Indonesian Military’s Threat to Human Rights and Democracy
Testimony for Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific Hearing:
Implications of Recent Indonesia Reform
March 10th 2005
By: Edmund McWilliams,
Senior Foreign Service Officer (Ret.); Board of Directors, Indonesia
Human Rights Network; United States-East Timor Society, Inc.; Robert
F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights West Papua Advocacy
Team; Papua Resource Center
The Annual Human
Rights Report regarding Indonesia, recently released by the State
Department, accurately portrays Indonesia as a fragile, fledgling
democracy whose government is not yet capable of protecting the
fundamental human rights of its people. As documented clearly in
the State Department’s report, the principal menace to those
rights and to that fledgling democratic government itself is a rogue
institution with vast wealth and power that has committed crimes
against humanity and perhaps genocide and which remains unaccountable.
the Indonesian military, recently saw its stature dangerously enhanced
by a decision of the U.S. Administration to end a bipartisan Congressionally
imposed sanction against the military, imposed over a decade ago.
announced by Secretary of State Rice, restored International Military
Education and Training (IMET) assistance to the Indonesian military.
The Congress banned that assistance in 1992 in response to the military’s
murder of 276 peaceful demonstrators in East Timor. The Congress
reinforced the ban in 1999 in response to the military’s ravaging
of East Timor following the Timorese people’s courageous vote
for freedom. In 2004, the Congress narrowed the ban to a single
condition. It required that the State Department certify that the
Indonesian government and military were cooperating in an FBI investigation
of the August 31, 2002 assault on a group of U.S. citizens at the
Freeport copper and gold mine in West Papua that saw two U.S. citizens
killed and eight wounded.
February 26 certification that the Indonesians were cooperating
manifestly misrepresents the obstructions and malign inaction of
the Indonesian side with regards to that investigation. Contrary
to the State
Department’s contention that the Indonesian side is “cooperating,”
the Indonesians have failed to bring charges against or even detain
the one individual indicted by a U.S. grand jury in the attack.
Moreover, for over eight months it has stalled a return of the FBI
team to Indonesia to continue its investigation.
obstruction of the FBI investigation is possibly explained by indications
that the Indonesian military itself was involved in the attack.
The initial Indonesian police report, as well as reports by independent
researchers, journalists and others, all point to military involvement.
Recently, evidence of ties between the one indicted individual and
the military was provided to the FBI and the State Department. Moreover,
the military’s presentation of false evidence and subsequent
military threats and intimidation targeting those Indonesian human
rights advocates who had assisted the FBI also suggest the military’s
Ms. Patsy Spier,
who was wounded and widowed in the attack, has asked me to share
with you her concern about the importance of genuine Indonesian
cooperation in the investigation:
into the Timika Ambush, a terror attack, is completely in Americans’
interest. Two American citizens who were working in Indonesia for
an American company were murdered on a secure road. The ambush lasted
from 35 to 45 minutes before help came. The eight Americans wounded
were American citizens working in Indonesia (the eighth American
being a 6-year-old girl). The investigation, and cooperation needed,
is in Americans’ interest to assure the safety of the other
thousands of Americans working and living in Indonesia. The Indonesian
authorities must cooperate fully with our US investigators. American
companies working, and thinking of working, in Indonesia must be
assured that the murder of Americans is taken seriously by the Indonesian
government . . . and cooperating with our investigators would show
to being indefensible on the basis of the “cooperation”
criterion established by Congress, the decision was also a practical
blunder. Restoration of IMET assistance removes the only leverage
available to the U.S. to press for the genuine Indonesian cooperation
essential to a successful completion of the FBI’s investigation.
On the basis
of this erroneous certification alone, Congress should restore the
ban on IMET in FY2006. It is also imperative that the Congress maintain
the ban on FMF for the Indonesian military which remains in place
despite the restoration of IMET.
