Subject: JP: U.S. questions RI's will to prosecute rights cases

The Jakarta Post

June 18, 2003

U.S. questions RI's will to prosecute rights cases

A'an Suryana, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The United States has expressed concern over Indonesia's apparent lack of will to prosecute military personnel implicated in past human rights abuses, saying it would hamper the democracy that has flourished in the country since 1998.

U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Ralph L. Boyce told a seminar here on Tuesday that the failure of the military to take responsibility for human rights violations in East Timor, Aceh, Papua and the May 1998 riots in Jakarta was one of the major challenges of democracy in the world's fifth most populous country.

"I believe this (military accountability) is a must not only to build trust in the Indonesian Military, but to boost international confidence in democracy in Indonesia," Boyce told participants of the seminar titled "Indonesia heading to Genuine Democracy: Opportunities and Challenges."

The ad hoc Human Rights Court has sentenced three military officers to between three and six years in jail without immediate imprisonment for their involvement in the East Timor mayhem in 1999. The court, however, has acquitted 13 others due to lack of evidence.

The court also failed to touch former Indonesian Military (TNI) chief Gen. (ret) Wiranto, who was in charge of security when the violence took place.

Washington imposed an arms embargo on Indonesia following the widespread atrocities that followed an overwhelming vote for independence in the former Indonesian province.

Boyce said that in a democratic country, the military must be held responsible for all of its actions.

Regarding civilian control over the military, Boyce praised Indonesia for ending the military's role in politics as stipulated by the People's Consultative Assembly last year.

Law enforcement is the next challenge that faces democracy in Indonesia, according to Boyce, who said the country must create a transparent system of law to ensure that people get justice and that their rights are well-protected.

A clean government and good enforcement of law could assure the unity of Indonesia, and it could also attract foreign investors to Indonesia.

"Currently, foreign investors shy away from Indonesia because they are afraid that their contracts will not be honored by the Indonesian courts," said Boyce.

Protection of minority groups is the third major challenge Indonesia is facing in promoting democracy.

Boyce said that minority groups, whether in ethnicity or religion, had suffered from violence in Maluku, Sulawesi and Kalimantan, where ethnic and sectarian conflicts claimed thousands of lives a few years ago.

"Democracy has often been coined as 'power by the majority', but the biggest challenge for democracy is actually that, whether the democracy can protect the rights of the minority," said Boyce.

Speaking at the seminar, a political observer from Boston University, Robert Hefner, warned that sectarian politics had returned to the political scene. Such a trend, he said, would cause democracy to collapse if it was not carefully managed.

He said the reform movement in 1998 had helped encourage participation in politics.

It was a good thing, he said. But, unfortunately, the rising passion to participate in politics had been abused by certain political figures for their own purposes.

Hefner said that some political figures mobilized the grass roots by exploiting biases, which could damage the process of democracy.

Sectarian conflicts in Maluku and Sulawesi were clear examples of how irresponsible political figures had exploiting biases that polarized people.

People are divided across religious lines by such irresponsible figures, and they fan the flames of dichotomy, which leads to escalating conflicts in the regions, he said.

Hefner said that society should seek a common platform in order to curb the potential evil of the trend.

This could be achieved through the establishment of interreligious fora, for instance, where different people of different faiths could discuss differences between them and find the "glue" that could keep them together.

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