Human Rights in Indonesia
May 20, 1998
I am proud to be a cosponsor of Rep. Cynthia McKinney's (D-GA) bill to ban U.S. military assistance to Indonesia until and unless there are free and fair elections and respect for human rights in Indonesia, East Timor, and Irian Jaya.
The U.S. State Departments Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1997 reported a politically motivated extrajudicial killings, disappearances, torture, arbitrary arrest and a imprisonment in Indonesia. The report notes that abuses have historically been particularly a numerous in East Timor, Irian Jaya and Aceh, three areas in which there have been strong a independence movements. The report notes that "there were few signs of judicial independence" -- a that the courts were used against political activists and government critics rather than to punish a officials who unlawfully harm such people. There are severe restrictions on freedom of speech, a freedom of assembly, and freedom of religion.
Despite this dismal record, our government has made clear that the top priority in its relationship with Indonesia is trade and investment, not political reform or human rights protection. Even after the 1991 massacre in Dili, East Timor, in which security forces killed hundreds of peaceful mourners -- including children in their school uniforms -- in a Catholic cemetery, our government continued to lavish assistance, including military assistance, on Jakarta.
As I have poured over the documentation on human rights abuses by the Suharto dictatorship and his personal corruption and enrichment at the expense of his country, I cannot help but to see a compelling parallels with Mobutu in Zaire. The inexplicable conclusion is Suharto is the Mobutu of Asia.
I was particularly shocked to learn recently that the United States has been providing combat training to Indonesian military units, including some of those involved in the Dili massacre. This appears to be a dramatic end run around the rules Congress carefully prescribed for military training and education of Indonesian forces, in an effort to ensure that we would not provide them with the means of carrying out further massacres.
Year after year the Administration has assured Congress that the provision of "International Military Education and Training" to Indonesia is strictly limited to the so-called "expanded IMET" curriculum: classroom training in human rights and related subjects. We have also been assured that there is no way the Indonesian military could use any of this training against the people of East Timor or Irian Jaya, or against political or religious dissenters in Indonesia itself. To provide training in marksmanship, "psy ops" (psychological warfare), sniper training, and related subjects to some of the very units that have brutalized the people of East Timor is an obvious violation of this assurance.
This revelation is eerily reminiscent of a similar situation in Rwanda, where the United States has provided marksmanship, psy ops, and similar training to the Rwandan Patriotic Army through the JCET program during the very period in which the RPA appears to have been engaged in the mass killing of refugees across the border in Zaire. At a December 1996 hearing, I was assured that our assistance to the RPA consisted of what a Defense Department spokesman called the "kinder, gentler side" of military training, focused on respect for human rights. We found about the marksmanship or the psy ops until eight months later. The Administration has still not been able to determine whether any of the soldiers who took our marksmanship course subsequently participated in the killing of refugees.
In the last five years, U.S. Special Operations forces have conducted at least 41 training exercises with the Indonesian military, at a cost of more than three and a half million dollars to U.S. taxpayers. Based on the information provided to Congress so far, it appears that the trainees in most of those exercises were Indonesia's elite Kopassus special forces -- the arm of the military accused of committing the gravest human rights violations against that regime's political opponents. The lethal skills taught during those exercises have included: close quarters combat, sniper skills, marksmanship, combat patrolling, small unit tactics, and military operations in urban terrain. Even before the U.S. training was publicly disclosed, those were exactly the skills identified by Amnesty International as "likely [to] ... be used in the context of counter-insurgency operations which may lead to human rights violations" in Indonesia.
Since this training has come to light, the Administration has emphasized the benefit to U.S. forces as the justification for those activities. But it is obvious that -- in the words of the former Commanding General of the Pacific Special Operations Command -- this special forces training also "improves the capability of... the host nation" and "demonstrates [the U.S. military's commitment" to the Indonesian regime. We need a simple and transparent set of rules to govern all our military education programs. The first rule should be that the United States does not give any kind of military assistance whatever to governments that murder their own people.