But there are
broader issues in play than even the critical matter of ensuring
justice in this case of murdered and wounded U.S. citizens.
of IMET dangerously conveys to the Indonesian military that long-standing
U.S. concerns about its notorious and continuing human rights abuses,
its threats to its neighbors, illegal business empire, and its impunity
in committing these acts is no longer on the U.S. agenda. Such a
U.S. exoneration of the Indonesian military removes a well-founded
international censure that has given Indonesian government and civil
society members the political space to press for reform of that
notorious institution. It is not surprising that leading Indonesian
human rights activists reacted with dismay to the U.S. action.
record of the Indonesian military is well documented by reliable
reporting of well-respected human rights organizations such as Amnesty
International, Human Rights Watch, and Tapol, as well as in the
Department’s Annual Human Rights Reports. Therefore, I will
only summarize that record here and then focus the rest of my remarks
on the current activity of the Indonesian military, specifically
its ongoing abuse of human rights, its involvement in a broad range
of criminal enterprises, its contempt for and threat to democratic
institutions, and its unaccountability.
In 1965-68 the
Indonesian military engineered the slaughter of more than a half
million Indonesians whom it alleged had been involved in a "coup"
against the sitting President Soekarno. Employing a tactic it would
resort to again in the current period, the Indonesian military allied
itself with Islamic forces that did much of the actual killing.
The Soeharto regime which rose to power as a consequence of the
coup and which directed the massive killings sought to justify them
in U.S. and western eyes by labeling the victims as “communists.”
Indonesian military's invasion of East Timor in 1975, an estimated
200,000 East Timorese, one quarter of the population, died as a
consequence of living conditions in TNI-organized relocation camps
or as direct victims of Indonesian security force violence.
In West Papua,
it is estimated that over 100,000 Papuans died in the years following
the forced annexation of West Papua under a fraudulent "Act
of Free Choice," perpetrated by the Soeharto regime in 1969.
An April 2004 study by the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human
Rights Clinic at Yale Law School concluded that the atrocities in
West Papua are "crimes against humanity" and may constitute
In Aceh, over
12,000 civilians have fallen victim to military operations that
have included mass sweeps and forced relocations. These operations,
almost constantly since the late 1970’s, have entailed brutal
treatment of civilians including extra judicial killings, rape,
torture, and beatings.
While the military’s
quarry in these attacks, the pro-independence Gerakan Aceh Merdeka
(GAM), has also been responsible for human rights abuses, the State
Department's Annual Human Rights reports have consistently reported
that most of those civilians died at the hands of the military.
period, extending from 1965 to the early 1990's, the U.S. military
maintained a close relationship with the Indonesian military, providing
training for thousands of officers as well as arms. From the late
1970’s to 1992, that training included grant assistance under
IMET. The arms provided by the U.S. were employed by the Indonesian
military, not against foreign foes (the Indonesian military has
never confronted a foreign foe except for brief clashes with the
Dutch in West Papua), but rather against their own people. In the
‘70s and ‘80s, U.S-provided OV-10 Broncos bombed villages
in East Timor and in West Papua. Military offensives conceived and
directed by IMET-trained officers against usually miniscule resistance
caused thousands of civilian deaths.
Even with the
end of the cold war, the U.S. embrace of the dictator Soeharto and
his military continued as if U.S. policy were on auto pilot. That
relationship endured largely unquestioned until 1991 when the Indonesian
military was caught on film by U.S. journalists slaughtering peaceful
East Timorese demonstrators. The murder of over 270 East Timorese
youth by Indonesian soldiers bearing U.S.-provided M-16s so shocked
the U.S. Congress that in 1992 it imposed tight restrictions on
further U.S. military-to-military aid, including training for the
Since the imposition
of those restrictions, various U.S. Administrations, with the support
of non-governmental organizations bankrolled by U.S. corporations
with major interests in Indonesia, have sought to expand military-to-military
ties. Those efforts were accompanied by claims that the Indonesian
military had reformed or was on a reform course.
Claims of Indonesian
military reform were confounded in 1999, when, following an overwhelming
vote by East Timorese for independence from Indonesia, the Indonesian
military and its militia proxies devastated the tiny half-island.
