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The Question of U.S. Military Assistance for Indonesia

December 2002 -- The U.S. administration’s intention to increase assistance for the Indonesian military (TNI) ignores its past and current conduct, including support for Islamic terrorist groups, assaults on U.S. citizens and regular violations of human rights and democratic norms. Legislated restrictions and accompanying conditions – known as the “Leahy provisions” – require TNI accountability for human rights crimes in East Timor and Indonesia and military reform. To abandon the restriction of International Military Education and Training (IMET) would be to remove the best leverage Congress has to push for such accountability and reform. It would also betray those Indonesians who have, at risk to their own lives, pressed for an end to the impunity enjoyed by Indonesian security forces.

Now is the wrong time for Congress to signal its readiness, in the name of fighting terrorism, to enlist a rogue military that has embraced terror tactics and terrorist groups. Claims that resumption of IMET for the Indonesian military would encourage reform ignore history; over four decades of close contact with the U.S. military failed to improve the TNI’s record. Indeed, some of the officers with the broadest exposure to the U.S. and its military through IMET and other training programs went on to carry out the most egregious of crimes.

Congress should not lift restrictions on military assistance for Indonesia in the FY03 Foreign Operations Appropriations bill for many reasons, including:

The military targets U.S. citizens in its human rights violations. In August 2002, two American schoolteachers were killed and other U.S. citizens wounded in an attack in the province of Papua within the mining operations area of the U.S. company Freeport-McMoRan. Indonesian police and NGO investigations clearly point to TNI responsibility for the incident. The TNI is now stalling further investigation.

Also in 2002, U.S. citizen Joy Lee Sadler was beaten and her British companion sexually molested following their arrest in Aceh for "visa violations." The pair was prevented from contacting their embassies for six days after their initial detention. The trial has been excessively delayed; they have now been detained for more than three months. Many observers fear Sadler’s and McCulloch’s detention is part of an effort to close Indonesia’s conflict areas to outside monitors.

The TNI is working with units of the Islamic fundamentalist terror group "Laskar Jihad" in Papua to stoke communal tensions there, despite claims by Laskar Jihad that it recently disbanded. The TNI has a long history of support for the Laskar Jihad in the Maluku islands, where at least 9,000 people have died as a result of conflict since January 1999. The TNI failed to obey Presidential orders to preclude the organization of Laskar Jihad in 2000 and allowed its transfer from Java to the Maluku islands where the Jihad units violently attacked Christians, exacerbating communal conflicts.

The TNI has formed and armed militia groups in Papua similar to those it created in East Timor in 1998-99. Overseeing their formation is Major General Mahidin Simbolon, the same senior military commander who supervised the formation of TNI-directed militia that ravaged East Timor.

The TNI has evaded accountability for crimes against humanity it committed in East Timor in 1999. Of the twelve verdicts released thus far by the Indonesian ad hoc Human Rights Court on East Timor, all ten Indonesian officials on trial have been acquitted. Only East Timorese civilian defendants have been convicted, receiving either the legally allowed minimum sentence or less. Instead of serving justice, the court has legitimized military propaganda that spontaneous civil conflict caused East Timor’s devastation while Indonesian security personnel were mere bystanders, as well as the portrayal of the United Nations as a biased, anti-Indonesia institution.

TNI impunity for human rights crimes is candidly acknowledged in the State Department’s annual human rights reports. Investigations of these crimes rarely occur, and those that do take place typically do not lead to trial. TNI obstruction has caused many cases to stall for years, as in the 1984 massacre of civilian Muslim protesters at Tanjung Priok in Jakarta (which is supposed to be adjudicated by a second ad hoc human rights court established under the law providing for the East Timor trials); the 1989 mass murder of an estimated 100 civilians at a religious school in Lampung, South Sumatra; the murder of student demonstrators and mass rape of ethnic Chinese women in Jakarta in 1998 and 1999; the 1999 murder of a Dutch journalist in East Timor; and the 2001 assassination of the leading Papuan community figure Theys Eluay. Retired Lt. General Hendropriyono, known as the “Butcher of Lampung” for his leading role in the 1989 massacre, is the current National Intelligence Chief. Nor has there been movement to hold the dictator Suharto to account for the 1965-66 massacres that left up to one million people dead. Where international pressure has compelled court action, low-ranking TNI personnel are acquitted or receive light sentences not commensurate with their crimes.

Security forces continue to harass and threaten human rights defenders and others exercising the legal right to dissent. In Aceh, two decades of TNI and police repression continue, despite ongoing peace talks, with especially brutal treatment of human rights and humanitarian activists. The December 2000 abduction and execution of three humanitarian workers with the NGO Rehabilitation Action for Victims of Torture in Aceh (RATA) has not resulted in any prosecution, despite testimony by the attack’s sole survivor implicating army officers and civilian thugs. Similarly, there has been no progress in the investigation of the torture and killing of prominent human rights lawyer and U.S. resident Jafar Siddiq Hamzah in August 2000. Staff of the leading Papuan human rights organization, the Institute for Human Rights Study and Advocacy (ELSHAM), have been threatened and one staff member nearly abducted in circumstances almost identical to the 1997-98 kidnappings of pro-democracy activists in Jakarta by elite special forces Kopassus personnel. ELSHAM’s offices were raided and documents stolen following the NGO’s inquiries into last August’s Freeport killings.

Units of the TNI have periodically led assaults against the Indonesian police. The most recent, in late September, involved hundreds of soldiers armed with heavy weaponry (mobile anti-aircraft gun, tanks, mortars, grenade launchers) who raided two police stations near Medan, on the island of Sumatra, in order to free a friend who had been arrested for selling the drug Ecstasy. The soldiers killed seven police officers and two civilians. They wounded 37 officers, destroying one station and heavily damaging the other. The military freed their friend and 60 other prisoners; none have been recaptured.

Notwithstanding pledges that it would gradually withdraw from politics, the TNI continues to maintain shadow-governing authority from the national to the village level throughout Indonesia. The dismantling of the TNI’s territorial command structure – key to reform of the military and its removal from influence at all levels of government – has not occurred. On the contrary, new military commands have been established in Aceh and Maluku.

The TNI is a massively corrupt institution with "business" interests earning its senior officers billions of dollars. TNI business activities include extortion of U.S. firms operating in Indonesia, illegal and environmentally devastating logging, drug production and trafficking (notably in Aceh), and prostitution. Only 25% to 30% of the TNI budget is on-line, or officially accounted for.

In his August visit to Indonesia, Secretary of State Colin Powell promised $50 million in assistance for the police and military, mostly for counter-terrorism. A program of unrestricted military training for the TNI has already begun with $4 million of funding from the FY02 Defense Appropriations Act under a new Regional Counter-terrorism Fellowship program. Up to $16 million has been appropriated for police training through the FY02 Supplemental Appropriations Act alone. Extensive police training has started.

Clearly, Congress is already providing ample funding for police and military training. This begs the question of why – at this time of continued TNI human rights crimes, impunity, and strong resistance to reform – Congress would choose to restore full IMET, restricted since the early 1990’s because of the brutal record of the TNI. The restoration of full IMET in 2003 would extinguish any belief by Indonesians and East Timorese that the U.S. government pays more than lip service to democracy, human rights, and respect for the rule-of-law. The Indonesian security forces would register the same message with disastrous results. Page 2: The Question of U.S. Military Assistance for Indonesia

East Timor Action Network, www.etan.org 

Indonesia Human Rights Network

see also U.S.-Indonesia Military Assistance


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