Deadly Clash Renews Debate Over Abuses by Indonesian Military
Deadly Clash Renews Debate Over Abuses by Indonesian Military
Fabio Scarpello 19 Jun 2007
World Politics Review Exclusive
DENPASAR, Indonesia -- After a military-civilian clash over disputed land in East Java turned deadly last month, outraged locals are urging Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to act decisively in taming trigger-happy soldiers and reigniting the stalled reform of the Indonesian armed forces.
The incident is bound to echo in Washington, where some legislators in the now Democrat-controlled Congress have shown signs of uneasiness over President George W. Bush's 2005 decision to resume U.S. ties and funding to the Indonesian military, also known as the TNI.
The latest uproar was precipitated May 30 when Indonesian marines fired on protestors gathered in the East Javanese regency of Pasuruan to rally against the development of land that is at the center of a bitter court dispute with the navy.
The shooting left four dead, including a pregnant woman. Her four-year-old son was shot in the chest and is among the eight wounded.
Military authorities claim the marines acted in self-defense, but the National Commission on Human Rights said it found no evidence at the scene of the shooting that civilians intended to attack marines with sharpened weapons, as some marines claimed. Indonesia's 2000 law on human rights states that a deliberate attack on civilians is classified as a crime against humanity.
The land was bought by the navy in the 1960s for building a military training site, though some residents are now saying the regime of former dictator Suharto "forced them to sell." The navy never used the land and residents have since built and farmed on it.
The dispute started several years ago when the navy reclaimed ownership, won a court ruling and started evicting residents, who have lodged an appeal.
Agung Yudhawiranata of the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy said the tragedy is due to the persistent involvement of the TNI in for-profit business and a lack of reform of the Indonesian armed forces.
"The marines were there to defend their interests and not to represent the state. In theory, public [demonstrations] are under the responsibility of the police, so the marines should not have been on the scene," he said.
The country's police force was separated from the TNI in 1999. The police mobile brigade, or BRIMOB, is supposed to deal with mass demonstrations.
"The ease with which the marines fired is also a symptom of lack of professionalism and discipline, which together with TNI's involvement in business were to be addressed in the stalled reform," Yudhawiranata added.
In a prescient report published in June 2006, Human Rights Watch said Jakarta's apparent unwillingness to take over the TNI business empire, as laid out in a 2004 law, "undermines civilian autonomy and accountability" fuels human rights abuses.
In Indonesia, the TNI is responsible for most of its own funding, which comes from an array of legal and illegal ventures.
Security expert Aleksius Jemadu, an academic at Bandug's Parahyangan Catholic University, said that President Yudhoyono needs to push for a new military ethic.
"There hasn't been any revision of TNI's ethics, and soldiers' behavior is stuck at a time when they had a lot of privileges and could get away with anything," he said, referring to the 1965-1998 period under dictator Suharto.
"TNI chiefs must draft a new code of conduct compatible with this democratic time. But that is unlikely to happen without a strong signal from Yudhoyono," he added.
Started in 1998 after the downfall of Suharto, the reform of TNI has lately slowed to a near standstill. Some observers are blaming former-general-turned-president Yudhoyono for lacking the political will to push it through.
In a recent book on post-Suharto military reform, Jakarta-based analyst Marcus Mietzner notes that "Indonesia has made remarkable progress in advancing military reforms," but that "serious omissions and failures persist."
"Most important, policymakers did not proceed with initiatives to reform the territorial command structure," Mietzner writes, referring to the system that allows the TNI to maintain units in every area and on every level, parallel to the civil government structure.
The latest TNI-induced tragedy is likely to add fuel to the drive by some U.S. Democratic congressmen to put renewed emphasis on human rights when evaluating U.S. aid to foreign militaries.
The change of focus could jeopardize Washington's financial support and close ties with the Indonesian Military, which restarted in 2005 after years of embargo due to the crimes committed by the TNI in East Timor in 1999. The Bush administration views Jakarta as a crucial ally in the global war on terror, a major reason for the renewed ties.
Leading the Democrats' charge is Rep. Nita Lowey (N.Y.), who heads the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations. According to the Singapore-based New Straits Times newspaper, the subcommittee debated the possibility of curtailing aid to the TNI Tuesday June 5, when it "marked up" the fiscal year 2008 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill .
A spokesman for Lowey told World Politics Review June 19 that the bill provides $8 million in funding for the Indonesian military. However, he said $2 million of that funding is conditioned "upon certification by the secretary of state that the government of Indonesia has addressed human rights abuses by the Indonesian military." [The condition is actually on a report of progress on dealing with rights violations and military reform. - John/ETAN]
The New Straits Times also mentions Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) as another legislator hot on the trail of the TNI. Leahy is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations and was the sponsor of legislation tying the TNI to human rights violations in East Timor.
Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.), who worked with Leahy to pressure Indonesian generals in the late 1990s, and Rep. Eni Faleomavaega, who represents American Samoa and is a staunch supporter of Papuan independence, are among the other Democrats critical of the Indonesian military.
Papua, the easternmost region of Indonesia, was annexed by Jakarta in a fraudulent referendum held in 1969. The mostly non-violent Papuan movement for independence has often been met with a harsh response from the TNI, which is accused of grave human rights abuses in the region.
Fabio Scarpello is Southeast Asia correspondent for the Italian press agency AdnKronos International and a regular contributor to WPR.