Subject: Proposed resumption of US military training to Indonesia draws outrage, controversy

from Security Sector Reform Resource Center

Proposed resumption of US military training to Indonesia draws outrage, controversy


President Obama is expected to travel to Indonesia in the near future to discuss, among other topics, renewing US-backed military training for the Indonesian special forces unit, the Kopassus (?Komando Pasukan Khusus? or ?Special Force Command?). Below are five key controversies that continually appear in news reports and commentaries about this topic.

Controversy #1: No legal accountability for past human rights violations.

The Kopassus has not faced legal accountability for the many human rights violations it has committed. Amnesty International USA reports that ?despite promises by the Indonesian government, despite repeated assurances by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono during visits to the United States, Kopassus officers involved in serious human rights crimes have never been brought to legal accountability.? The few soldiers who have faced military tribunals have been reinstated into the ranks and promoted.

Controversy #2: US law bans training the Kopassus.

In the United States, the Leahy law enacted in 1997, bars US training of foreign military units with a history of human rights violations. In 2005 when then-President Bush looked to waive that ban to train Indonesian military troops, the State Department?s legal counsel ruled that the Leahy law was still applicable and the training did not go forward. Now President Obama is working to reverse the ban and train younger members of the Kopassus. The Obama administration argues that this is acceptable because young members did not play a part in past human rights violations.

Controversy #3: Human rights violations are not a thing of the past.

Recently, it was discovered that during 2009, the Indonesian armed forces secretly assassinated a series of civilian activists. Reporter Allan Nairn, who unearthed the story using official sources, is now facing possible arrest in Jakarta for reporting the story. Given these recent events, no members of the Kopassus can be considered exempt from human right violations now.

Controversy #4: Indonesian counter-terrorism efforts will lose momentum.

The US has applauded Indonesia?s success in fighting terrorism, but it is the police who perform the major role, not the military. The national coordinator of the East Timor Action Network (ETAN), John M. Miller argues that ?US support for greater Indonesian military involvement [in counter-terrorism] will only undercut the police, strengthen the military internal, territorial role and further undermine reform.? Miller also argues that US military assistance will set back the small advancements in human rights and security sector reform, especially military reform.

Controversy #5: Obama has a special connection to Indonesia.

Many people writing about the US resuming training of the Indonesian army highlight that Obama?s family links and his experience living in Indonesia for a few years as a boy provide him with a special connection to Indonesia and its people. But, they warn, Indonesia now is very different from the Indonesia under Suharto he knew as a boy. Generally, it seems people are worried that Obama?s special connection to Indonesia will cloud his judgment politically as he works to undo the Leahy law and resume training for the Kopassus.

Want to know more? Read Human Rights Watch's letter to Obama, read Kristen Sundell?s personal interaction with the Indonesian military, and browse the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (specifically here, here, and here).

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