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The Question of U.S. Military Assistance for Indonesia

Responding to the brutal human rights record of Indonesia’s military, Congress has restricted security assistance for Indonesia to various degrees for well over a decade. In the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2005, Congress maintained restrictions on the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) Program and export licenses for lethal defense articles for Indonesia’s military (TNI). Four conditions must be met before the restrictions -- commonly referred to as the “Leahy restrictions” -- can be lifted, including accountability for gross violations of human rights in East Timor and Indonesia, transparency in the notoriously corrupt TNI budget, and cooperation in the war on terror.

Since the start of 2005, the Bush administration has moved rapidly to try to normalize U.S.-Indonesia military relations. Early in her term, Secretary of State Rice reinstated Indonesia’s full participation in the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, restricted by Congress first because of rights violations and then because of a lack of cooperation by the Indonesian security forces and government with the FBI in an investigation into the ambush murder of two Americans and an Indonesian at a multinational corporation’s mining operations area in West Papua. Also, in light of the Washington visit of Indonesia’s first popularly elected president in late May, the administration lifted restrictions on foreign military sales and eligibility for excess defense articles for non-lethal items and services. Much was also made of the provision of spare parts for C-130 military transport planes, but Indonesia had been allowed to buy these parts for the past four years or more. However, Indonesian officials repeatedly misrepresented their availability in an effort to pressure the U.S. to remove all restrictions on weapons sales. Indonesia is unlikely to follow the administration’s request that the repaired planes only be used for humanitarian missions.

In an historic election, the Indonesian people gave their first popularly elected president, former General Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a mandate for democratic change. Yet, the TNI continues to evade accountability for crimes against humanity in East Timor and to kill, rape, and torture throughout Indonesia with impunity. No one has been brought to justice for the ambush in West Papua. The Indonesian military remains a serious obstacle to furthering peace and democracy in Indonesia.

Congress should fully restrict FMF, IMET and export licenses for lethal defense articles for Indonesia in the FY06 Foreign Operations Appropriations Act, and prevent the Departments of Defense and State from pursuing normalization of military relations through other venues, including Joint Combined Exchange Training and the Regional Defense Counterterrorism Fellowship Program, for the following reasons:

Military reform: Rather than seriously address the pressing need for military reform, President Yudhoyono’s administration has overseen a military build-up. Plans are underway to substantially increase the number of army territorial commands. Significant increases in troop deployments are occurring in already heavily militarized Aceh and West Papua, where an additional 15,000 troops are expected. In a setback to efforts to remove the military from politics, active duty officers are now permitted to run in local elections.

Human rights record: The Indonesian military’s deplorable human rights record continues. According to this year’s Country Report on Human Rights Practices released by the State Department just two days after Secretary Rice reinstated full IMET for Indonesia, “Security force members murdered, tortured, raped, beat, and arbitrarily detained civilians and members of separatist movements, especially in Aceh and to a lesser extent in Papua.” Officers well known for their poor human rights record continue to maintain powerful positions and receive promotions.

Impunity: More than five years after Indonesian security forces laid waste to East Timor, not a single military or police officer has been held accountable for crimes against humanity committed in 1999. Further, no judicial process has yet been established to investigate and prosecute those responsible for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity during Indonesia's illegal invasion and occupation of East Timor before 1999, when more than 99% of over 200,000 deaths took place. TNI impunity for human rights crimes is candidly acknowledged by the State Department. Investigations of these crimes rarely occur, and those that do take place rarely go up the chain of command or lead to trials. TNI obstruction has caused many cases to stall for years.

September 2004 assassination of Munir, Indonesia’s foremost human rights defender: Munir’s murder through arsenic poisoning while on a flight to the Netherlands has had a chilling effect on the work of other rights defenders. Nearly a year later, progress in the investigation has been stymied by Indonesia’s state intelligence agency. President Yudhoyono has called resolution of Munir’s assassination a “test case for whether Indonesia has changed.” However, his own officials continue to block progress in solving the crime.

West Papua: Conditions in West Papua have drastically worsened under President Yudhoyono’s administration. Recent and ongoing military operations have reportedly led to extrajudicial executions, thousands of internally displaced persons, and obstruction of humanitarian assistance by the TNI, resulting in reports of scores dying from poor conditions, including starvation. Moves to further divide the province against the wishes of the people continue, and promises of “Special Autonomy” remain unrealized. As happened in East Timor, funds for development assistance have allegedly been diverted to finance military operations and create militia. Attempts at peaceful dialogue by West Papuan civil society, including a proposal to turn the province into a “Land of Peace,” remain unanswered by the central government.

Aceh: The catastrophic tsunami and earthquake that struck Aceh in December added tremendously to the suffering of a people already experiencing a severe human rights crisis largely caused by security forces and, to a much lesser extent, rebels. Indonesian security forces have refused to accept a ceasefire offered by the rebels and announced by the central government in the immediate aftermath of the natural disaster. Ongoing military actions undermine the task of reconstruction. Security forces have killed hundreds this year alone, most of them likely civilians; ongoing peace talks in Helsinki have not led to any human rights improvements on the ground. Between the declaration of martial law in Aceh in May 2003 and the time of the tsunami, some 2300 Acehnese had been killed; there were already 125,000-150,000 persons internally displaced by conflict when the natural disaster struck. While international access to tsunami-hit areas is relatively good, conflict areas - where serious rights violations are a daily occurrence – remain overwhelmingly off limits to the international community.

Terrorism: In contradiction to U.S. anti-terrorism policy, Indonesian security forces have assisted and cooperated with jihadist and other militia, including the Islamic Defenders Front in post-tsunami Aceh and Laskar Jihad. A 2002 study for the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School noted that the Indonesian army had become “a major facilitator of terrorism” due to “radical Muslim militias they had organized, trained, and financed” (Dr. Gaye Christoffersen, “Strategic Insight: The War on Terrorism in Southeast Asia,” March 2002). According to this study, “The army financed Laskar Jihad” with an estimated $9.3 million “embezzled from its defense budget.”

Ambush of Americans and Indonesians in Timika, West Papua: Criminal proceedings have yet to be held for the August 2002 ambush murder and serious wounding of Americans and Indonesians in the Freeport McMoRan mining operations area in Timika, West Papua. The State Department’s February certification of Indonesia’s cooperation with the FBI investigation of the attack was false and misleading; IMET funds should never have been released. Cooperation has been spotty at best. The sole suspect indicted so far by a U.S. grand jury remains at large in Indonesia. His military links, which appear to be extensive, seem to have hardly been examined, and the killings took place in an area under full TNI control. IMET reinstatement has far more to do with fulfilling the administration's long-term goal of re-engagement with the TNI than bringing to justice all those responsible for the ambush or encouraging democratic reforms.

Corruption: The TNI remains a massively corrupt institution. Less than a third of its budget is provided by Jakarta, with an approximated leakage of 60% of the online budget. Additional income comes from legal and illegal ventures, including extortion of U.S.-based corporations operating in Indonesia, illegal and environmentally devastating logging, drug trafficking, prostitution and human trafficking.

Failure of past training: Claims that IMET and other assistance for the Indonesian military encourage reform or better human rights performance ignore history. More than four decades of close contact with the U.S. military failed to improve the TNI’s dismal record. Indeed, some of the officers including several indicted in East Timor, with the broadest exposure to the U.S. and its military through training programs went on to carry out the most egregious of crimes. Former Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command Admiral Dennis Blair has said, "It is fairly rare that the personal relations made through an IMET course can come into play in resolving a future crisis" (Washington Post, September 30, 2000).

A plethora of security assistance is already available to Indonesia – Congress must not give away remaining leverage: As noted above, Indonesia is now eligible for foreign military sales and excess defense articles for non-lethal items and services, in addition to direct commercial sales. The TNI has been the world’s largest beneficiary of millions of dollars’ worth of unrestricted counter-terrorism training under the Pentagon’s Regional Defense Counterterrorism Fellowship Program. In 2004, Indonesia participated in Extended IMET programs worth $599,000. In 2005 alone, Indonesia is expected to participate in more than 132 events under the U.S. Pacific Command Theater Security Cooperation Program.

Indonesia’s defense minister told the New York Times in February that the military "retains the real levers of power" and "from the political point of view, the military remains the fulcrum of Indonesia." Last June, while serving as Jakarta's ambassador to London, he wrote, "Six years of civilian-based party politics has not resulted in any measurable degree of effective 'civilian supremacy', much less 'civilian control'." East Timorese and Indonesian NGOs have repeatedly called for restrictions on military engagement to be maintained.

U.S. military assistance for Indonesia, including full IMET, would undermine the belief by Indonesians and East Timorese that the U.S. government supports democracy, human rights, and respect for rule-of-law. Indonesian security forces would register the same message with disastrous results.

June 2005

East Timor and Indonesia Action Network;

For more information see

ETAN: Guide to U.S. Security Assistance to Indonesia and East Timor (November 2007)




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