Subject: SMH: Megawati bows to pressure on A-G

Also: AFP: Rights advocates slam choice of Indonesia's new attorney general; RT: Doubts greet Indonesia's new attorney general

Sydney Morning Herald 
August 16, 2001

Megawati bows to pressure on A-G

By Lindsay Murdoch, Herald Correspondent in Jakarta

President Megawati Sukarnoputri has disappointed observers in Jakarta by appointing as Attorney-General a low-key prosecutor who failed to pursue senior military officers over atrocities in East Timor.

The surprise appointment of Mr Muhammad Abdurrachman, better known in Jakarta as M.A. Rachman, came after intense lobbying by the main political parties and the military.

The Attorney-General will determine the outcome of corruption and human rights cases that former president Abdurrahman Wahid tried but failed to have prosecuted.

Mr Rachman served as the executive chairman of a special team formed last year to investigate human rights violations in East Timor in 1999. But the team failed to recommend the prosecution of high-ranking officers including the former armed forces chief, General Wiranto, who had been named by an independent investigating panel.

Mr Rachman, a career prosecutor in Indonesia's corrupt legal system, was deputy attorney-general during the 1998-99 presidency of Dr B.J. Habibie.

"As an insider, Rachman will have a difficult task in cleaning up the Attorney-General's office from the bad practices of the past," said Mr Asmara Nababan, a member of the state-sponsored Human Rights Commission.

"If the Attorney-General cannot bring the big corruptors to trial, that will reflect negatively on Megawati's administration."

The United Nations has warned that it will consider setting up an international tribunal to hear cases if Jakarta fails to prosecute those responsible for the military-sponsored violence in East Timor.

General Wiranto, who was touted last month as a candidate for vice-president, was one of the first people to meet Ms Megawati after she took office three weeks ago, indicating she does not favour his prosecution.

A former crusading anti-corruption prosecutor, Mr Antonius Sujata, said the Attorney-General needed to be an experienced, independent outsider. Asked about Mr Rachman's capability, Mr Sujata said: "Nothing special."

But officials in the Attorney- General's office and some human rights activists said they hoped Mr Rachman's knowledge of the main human rights and corruption cases would lead to breakthroughs in having them prosecuted.

One human rights campaigner and lawyer, Mr Abdul Hakim Garuda Nusantara, said Mr Rachman was among the best career prosecutors, and called him "modest and relatively honest".

Ms Megawati won wide praise last week when she named several respected technocrats to key economic jobs in her 31-member Cabinet. The currency rose to an 11-month high and financial markets were buoyed as a result.

Analysts said the choice of attorney-general was a barometer of the Government's sincerity in upholding the law, including the eradication of corruption and seeking justice in human rights abuses.


Rights advocates slam choice of Indonesia's new attorney general

JAKARTA, Aug 15 (AFP) - Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri Wednesday swore in career prosecutor Muhammad Abdur Rahman as her new attorney general, a choice which left human rights advocates disappointed and sceptical.

Megawati said she had chosen someone from within the attorney general's office "to enhance the image of the office, which has recently been not too good."

She instructed Rahman, 59, a former deputy attorney general and a member of the office's expert staff, to "immediately put order inside the attorney general's office and meet the hopes of society for the upholding of the law."

But it was her choice of an insider that sparked criticism from rights defenders, who question the integrity and competence of staffers in the office.

Megawati named Rahman late Tuesday, ending an unexplained five-day delay in the appointment which analysts and politicans blamed on an intensive tug-of-war between political and other interested parties.

Rahman told journalists not to become fixated on corruption cases, adding that other crimes in human rights, the environment, illegal logging and banking also needed serious attention.

"Don't just focus on the issue of corruption," he was quoted as saying by the state Antara news agency.

The choice of attorney general is widely seen as a barometer of the government's sincerity in eradicating corruption and seeking justice for past gross human rights violations.

Rahman pledged to continue the cases begun by his predecessors, which include corruption charges against former dictator Suharto and several high-profile business tycoons including Syamsul Nursalim and Prayogo Pangestu.

Asked whether he had the courage to pursue politically sensitive cases, Rahman replied: "We'll see how it goes."

Rahman headed the team of state investigators which last year named 23 suspects in human rights crimes in East Timor in 1999. The team was criticised for omitting former armed forces chief General Wiranto and other high-ranking military officers who had been recommended for prosecution.

