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U.S. Sells Attack Helicopters to Indonesia amid Rights Concerns
WASHINGTON, Aug 26 2013 (IPS) - U.S. Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel announced
Monday that Washington is going forward with a controversial sale of eight
attack helicopters to the Indonesian government, despite concerns that the
gunships will be used for internal repression.
"Given the history of the Indonesian military [the Apaches] are more likely
to be used for internal repression than for external defence." -- John M.
The deal, worth some 500 million dollars, would be the
largest-ever military sale between the two countries. In addition to the eight
Apache AH-64E helicopters -- the latest of this type of aircraft, built by
U.S.-based Boeing -- the agreement would include pilot training and radar
"Providing Indonesia these world-class helicopters is an example of our
commitment to help build Indonesia's military capability," Hagel said in
Jakarta, where he is on an eight-day trip to Southeast Asia.
"Helping ensure the region's security and prosperity is a goal the United States
strongly shares. The strong and enduring security partnership that has been
built between the United States and Indonesia is a relationship the United
States greatly values."
A U.S. defence official, speaking anonymously, told reporters separately that
the Apache gunships would strengthen the Indonesian government's anti-piracy
operations and broader "maritime awareness".
Yet rights groups say it will be largely impossible for the United States to
dictate the Indonesian military's use of the new hardware once the sale has gone
"The problem is that these are offensive-only weapons, and given the history of
the Indonesian military they're more likely to be used for internal repression
than for external defence," John Miller, U.S. national coordinator for the East
Timor & Indonesia Action Network (ETAN), an advocacy group, told IPS.
"The military will use these helicopters as they want. These are weapons of war,
weapons of counter-insurgency, so it would be foolish to expect that the
Indonesians wouldn't use them that way."
Early last year, when the Apache sale was first publicly discussed, ETAN and
about 90 other civil society organisations wrote an open letter to the U.S.
Congress, warning, "These aircraft will substantially augment the [Indonesian
military's] capacity to prosecute its 'sweep operations' in West Papua
[province], and thereby almost certainly lead to increased suffering among the
civilian populations long victimised by such operations."
While Congress must be formally notified of any major military sales to foreign
governments (that notification took place in September), Miller says lawmakers
raised little objection over the issue.
"There is really only rhetorical help coming from Washington, if that," he says.
"History has shown that military leverage was used quite successfully in the
case of East Timor, when these types of sales were specifically withheld or
conditioned on easily demonstrated reforms. But today's members of Congress
either don't know their history or they've forgotten this lesson."
More than a dozen countries urged Jakarta to take steps to resolve ongoing
problems in [West Papua], including impunity for military abuses. Yet the
Indonesian government rebuffed each of these recommendations.
Both Hagel's trip and the gunships sale are being seen in the context of the
United States' broader attempt to give new priority to Washington's bilateral
relationships with countries throughout Asia. Indonesia could be central to this
strategy -- Obama is slated to make a trip there in October -- and U.S.
officials are keen to nurture an ongoing, though contested, reforms process.
Yet in recent years, national and international rights groups have warned that
these reforms are not progressing at the rate Jakarta officials or some Western
governments have suggested. Meanwhile, a military that for years stood accused
of heinous rights violations today remains involved in battles against several
West Papua, for instance, is a resource-rich province that became part of
Indonesia under highly contentious circumstances in the 1960s. Armed separatist
groups subsequently began fighting the state, resulting in up to 100,000 deaths
by the following decade alone.
That violence continues to this day, with the province one of the world's most
Last year, during Indonesia's Universal Periodic Review -- the United Nations'
regular look at countries' human rights records -- more than a dozen countries
urged Jakarta to take steps to resolve ongoing problems in the region, including
impunity for military abuses. Yet the Indonesian government rebuffed each of
Last year also saw a "marked upsurge in violence as Indonesian security forces
apparently sought to crack down on Papuan activists," Human Rights Watch stated
in its most recent reporting on the region.
It listed impunity for security forces as "a serious concern". It also noted,
"Much of U.S. policy towards Indonesia has focused on cementing military ties,
including with Indonesian special forces, which have long been implicated in
Unrepentant and unreformed
For decades the United States was barred by law from selling military
hardware to Indonesia specifically because of the military's rights record. But
following the 1998 downfall of Indonesian autocrat Suharto after more than three
decades in power, President George W. Bush began to roll back these
Claiming further progress on pro-democracy reforms and strengthened oversight
within the Indonesian government and military, President Barack Obama
essentially dismantled the remaining legal restrictions in 2010.
At the time, some U.S. lawmakers warned that such a step was premature.
Indonesian special forces have "a long history of abuses and remains
unrepentant, essentially unreformed and unaccountable," Senator Patrick Leahy
stated in Jul. 2010.
"I deeply regret that before starting down the road of reengagement, our country
did not obtain and [the special forces] did not accept the necessary reforms we
have long sought," he said. "It is notable that this is a small step and
[then-Secretary of Defence Robert Gates] made clear that future cooperation, to
be consistent with U.S. law, hinges on future reforms."
While important reforms have indeed gone forward since Suharto's fall in 1998,
ETAN's Miller warns that many of these processes have now stalled.
"Issues like fully removing the Indonesian military from its internal role,
holding the military accountable for past and ongoing human rights violations --
at best, that's happening only in fits and starts," he says.
"Yet the perception in Washington is that Indonesia is now needed as a central
ally in the 'war against terrorism' and as a bulwark against China, and that the
country has undergone a complete democratic transformation, with the military
now fully under democratic control."
"That's just not true," he concludes. "There's no reason to sacrifice the people
of West Papua and other parts of the country for this belief."
The Obama administration has agreed sell a new fleet of Apache
attack helicopters to
The Indonesian military will receive eight helicopters in a deal valued as much
as $500 million. In a joint statement, the East Timor and Indonesia Action
Network and the West
Papua Advocacy Team criticized the White House, saying the helicopters will
augment the Indonesian military's capacity to attack Papuan civilians. The
groups said: "The sale demonstrates that U.S. concern for greater respect for
human rights and justice in Indonesia are nothing more than hollow rhetoric."
AUGUST 27, 2013
Rights Groups Decry Sale of U.S. Attack Helicopters to Indonesia
United States to sell attack helicopters to Indonesia
U.S. Department of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced
that the United States would sell eight Apache attack helicopters to the
Indonesian army, a $500 million deal that could strengthen U.S.-Indonesian
military relations. Human rights activists, however, vehemently oppose the deal.
Edmund McWilliams, a retired U.S. Senior Foreign Service Officer, joins us to
discuss the implications of this deal for military relations and human rights.