughout his life.
His activism continued even when he became a Komnas HAM commissioner. He didn’t just stop at investigations; he actively engaged with communities, advocating for their rights. His involvement in cases like the forced relocation of villagers due to the construction of a hydroelectric power plant demonstrated his unwavering commitment to justice.
Despite the challenges within Komnas HAM, Asmara stood firm. There were internal frictions, debates over legal grounds, plans to transform employees into civil servants, and disagreements about case handling. Yet, Asmara remained steadfast, never seeking praise or recognition, working diligently without making a fuss.
In 2010, Asmara’s consistent dedication to human rights was acknowledged when he was awarded the Yap Thiam Hien Award, a testament to his unyielding fight for justice. Tragically, a month later, on October 28, 2010, Asmara Nababan passed away while undergoing treatment in China. His legacy, however, lived on, etched into the annals of Indonesian human rights activism.