U.S. Training of Kopassus: A Bad Idea Whose
Time Has Not Come
Contact: John M. Miller, East Timor and Indonesia Action Network
+1-718-596-7668; 917-690-4391, firstname.lastname@example.org
March 4, 2010 -
The East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) warned President
Barack Obama against renewing any U.S. training for Indonesia's notorious
"Training Kopassus will set back efforts to achieve accountability for past
and recent human rights violations and will do little or nothing to
discourage future crimes," said John M. Miller, National Coordinator of
ETAN. "This is a bad idea whose time has not come."
The Obama administration is considering resuming training of Kopassus
and may announce a change in policy when President Obama visits Indonesia
later this month.
It's impossible to credit Kopassus with human rights
reform when it retains active duty soldiers convicted of human rights
violations. These include soldiers convicted of killing West Papuan leader Theys Eluay and
the kidnapping and disappearances of Indonesian activists in 1997 and 1998.
"It's impossible to credit Kopassus with human rights reform when it retains
active duty soldiers convicted of human rights violations," said Miller.
These include soldiers convicted of killing West Papuan leader Theys Eluay
and the kidnapping and disappearances of Indonesian activists in 1997 and
"For decades, the U.S. military provided training and other assistance to
Kopassus, despite the demonstrated failure of international assistance to
improve its behavior. Its widely acknowledged abuses and criminal activity
simply continued," he said.
"Restrictions on U.S. military assistance to Indonesia provide leverage to
support democracy and human rights in Indonesia. Working with Kopassus,
a long history of terrorizing civilians, will undermine those fighting
for justice and accountability in Indonesia and East Timor," said Miller.
The initial offer of training is likely to involve Kopassus Unit 81, which
focuses on counter-terrorism. Unit 81 was co-founded as Kopassus Group 5 by
then-captain Prabowo Subianto, who later admitted his involvement in
the kidnapping of student activists in the late 1990s. He recently ran for
Vice President of Indonesia.
The U.S. has praised Indonesia's successes in fighting terrorism, but it is
the police – not the military - who have the major role.
"Greater Kopassus involvement in counter-terrorism will undercut police and
civilian primacy in this effort, while strengthening the military's
controversial internal territorial role. This will only undermine the
reforms that the U.S. claims to support," he said.
The history of Kopassus human rights violations, its criminality and its
unaccountability before Indonesian courts extends back decades and includes
human rights and other crimes in Aceh, West Papua, Jakarta, and elsewhere.
Kopassus was involved in East Timor from
the killings of five Australian-based journalists at Balibo in
1975 prior to Indonesia's full scale invasion until its destructive
withdrawal in 1999. Kopassus soldiers are alleged to have been involved in
the 2002 ambush murder
of three teachers (including two from the U.S.) near the Freeport mine
in West Papua. The crimes of Kopassus are not only in the past. A
Human Rights Watch report published last year documents how Kopassus
soldiers "arrest Papuans without legal authority, and beat and mistreat
those they take back to their barracks."
Those who favor engagement argue that U.S. training
could lead to reform of Kopassus. This argument is clearly refuted by
history. For decades, the U.S. trained and gave other assistance to Kopassus
personnel. This relationship had no ameliorative effect; rather, it provided
the equipment and skills used for repression.
Also according to
Human Rights Watch, "The few soldiers who have been convicted by
military tribunals for abuses have largely been reinstated into the ranks
and promoted, including seven of 11 military personnel convicted of
kidnapping student activists in 1997 and 1998. Col. Tri Hartomo, who was
supposedly discharged from the military following his conviction in
connection with the death of Papuan activist Theys Eluay in 2001, currently
holds a senior position in Kopassus."
In 2005, the Bush administration exercised
a national security waiver that allowed for full engagement with the
Indonesian military for the first time since the early 1990s. The conditions
for U.S. military engagement, which the Bush administration abandoned,
included prosecution of those responsible for human rights violations in
East Timor and elsewhere and implementation of reforms to enhance civilian
control of the Indonesian military. The Bush administration waited until
2008 to propose restarting U.S. training of Kopassus. The State Department’s
legal counsel reportedly ruled that the 1997 ban on training of military
units with a history of involvement in human rights violations, known as the
'Leahy law,' applied to
Kopassus as a whole and the training did not go forward.
Additional background on Kopassus can be found here:
- More than 50 U.S. organizations signed a
letter, urging the U.S. government to oppose "any U.S. cooperation with
or assistance to the Indonesian Special Forces (Kopassus)." They wrote,
"Those who favor engagement argue that U.S. training could lead to reform of
Kopassus. This argument is clearly refuted by history. For decades, the U.S.
trained and gave other assistance to Kopassus personnel, including General
Prabowo and other leading officers. This relationship had no ameliorative
effect; rather, it provided the equipment and skills used for repression."
ETAN was founded in 1991 to advocate for
self-determination for Indonesian-occupied East Timor [Timor-Leste]. Since
the beginning, ETAN has worked to condition U.S. military assistance to
Indonesia on respect for human rights and genuine reform. The U.S.-based
organization continues to advocate for democracy, justice and human rights
for Timor-Leste and Indonesia. For more information, see ETAN's web site: