Funding Indonesia's Abusive Military
Despite numerous human rights
abuses, the United States continues to pump money into the Indonesian
military under the guise of the war on terror
by Ben Terrall
September 26, 2007
Counterterrorism" has become Indonesia's
latest slogan for avoiding military reform while simultaneously
strengthening its apparatus of repression. In return for its loyalty
in the war on terror, the Bush administration has side-stepped
congressional concerns of military abuses in Indonesia.
Amnesty International observed in its
2007 country report: "The majority of human rights violations
by the security forces were not investigated, and impunity for
past violations persisted." These included two cases in which
the National Human Rights Commission submitted evidence in 2004
that security forces had committed crimes against humanity.
A May report from the Center for Public
Integrity's International Consortium of Investigative Journalists
(ICIJ) concluded that the Indonesia military (TNI) is one of the
largest recipients of post-9/11 military assistance. In fact,
from 2002 to 2005, Indonesia was the largest recipient of the
Pentagon's Regional Defense Counterterrorism Fellowship Program
(CTFP). The ICIJ also noted that under CTFP the TNI was receiving
tutelage on "Intelligence in Combating Terrorism" and
"Student Military Police Prep."
Ed McWilliams, political counselor at
the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta from 1996 to 1999, and now an independent
human rights advocate, says, "While TNI impunity for abuses
and corruption remain a problem throughout the archipelago, it
is particularly acute in West Papua. In a real sense, the post-Suharto
democratic transition never transpired in West Papua, where the
military and police continue to employ terror, torture and extrajudicial
killing to enforce Jakarta's rule."
In 1969, West Papua was incorporated into
Indonesia through the threat of force. Not much has changed. On
July 5, Human Rights Watch reported, "Both army troops and
police units continue to engage in indiscriminate village 'sweeping'
operations in pursuit of suspected militants, using excessive,
often brutal, and at times lethal force against civilians."
On August 16, the Indonesian paper Cenderawasih
Pos, reporting on anticipated demonstrations in West Papua calling
for self-determination, quoted Col. Burhanuddin Siagian as saying
that the TNI "will not hesitate to shoot on sight" pro-independence
activists. In 2003, the U.N.-backed Serious Crimes Unit in East
Timor issued two indictments which stated that Siagian made similar
speeches threatening to kill independence supporters and was responsible
for the deaths of seven Timorese men in April 1999. The group
Human Rights First noted that human rights activists from Papua
were threatened after meetings in early June with a visiting U.N.
human rights official.
"[T]he TNI in West Papua is fueling
sectarian strife by recruiting largely Muslim migrants to form
paramilitaries loyal to Jakarta's rule," says McWilliams.
"It is also creating Papuan militias along the lines of those
it created to devastating effect in East Timor. As in the past
throughout the archipelago, the TNI aims to generate communal
tensions in West Papua as a justification for maintaining its
presence and for continuing to exploit the region's vast natural
The East Timor and Indonesia Human Rights
Network (ETAN) and its allies in Congress, such as Rep. Nita Lowey
(D-N.Y.) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), have pushed several provisions
in the new Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill (H.R. 2764).
The measures require that the administration report that Indonesia
has made progress in human rights and military reform before $2
million in military assistance to Jakarta is released. Though
not as tough as legislation passed following a 1991 massacre in
East Timor, the new language puts on record a dissent from the
Bush administration's policy of blanket support for the TNI. Still,
McWilliams argues, more is needed.
"The fate of real military reform
and possibly the success of the democratic transition in Indonesia
depends very much on the U.S. Congress' willingness to insist
on real reform, especially to push for genuine civilian control
of the military and an end to TNI impunity," he says. "Democrats
must understand that an unreformed TNI, one that- supports and
has helped create fundamentalist Islamic militias inside Indonesia,
cannot be a credible partner in the so-called 'war on terror.'
The U.S. Congress should heed the voices of human rights defenders
in Indonesia and refuse to bankroll TNI criminality, abuses and