Subject: Economist: Above the law; Indonesia's security forces
Above the law; Indonesia's security forces
Indonesia's military and human rights abuses
Getting away with murder
IT IS about to stage the second half of an election that promises to cement its young democracy into place. But in some ways, Indonesia still shows little sign of bringing its armed forces to heel. Barring a volte face from the Supreme Court, a tribunal prosecuting alleged human-rights abuses carried out during East Timor's referendum on sovereignty in 1999 has now ended the predictable way, with no soldiers or police being punished. Of the 16 members of the Indonesian security forces and two East Timorese civilians who were indicted, all the Indonesians have either been acquitted or freed on appeal (the quashing of the convictions of the final four was announced on August 6th). The two East Timorese have received minimal sentences: one got three years, the other, after appeal, five.
As far as Indonesia's government is concerned, the matter should now be closed. Many outside Indonesia are unlikely to concur. During and after the referendum, in which the former Portuguese colony voted to obtain independence from Indonesia, about 1,500 civilians were killed, many more forced to flee and much of the infrastructure destroyed.
The inadequacy of the tribunal in Indonesia is highlighted by the contrast with a parallel investigation being conducted in East Timor itself by the Serious Crimes Unit set up by the United Nations. This body has indicted some 375 people and secured more than 50 convictions. Most of those convicted are militiamen who say they were acting under the orders of the Indonesian armed forces. About 280 indictees remain at large in Indonesia. They include the Indonesian commander at the time, General Wiranto, for whom the unit has issued an arrest warrant.
After the announcement of the appeal decision in Jakarta, human-rights groups renewed their demands for the creation of an international tribunal. So far, however, America is the only major power to have stated publicly its desire to see "a credible level of justice". East Timor itself, eager to maintain healthy relations with its vast and powerful neighbour, opposes the idea of an international tribunal. Indeed, the government has refused to forward General Wiranto's arrest warrant to Interpol.
The apparent impossibility of holding Indonesia's security forces to account may eventually create frustration. This week, the head of special forces was cleared over shooting demonstrators in 1984. The former head of the Jakarta military police was also cleared of failing to prevent the torture of 170 civilian prisoners, following a protest the same year. The judges declared the beatings were only "ordinary" rights abuses.
Attention will turn next to the government's response to a report by the national human-rights commission, leaked this week. It alleges that members of the security forces perpetrated gross human-rights abuses in 2001 and 2003 in the eastern province of Papua. The situation in Aceh, on the northern tip of Sumatra, is equally troubling. Despite the lifting of martial law in May, after a year of fighting against separatists, military operations continue. In recent weeks, the army has reported a big rise in the death toll. It claims that the victims are insurgents, but independent observers say this is hard to verify.
Meanwhile, the armed forces are pushing for a military bill to be rushed through parliament. In its present form, critics say, the proposed bill will make it harder to turn the army into a truly professional force after a long history of involvement in politics. The country's generals have won justified praise for remaining neutral during this year's elections. You might think they could show a greater willingness to contemplate reform when their interests are being so well protected elsewhere.
The Dominion Post (Wellington, New Zealand)
August 13, 2004, Friday
Timor deserves global justice
INDONESIA'S decision last week to overturn the convictions of 16 security officers for crimes against humanity has been greeted with resigned despair by those who have followed the struggles of East Timor. Perhaps the real surprise was that the 16 Indonesians were ever convicted. Indonesia's record in bringing down plausible judicial verdicts, and then honouring them, is far from proud.
Historically, governments in New Zealand and Australia also have a less than honourable record on Timor. Though successive administrations had no faith in the ability of Timorese to govern themselves, government positions were influenced far more by a desire to keep on the right side of Indonesia. The populous nation is the closest Asian neighbour of Australia and New Zealand and Australia, in particular, has long considered it both a potential threat and an important economic partner. The relationship with Indonesia, more than anything else, was responsible for official indifference, little short of connivance, to the occupation of Timor.