U.N. and other international observers were unable to prevent the
killing of over 1,500 East Timorese, the forced relocation of over
250,000, and the destruction of over 70 percent of East Timor's
infrastructure. The Indonesian justice system has failed to hold
a single military, police, or civil official responsible for the
mayhem. That failure to render justice demonstrated that even when
confronted by unanimous international condemnation, the Indonesian
military remained unaccountable.
abuse of human rights is not a matter only of history. Indonesian
military operations that began in mid-2004 in West Papua continue.
Burning villages and destroying food sources, the Indonesian military
has forced thousands of villagers into the forests where many are
dying for lack of food and medicine. A government ban on travel
to the region by journalists and even West Papuan senior church
leaders has limited international awareness of this tragedy. More
critically, the ban has prevented Papuan church leaders and others
from distributing humanitarian relief to the thousands forced into
the forests. A similar campaign in West Papua in the late 1990s
led to the death of hundreds of civilians who did not survive their
forced sojourn in the deep jungles of West Papua.
The recent devastating
Indian Ocean tsunami turned international attention to Aceh, another
primary arena in which the Indonesian military continues a brutal
military campaign. Notwithstanding calls by President Yudhoyono
for a ceasefire and declaration by GAM of a unilateral ceasefire,
the Indonesian military has continued to conduct operations. These
operations jeopardize relief operations and will likely stall rehabilitation
Both GAM and the government appear to be genuinely pursuing a settlement
through talks organized by former Finnish President Martti Atahisaari.
But as the former Finnish President has emphasized, to be successful,
both sides must act with restraint in the field. With boasts that
it has killed over 230 GAM members since the tsunami struck, the
TNI clearly is not acting with restraint.
Soeharto period (1965-1998) critics and dissenters generally were
not tolerated. Despite the genuine democratic progress made since
the fall of the Soeharto dictatorships, critics of the military
and those whom the Indonesian military regard as enemies are in
grave jeopardy. Reflecting the Indonesian military’s power
in "democratic" Indonesia, those critics who meet untimely
ends are often the most prominent. Indonesia’s leading human
rights advocate, Munir, a prominent critic of the Indonesian military,
died of arsenic poisoning in 2004. An independent investigation
authorized by the Indonesian President has uncovered evidence of
government involvement in this murder. In recent years Jafar Siddiq,
a U.S. green card holder who was in Aceh demanding justice for Achenese
suffering military abuse, was himself tortured and murdered. Theys
Eluay, the leading nonviolent Papuan proponent of Papuan self-determination
was abducted and strangled to death. In a rare trial of military
officials, his Indonesian Special Forces (Kopassus) killers received
sentences ranging up to three-and-one-half years. Yet Army Chief
of Staff Ryamazad Ryacudu publicly described the murderers as “heroes.”
Farid Faquih, a leading anti-corruption campaigner who has targeted
military and other government malfeasance recently was badly beaten
in Aceh by military officers as he sought to monitor tsunami aid
distribution. He was arrested and is now facing charges of theft
of the assistance he was monitoring. Papuan human rights advocates
who supported FBI investigations of the U.S. citizens murdered in
2002 in West Papua are under continuing intimidation by the military
and were sued by the regional military commander.
the Indonesian military poses a threat to the fledgling democratic
experiment in Indonesia. It receives over 70 percent of its budget
from legal and illegal businesses and as a result is not under direct
budgetary control by the civilian president or the parliament. Its
vast wealth derives from numerous activities, including many illegal
ones that include extortion, prostitution rings, drug running, illegal
logging, and other exploitation of Indonesia’s great natural
resources, and as charged in a recent Voice of Australia broadcast
(August 2, 2004), human trafficking. With its great institutional
wealth it maintains a bureaucratic structure that functions as a
shadow government paralleling the civil administration structure
from the central level down to sub-district and even village level.