Sceptical rights defenders accused the president of making a compromise choice to appease politicians and the military.

"This is a victory for the army lobby," Hendardi (eds:one name), chairman of the Human Rights and Legal Aid Association, told AFP.

"I've heard that they were backing him for the post. This is a safe route for Megawati."

Hendardi said choosing a candidate from the attorney general's office was a backward step.

"The bureaucracy at the (office) is a problem in itself. It's the first thing that has to be cleaned up and I think he'll hesitate to move against his colleagues," he said.

"I don't think we can hope for much in law enforcement, either in tackling corruption or human rights abuses," Hendardi said.

Munir (eds: one name), the head of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence, said: "The choice doesn't make us at all optimistic."

He said Rahman's choice of suspects for prosecution over East Timor and his investigations into the 1984 army killing of demonstrators in Jakarta's Tanjung Priok "clearly benefited the violators of human rights abuses, like the generals."

However the secretary general of the national Human Rights Commission (Komnas Ham), Asmara Nababan, told AFP Rahman was "the best of the current stock" from the attorney general's office.

Nababan said Megawati was seeking a neutral choice because political parties had been fighting for the "strategic post."

Nababan said he had little hope Rahman would take "significant steps to clean up corruption," but he believed he would continue pursuing the East Timor cases.


Doubts greet Indonesia's new attorney general

By Achmad Sukarsono

JAKARTA, Aug 15 (Reuters) - Indonesia's new president may have finally put a foot wrong with an otherwise widely praised cabinet by picking a chief prosecutor who analysts doubt has it in him to tackle major graft and human rights cases abuses.

The attorney-general was named on Tuesday night, nearly a week after the rest of the cabinet, suggesting to many that on this critical issue Megawati Sukarnoputri had buckled to lobbying from powerful groups, vulnerable to probes into past misdeeds.

"The general public aspiration is to have a clean and respected government. I am sure with our support he can perform his duties well," Megawati said after she installed Muhammad Abdurrachman as attorney-general.

Indonesia has had seven attorney-generals in the past three years, none of whom has done much to sort out the legal tangle of abuses under previous leaders and which hang like a dark cloud over the country's efforts to pull itself out of crisis.

Analysts polled by Reuters doubted the appointment of the career prosecutor would be any more successful in bringing to justice well-connected corruption suspects or those involved in the brutal end to Indonesian rule in East Timor two years ago.

"I see no hope in him. This is a disappointing choice but I understand it is the safest for Megawati," head of Indonesian Corruption Watch, Teten Masduki, said.

"This is a favourable choice for the military which must be happy with the outcome of the East Timor investigation... this also will not rock the interests of the political forces behind Megawati," he said.

Megawati has been at pains to win backing for her coalition cabinet from the major political parties and the influential military which combined to sack her predecessor last month for incompetence.

The coalition includes the former ruling Golkar party, the second largest in parliament behind Megawati's party, and once the political vehicle of long-serving former autocrat Suharto.

Several Golkar officials have been accused of graft during Suharto's 32-year rule when Indonesia became a byword for corruption.

The little known Abdurrachman led inconclusive investigations into army generals linked to the 1999 East Timor violence and the massacre of Muslim protesters in Jakarta in 1984. In the East Timor probe, investigators cleared high-ranking generals over the violence committed by army-backed gangs who laid waste to the impoverished territory after most of the population voted to end years of Jakarta rule.

Nineteen suspects, including field commanders at that time, were named but none has been brought to court.


Megawati said her choice was based on a desire to put trust back into to the office.

"I took someone from the internal ranks of the attorney-general's office to motivate the institution which has a not-so-good image in the public eye. I know the burden is rather heavy," she said.

But the very fact that Abdurrachman has spent 35 years in the attorney-general's office, notorious for tangled bureaucracy and military-style uniforms, is what disturbed many analysts. "The institution is in a demoralised condition and needs new blood...someone who can make it breathe again. It needs an outside figure. This choice does not help at all," prominent human rights lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis told Reuters.

Abdurrachman started his career as a prosecutor in 1966 and has served in a variety of posts, including a total of about a decade in the rebellious Aceh province where the military has long been accused of brutality.

The 59-year-old told reporters he would continue high-profile graft cases initiated by his widely respected predecessor, Baharudin Lopa, who died a month ago.

But asked whether he would be as tough over graft as Lopa, he replied: "Let's just see how it goes." 

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