Subject: Suharto Avoids Int'l Tribunal: Unlike Hussein, Milosevic He Did What West Wanted

also: JP Op-Ed: Indonesia and the New Human Right Council

Associated Press Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Suharto Avoids International Tribunal

By Slobodan Lekic

photo: Then Indonesian President Suharto shoots targets with a rifle at the family's Tapos ranch in Bogor, West Java, Indonesia, in this Jan. 12, 1994 file photo. Tucked away in a posh residential district of Jakarta, Suharto, the dictator who led Indonesia for more than three decades, lives freely in the comfort of his sprawling house even though he is widely believed responsible for the deaths of twice as many the former Iraqi and Serbian leaders combined. (AP Photo/State Secretariat HO, File) (AP)

The spotlight of international justice has shone on Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic to hold them accountable for alleged war crimes. But many are asking: what about Suharto?

Indonesia's dictator for 32 years is widely believed responsible for the deaths of twice as many people as the former Iraqi and Serbian leaders combined, yet he lives freely in a posh residential district of Jakarta.

"Suharto certainly belongs in the same category as Milosevic or Saddam as far as crimes against humanity are concerned," said Dede Oetomo, a human rights activist and professor at Airlangga University in Surabaya. "He receives preferential treatment in the West because he delivered Indonesia to them during the Cold War, while nobody in the political class here sees any benefit in pursuing him."

Critics say Suharto's and other cases highlight an inconsistency that lends credibility to charges that the trials in The Hague and Baghdad are "victors' justice."

In Iraq, Saddam's tumultuous trial is continuing in fits and spurts, while the effort to bring Milosevic to justice came to an abrupt halt this month when he died in custody at the International War Crimes Tribunal.

But Suharto, 85, is among half a dozen former despots around the world who have managed to evade or delay justice for their alleged misdeeds.

They include Ethiopia's Mengistu Haile Mariam, who directed the "Red Terror" of the 1970s but now lives comfortably in exile in Zimbabwe, and Chile's former dictator, Gen. Augusto Pinochet, whose security forces murdered thousands of leftists and other political opponents from 1973 to 1990. He is free on bail after being charged in a tax-evasion case.

Liberia's new government is urging Nigeria to extradite exiled warlord Charles Taylor, accused of causing tens of thousands of deaths during its civil war. And in Cambodia, no Khmer Rouge figure has stood trial for the death of an estimated 1.7 million people between 1975-79.

It weakens the deterrent force of war crimes tribunals, said Dr. Harold Crouch, an expert on Indonesia at the Australian National University.

"Obviously the deterrent value would be much greater if they indicted all these people," Crouch said. "But Suharto always did what the West wanted him to do; that's the main difference between him and Saddam and Milosevic."

Suharto was an unknown two-star general in 1965 when he put down a still-unexplained military mutiny which he attributed to leftist officers. In the confusion that followed, Suharto seized power from the legal government and launched a purge in which at least a half million people, mostly communists, socialists, trade unionists and other leftists, were executed.

As he tightened his grip, Suharto quickly gained support from Washington and other Western capitals, which viewed him as a bulwark against communism in Southeast Asia.

Washington facilitated Indonesia's 1969 takeover of the former Dutch colony of West Papua, and acquiesced in its 1975 invasion of the former Portuguese colony of East Timor. The long wars that followed have claimed 200,000 lives in West Papua, human rights monitors say, and 183,000 in East Timor according to a U.N. and East Timorese government report.

The number of innocent Iraqis who perished during Saddam's rule is usually put at over 300,000, with no precise statistics available. Milosevic's wars in former Yugoslavia are said to have claimed at least 200,000 lives, although some place the figure lower.

In Indonesia, several dozen officers have been tried on charges of killing of hundreds of civilians in East Timor and elsewhere during Suharto's time, but all were freed.

"If you can't convict a captain, how can you convict his president?" said Crouch.

The leaders of Indonesia's fledgling democracy set out to try Suharto for corruption, gave up, and have never sought to bring him to justice for war crimes.

"The problem for any post-Suharto government is that it is difficult to bring him to trial ... because he is still backed and supported by the military, which itself participated in the killings of tens of thousands of people," said Munarman, head of the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation. Like Suharto, he goes by one name.