It is inconceivable that at the time Portuguese colonial rule of Timor was coming to an end in 1975, Australia at least did not foresee that the Timorese were about to have one occupying power replaced by another. But the bloody annexation of Timor by Indonesia, which included the killing of five journalists -- one a New Zealander -- was greeted at official level with dismay rather than outrage. Successive New Zealand governments deplored the use of force, but acknowledged Indonesia's claim to East Timor was irreversible. In 1977, New Zealand's acting prime minister Brian Talboys said New Zealand understood the security reasons for Indonesia's "intervention" in Timor, and recognised Indonesia was in control. Much later, in 1994 -- on the eve of the departure of a multi-party delegation of New Zealand MPs to Indonesia and Timor -- then foreign affairs minister Don McKinnon said concerns about human rights would not lead to a change in government policy, which was that human rights in Timor was a separate issue from New Zealand's relationship with Indonesia.
A small but vocal pro-Timor group, sometimes including the mother of a New Zealand student killed in the 1991 Dili massacre, kept the issue alive in New Zealand till Timor's pro-independence vote in 1999 sparked a wave of retaliatory violence in which Indonesian militia are estimated to have killed more than 1000 people. That in turn sparked the United Nations peacekeeping force in which Australia and New Zealand at last played significant roles in supporting Timorese independence.
Special tribunals were established two years ago in Indonesia to try police and army officers accused of crimes against humanity. It was the convictions from those trials that have now been overturned. Foreign Affairs Minister Phil Goff is right to call for an international tribunal. Indonesia has shown it cannot be trusted to hold trials and punish the alleged perpetrators of the 1999 wave of violence, which included murder, torture and rape. An international tribunal may not be the best way to bring accountability but it is the only option left. Not to act is tantamount to condoning the slaughter. The international community's history of doing just that in East Timor should be over.
Friday, 13, August, 2004 (27, Jumada al-Thani, 1425)
Editorial: A Dismal Record 13 August 2004 —
Indonesia's armed forces have played a pivotal role in the country’s development since independence. In many instances, such as Indonesia’s hydrocarbon resources and the long term LNG supply deals to Japan, the military’s influence if not control, has been beneficial. In other cases such as the 1976 invasion of East Timor a year after its independence from the Portuguese, military meddling proved disastrous.
There is now considerable international disquiet that senior army officers convicted of serious crimes during the last period of the 22-year occupation of East Timor, have had their convictions quashed. There is equal concern that a few days later, a judge ruled that the former head of the special forces had no case to answer when troops under his command fatally opened fire on demonstrators 20 years ago at Jakarta’s port city of Tanjung Priok. These are only the latest in a long series of overturned convictions and thrown out cases in which the accused have been members of the Indonesian armed forces.
Outsiders may assume that the majority of these apparently perverse rulings reflect the continuing power of the military within Indonesian society. This analysis does not however go far enough. Most of the country’s civilian political leaders today come from military families. The majority of Indonesia’s wealthy elite has some connection with the armed forces that effectively ruled the country first under President Sukarno and then Suharto. Though the military has its own groups and rivalries, Indonesia’s military-connected families do tend to come together on issues that threaten the reputation of the army, navy or air force.
This explains why though the government in Jakarta could appreciate the uselessness and injustice of continuing the occupation of East Timor, especially in the face of a rising tide of international anger, they refused to recognize that the damage that atrocities committed by both the military and ethnic Indonesian militias, was also sullying the country’s name. It was only with great reluctance that the authorities agreed to investigate some of the most serious allegations. The trials have been the outcome and they themselves have ended up in acquittals (which may be perfectly legitimate) or quashed convictions or stopped trials which even if justifiable have given a powerfully negative impression to the outside world. Thus after the savage repression of East Timor, the brutal murder of suspected rebel sympathizers, the rapine and the looting and destruction of much of the capital Dili shortly before Jakarta pulled out, only two people, both militiamen, are currently being punished and they also may well soon have their convictions quashed.
Such a dismal judicial record is inexcusable. These crimes took place. But only two guilty findings remain standing. It is absurd that many others have not been brought to book and scandalous that those who have are effectively let off. Indeed it sends entirely the wrong message, not only to the international community but also to those parts of this huge and diverse country that are themselves seeking greater autonomy or even independence.
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