Indonesia, the world’s fourth-most populous country, just held what its top United Nations ambassador, Dian Triansyah Djani, calls the “world’s largest election ever held” for a presidency in such a short period of time. While ballots are still being counted and the next government prepares to take shape in May, Indonesia’s work at the UN keeps rolling, especially as Djani takes the lead as rotating president of the Security Council this month.
Indonesia’s main desire is simple, Djani says: to save as many lives as possible while making peacekeeping as efficient as possible in conflicts worldwide.
Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-populated country, will also hold an Arria-style meeting on Palestine (an informal meeting open to UN members outside the Council) on May 6. The ambassador, a permanent representative at the UN since 2016, says his country wants to “keep the momentum” in the Council on this specific issue, especially during this Ramadan month.
Other highlights are an open debate on May 7 on training peacekeepers — clarifying what is expected of them — with Lieut. Gen. Elias Rodrigues Martins Filho of Brazil, the force commander of the Congolese mission — speaking along with civil society members.
On May 23, the Council will hold another open debate on protection of civilians in armed conflict, coinciding with the 20th anniversary of the topic becoming an agenda item on the Council, the ambassador said. Peter Maurer, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, is scheduled to speak, along with civil society members.
In addition, Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, is scheduled to speak to the Council on May 8 regarding Libya, but at a press briefing on May 1, below, Djani could not confirm if Bensouda would be able to obtain a visa from the United States to enter the country, given that her visa was revoked by the State Department in early April.
Every month since July, PassBlue has profiled UN ambassadors whose countries hold the rotating presidency of the Security Council; so far that means Sweden, Britain, United States, Bolivia, China, Ivory Coast, Dominican Republic, Equatorial Guinea, France and Germany. The column aims to provide a look at the ambassador who holds this high-profile seat and his or her home country. The interview has been edited and condensed.
Ambassador to the UN: Dian Triansyah Djani, 56
Languages: Bahasa Indonesia, English
Education: Bachelor of economics (University of Indonesia); M.A. in economic development and international trade (Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn.); Ph.D., international relations (Padjadjaran University, Indonesia)
His story, briefly: Djani was born in Jakarta, the capital, but both of his parents were diplomats and he was quickly introduced to other parts of the world, including Russia, Poland, Cambodia, Yugoslavia and Thailand. “For us, diplomacy is a family business,” he told PassBlue in a phone interview. Many of his other relatives are economists, including his wife, Lista Damayanti, and their son, Panji Caraka Djani, who is pursuing a graduate degree in economics at Columbia University, in New York City.
After earning his undergraduate degree in Indonesia and graduate degree at Vanderbilt, Djani followed a natural path to diplomacy. He has spent most of his career hopping between New York and Geneva. “My son was actually born in Flushing,” he says, of the neighborhood in Queens County, New York, adding that when he encouraged his son to attend grad school at Vanderbilt, his son joked, “Am I going to go move to a village?”
Djani served at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) from 2002 to 2008, his tenure capped by a three-year stint as its director general. His work at Asean is his proudest accomplishment, he says. He was appointed permanent representative to the UN in Geneva in 2009 and spent three years there before becoming an ambassador to the UN in New York in 2016.
PassBlue: How do you like New York City?
Djani: I love it. My first posting was here. I love the outdoors and going to the park. I learned how to golf in New York City; I love biking around here as well. For someone who attended school in Nashville, New York is different, but every day is fun around here.
PassBlue: What drove you to diplomacy?
Djani: My father was a diplomat, an ambassador, and so was my mother. It’s a family business. I studied economics and I found out I love this job. Most important, I’m an idealist and I would just love to be able to contribute something to humanity.
PassBlue: Indonesia’s last tenure in the Security Council was in 2007-2008. What do you want to do differently in your 2019-202 term?
Djani: What I learned from the people who were there at the time and from what has been discussed for 11 years is that the amount of work is now at least three times more than it used to be. Maybe it’s because of the challenges the world is facing. I have a very heavy workload ahead of me. The number of countries becoming members of the United Nations keep expanding. One of the things we’ve learned is that we need more transparency, so we’re trying to promote this. At the end of the day, we want to save as many human lives as possible and make the world a more stable place.
PassBlue: Will the recent presidential election in Indonesia affect your presidency of the Security Council? Are any changes coming in your mission?
Djani: This election was the largest in the history of the world — 193 million people voted in less than one day. India has a larger population but its [recent] election took place over six weeks. In our case it was on April 17, and not only in Indonesia, but also other places in the world, as every Indonesian has a right to vote. It has been conducted peacefully. They are still counting votes, as it’s very hard to get all the ballots from different islands. They’re getting them by cars, bikes, boats, in a mountain-donkey process. They should be done by mid-May. It doesn’t affect our role in the Security Council that much, and our foreign policy doesn’t change much according to whatever government is in place.
PassBlue: What are your priorities for the Security Council presidency?
Djani: Our theme is “investing for peace.” We’re focusing on peacekeeping through an open debate on the topic. Indonesia is currently the largest contributor of peacekeepers among the  Security Council members. Overall, we’re the eighth largest at the UN. We have more than 3,000 peacekeepers in more than eight missions around the world. We’re also holding an open debate on how to protect civilians in armed conflicts. We’re also holding an Arria formula meeting on Palestine. It’s an issue that’s on the agenda of the Council, and we want to keep up the momentum and make sure the issue of settlements is taken care of. In other words, it’s an issue that should still be on the Council’s radar. We want the presidency to be smooth sailing. I have the largest number of committees under my wing and have a lot of work to do beside the work that we’re doing in the Council. Of course, we also want to promote Indonesia’s diplomatic style: we always try to find a consensus, a middle ground. We’re a peace broker on the Council.
PassBlue: Do you have any trips planned for the Council?
Djani: Not at the moment. It’s the Ramadan month. We’re also quite exhausted from our trip in Mali and Burkina Faso last month. However, we’re open to any idea. We also want to promote some of our Indonesian culture here in New York. We will be holding an exhibition of photos on peacekeeping — women peacekeepers — starting the end of the first week of May or the beginning of the second.
Head of State: President Joko Widodo (the results of April’s election haven’t been announced yet)
Foreign Affairs Minister: Retno Lestari Priansari Marsudi (pending election results)
Type of Government: Presidential representative democratic republic
Year Indonesia Joined the UN: 1950
Years on the Security Council: 1973-74, 1995-96, 2007-08, 2019-20
Population: 264 million (world’s fourth-most populous country)
2019 Contributions to UN Regular Budget: $16,640,647 (or 6 cents per capita/year)
2019 Contributions to UN Peacekeeping: $7,265,340 (or 3 cents per capita/year)
Membership in Regional Groups: Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)
2015 Maternal Death Rate: 126/100,000. By comparison, the US rate in 2015 was 26.4/100,000
2017 Per Capita GDP: $3,846; EU, $33,723; US, $59,531; world, $10,721
2018 CO2 Emissions (in tons, per capita): 1.8 (world average, 5)
Electric Power Consumption (1,000 kWh/per capita and year): 0.8 (world average: 3.1 kWh; US, 13)
This article was updated on May 3, 2019.
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Stéphanie Fillion is a New York-based reporter specializing in foreign affairs and human rights who has been writing for PassBlue regularly for a year, including co-producing UN-Scripted, a new podcast series on global affairs through a UN lens. She has a master’s degree in journalism, politics and global affairs from Columbia University and a B.A. in political science from McGill University. Fillion was awarded a European Union in Canada Young Journalists fellowship in 2015 and was an editorial fellow for La Stampa in 2017. She speaks French, English and Italian.