There are also
reasons why many of us should be directly concerned about the TNI’s
lawlessness. As investors – through our pension and mutual
funds – our hard-earned wealth is invested with U.S.-based
corporations: ExxonMobil and Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold,
Inc., among others – that are subject to extortion of “protection
money” from the TNI for their Indonesian operations. Recognizing
the reputational risks and potential and actual shareholder liabilities
resulting from these financial relationships between U.S. companies
and the TNI, institutional investors including all of New York City’s
employee pension funds have brought shareholder resolutions this
year calling on Freeport and ExxonMobil management to review and
report to shareholders about the risks associated with corporate
ties to the TNI. In short, investors should be concerned, too, about
the TNI’s human rights record and the implications for the
For much of
the last decade, advocates of closer ties between the Indonesian
military and the U.S. military have contended that a warmer U.S.
embrace entailing training programs and education courses for TNI
officers could expose them to democratic ideals and afford a professional
military perspective. This argument ignores the decades of close
U.S.-Indonesian military ties extending from the 1960s to the early
1990s when U.S. training was provided to over 8,000 Indonesian military
officers. This 30-year period also encompasses the period when the
Indonesian military committed some of its gravest atrocities and
when a culture of impunity became ingrained.
for reform through engagement also ignores the fact that the U.S.
Defense Department already maintains extensive ties and channels
for assistance under the guise of "conferences" and joint
operations billed as humanitarian or security-related.
In the wake
of 9/11, proponents of restored U.S.-Indonesian military ties have
also argued that the U.S. needs the Indonesian military as a partner
in the war on terrorism. This argument overlooks the Indonesian
military’s close ties to and support for domestic fundamentalist
Islamic terror groups, including the Laskar Mujahidin and Front
for the Defense of Islam. The Laskar Jihad militia, which the Indonesian
military helped form and train, engaged in a savage communal war
in the Maluku Islands in the years 2000 to 2002 that left thousands
dead. Many thousands more died in Central Sulawesi in the same period,
in fighting that involved militias with security force ties.
evidence of Indonesian military action to curb abuses, to allow
itself to be held accountable, to end corruption, to submit itself
to civilian rule, and to end its sponsorship of terrorist militias,
the Indonesian military should be seen for what it is: a rogue institution
that directly threatens democracy in Indonesia. Existing restrictions
on military-to-military ties between the United States and Indonesia
must remain in place, conditionality should be strengthened, and
the IMET ban reinstated in FY 2006.
Finally, a word
about the future. The Indonesian people, Indonesian non-governmental
organizations, the Indonesian media, and individual Indonesians
have demonstrated great courage in standing up to the intimidation
of entrenched corrupt interests in their society and most especially
its security forces to demand their right to live in a democratic
society. The brave students who rallied in the streets in 1998 wrought
a revolution, though since that historic victory, entrenched undemocratic
elements have sought to undo reforms. Sadly, in some parts of Indonesia
the 1998 reforms have had little meaning. The military, often employing
terrorist militias, have most brutally repressed the popular struggle
for reform in Aceh, West Papua, and the Maluku Islands. It is vital
that the central government engage civil society in these areas
in peaceful dialogue and, in order to make such a dialogue viable,
demilitarize those areas.
The U.S. should
encourage reform and peaceful dialogue where it can. It should encourage
the government to enforce worker rights, to make far more serious
efforts and to end injurious exploitation of child labor and human
trafficking. The U.S. should encourage the Indonesian government
to pass legislation implementing the U.N. Convention on the Elimination
of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. The U.S. should also
urge an end to intimidation of journalists through physical threat
and intimidation through misuse of the courts. Moreover, the U.S.
government should itself recognize the importance of social, economic,
and cultural rights and encourage the
government of Indonesia to pursue development strategies that address
the urgent health, education, and shelter needs of the poor.
But direct U.S.
involvement in Indonesian affairs would be unwelcome and most likely
ineffective. Critical questions such as the role of Islam in modern
Indonesia and the shape and character of its economy are for Indonesians
to decide. The most proactive course for the U.S. at this time is
to step back from its growing embrace of the Indonesian military
that remains the gravest threat to democracy and human rights throughout
Congressional testimony by Edmund McWilliams (March ’05)