"The politicians have to be very careful. There is still a very real possibility the military could wrest back power," he said.


[from yesterday's JP]

The Jakarta Post March 27, 2006


Indonesia and the New Human Right Council

By Jonny Sinaga, Jakarta

The fatal clash between protesters and riot police in Abepura, Papua, claiming the lives of five people -- four policemen and an Air Force soldier -- stands in complete contrast to similar clashes throughout the country. In previous incidents civilians were more commonly the victims and the police became the target of criticism for using excessive violence to disperse demonstrators.

The incident showed that the National Police and the Indonesian Military (TNI) who are usually viewed as the perpetrators of human rights violations, proved at least in Abepura that they could restrain themselves in the face of provocation. Their firm discipline and commitment, despite their suffering even in the face of the death of one of their colleagues, as broadcast on television attracted sympathy from all levels of society.

Indonesia is achieving major progress in the promotion of human rights, although the dark chapters of our human rights record have yet to be closed. In the last four to five years, Indonesia has convincingly improved its human rights record.

There have been tremendous efforts on the part of the government to enshrine human rights in the Constitution and in various laws including the national plan of action on human rights of 1998-2003 subsequently replaced by a second one for the period of 2004-2009, the amendments to the 1945 Constitution to embrace more human rights provisions, the promulgation of the 1999 law on human rights, followed by the establishment of the Human Rights Tribunal in 2000.

Indonesia had often had to face bitter facts during the United Nations Commission on Human Rights' (UNCHR) sessions. The last one was in 2000, when for the first time Indonesia had to accept the convening of a UNCHR special session to discuss the alleged gross human rights abuses prior to and after the 1999 referendum in East Timor.

Problems of involuntary disappearances, torture, harsh prison conditions, arbitrary detentions, violence and sexual abuse against women and children, human trafficking, failure to enforce labor standards and violations of workers' rights are among the issues which Indonesia has had to face in international fora.

Other issues, including forced child labor, forced labor, violations of freedom of expression and religion, and discrimination against women, to mention a few, had been unpleasant and yet unavoidable issues for Indonesian delegations in the UNCHR sessions until four or five years ago.

Against the backdrop of these new developments Indonesia plans to nominate itself to join the 47-member UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). The establishment of the new body was decided during the World Summit in September last year, where it was agreed to establish the UN HRC to replace the CHR which has been in existence since 1946.

The decision of the General Assembly, the highest United Nations body, on March 15, 2006 to adopt the resolution on the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), signified a humongous achievement in the international human rights field.

For the first time in UN history 47 members will be elected on May 9 and will gather in Geneva from June 19, 2006 to determine what would be the best way to handle the world's human rights issues.

What would be the challenges for Indonesia in the era of HRC? Although the annual world human rights report (supposed to be exclusively for the consideration of the U.S. Congress) published by the U.S. Department of State still noted some rights violations in Indonesia, only a few of them are a real challenge for Indonesia in the near future.

The death penalty will certainly be one of the issues. Although in some states of the United States the death penalty is still imposed, the global trend is toward its abolishment. European countries which have already abolished the death penalty will continue to pressure other countries to abolish it.

Sharia law in Aceh, in particular corporal punishment, such as public caning will also be another concern. The practice of main hakim sendiri (taking the law into one's own hands) in handling social conditions including crimes, which often involves mob violence, will be another concern. Another important issue will be freedom of religion which often places Indonesia in a difficult situation. Conflict resolution will be another challenge for Indonesia in the new era of HRC.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Vice President Jusuf Kalla seem to be a good human rights tandem. Yudhoyono with his strong commitment in using persuasion and dialog in facing differences and Kalla with his creative and unceasing efforts in solving many conflicts such as the one in Poso and Aceh can polish Indonesia's human rights image.

Given the positive developments in the past two to three years, Indonesia's human rights record in the HRC era will obviously be much better than that it was during the 60 years of the CHR. The decision of Indonesia to nominate itself as one of the 47 members will then be a timely opportunity to prove its commitment to the advancement of human rights.

The writer is an Indonesian diplomat and a graduate of the University of Indonesia and Tulane Law School, New Orleans. The article reflects his personal views.

------------------ Joyo Indonesia News Service

Back to March menu
February menu     
World Leaders Contact List
Main Postings Menu