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Subject: TAPOL on eve of CGI: Reforming zeal, how real is it?
Date: Tue, 28 Jul 1998 16:52:51 +0100 (BST)

London 28 July 1998

TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign, has issued the following statement on the occasion of the CGI Meeting in Paris on 29-30 July, 1998:

Jakarta's Reforming Zeal on the Eve of the CGI Meeting How real is it?

During the past week, the Habibie regime has announced two measures which it hopes will persuade the international community that it is dedicated to upholding human rights and to a switch in policy towards East Timor. On Friday 24 July, the Justice Minister Muladi announced the release of fifty political prisoners. On the same day it was announced that one thousand Indonesian troops would be withdrawn from the occupied territory of East Timor on Tuesday, 28 July.

It is no coincidence that these announcements came just days before the international aid consortium for Indonesia is to hold its annual meeting. Habibie’s moves have already succeeded in bringing the Dutch back on board. In 1992, Suharto declared that he wanted no more aid from the Dutch because of their criticism on Indonesia’s human rights record. Now the Dutch are satisfied that Indonesia is changing direction and moving towards democratisation and better human rights.

However, as we will show below, Habibie’s measures are not quite what they seem and are more than likely to be part of a diplomatic offensive to persuade the country's ever-faithful multilateral and bilateral donors to support Indonesia's gravely battered economy.

1. The CGI's 1998 Meeting The major Western backers of Indonesia will meet in very different circumstances this year when the Consultative Group on Indonesia (CGI) convenes in Paris on Wednesday and Thursday, 29 and 30 July, to determine aid commitments for the forthcoming year. This meeting of Indonesia’s multilateral and bilateral aid donors will be dominated by the economic crisis and its social effects, but this year it cannot again avoid the fundamental issue of political reform.

Since the beginning of the 1990s, the CGI, chaired by the World Bank, has bankrolled the Suharto regime to the tune of more than $5 billion in financial assistance each year. Massive loans were granted with total disregard for the regime’s contempt for democracy and human rights and its lack of transparency and accountability. Yet no remorse has been shown by the donors for helping to keep Suharto in power for so long and for ignoring the corrupt foundations on which economic growth was built.

Even now the World Bank’s Country Brief on Indonesia, updated in June 1998, stubbornly proclaims Indonesia’s ‘remarkable economic development success over the past decade’ and repeats the controversial mantra about a decline in poverty from 60 per cent. to 11 per cent. of the population - about 28 million people - between 1970 and 1996.

Although the Bank acknowledges that poverty may now double to affect around 50 million people, Indonesia’s Central Bureau of Statistics estimates that 95.8 million people, about 48 per cent. of the population, will be living below the poverty line by the end of the year. This represents a regression to the poverty levels of 1976.

The right of the World Bank to retain the chair of the CGI is questionable. For some time, analysts have criticised the Bank’s poverty figures and its tolerance of corruption in its own projects, but a devastating critique of World Bank policies in the Wall Street Journal on 14 July suggested that the Bank is also partly to blame for the disastrous economic crisis. Critics argued that as well as lending money and credibility to the Suharto regime, the Bank may have stoked corruption by covering up the problems of nepotism and collusion in its annual country reports produced for the CGI.

In the past, aid commitments at the CGI were largely concerned with project aid, but this year a much larger proportion will take the form of programme aid to help balance the state budget. Some of the additional $4 to $6 billion which the IMF says will be needed to top up its $43 billion bail out may be provided by the CGI’s multilateral donors, such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

Donors must now recognise the need for aid to be conditional on political as well as economic reforms. Without substantive reforms by the Habibie government there will be no end to the crisis. There is already conflicting evidence as to whether Habibie is really committed to reform…

2. The latest batch of releases The releases announced on 24 July included fifty names, making this the largest wave of releases since Suharto's fall from power on 21 May. Excluded from the release programme are those held for alleged involvement in the events of October 1965 and the Indonesian Communist Party, those seeking to undermine the ideological basis of the Indonesian state and those allegedly involved in criminal activities.

The sixteen political prisoners in Cipinang Prison have strongly criticised the release programme for being avowedly discriminatory. It will exclude thirteen men who have been in prison for more than thirty years, all of whom are elderly and most of whom are suffering from chronic ailments. On humanitarian grounds alone, the release of these men should be given top priority.

More than thirty of those released on 24 July were convicted in connection with a messianic movement in East Java centred around the figure of the late President Sukarno. In addition, five officers charged with desertion, apparently supporters of the same movement, have also been released.

The remainder include four members of the radical political party, the PRD, leaving the other eight PRD prisoners behind bars. Two journalists included among the 50 were in fact released in July 1997. Two others, a former MP and a publicist, were not in detention at all; the charges against them were lifted.

More than two hundred political prisoners still remain in Indonesian gaols. The largest groups by far are the East Timorese (well over 120), West Papuans (at least two dozen), Acehnese (at least 55) and Islamic prisoners (at least 30). So far 15 East Timorese have been released, most of whom had already served their sentences anyway.

The Habibie government still has a long way to go before releasing even one half of the political prisoners it inherited from the Suharto regime. As the 16 prisoners in Cipinang Prison stressed, the post-Suharto government can only be true to its reform-minded claims if it releases every single one of those victimised by Suharto.

3. Will the number of troops in East Timor really be reduced? Few people in East Timor give credence to the announced reduction in the number of Indonesian troops in East Timor scheduled for 28 July. There will even be a ceremony to mark the occasion to which foreign journalists have been invited. Two weeks ago reinforcements were brought in to the territory in advance of the anniversary of so-called 'integration day' on 17 July. Could it be that those departing on 28 July will be none other than the troops which arrived there two weeks ago? In any case, troops in East Timor are rotated every six months.

Since Suharto fell, the pressure on Indonesia for a substantial reduction in the number of troops in East Timor has mounted. The European Union Trioka mission stressed this in its recommendations following its visit in late June and Bishop Belo is insistent on the need for a reduction, proposing that UN troops be brought in to replace the Indonesian troops.

A reduction in the size of the forces of occupation cannot be left to Indonesia, nor can the ceremonial departure of troops be accepted as a real change in troop deployment. There must be independent monitoring of the reduction, a task which only the UN can handle.

A properly-supervised withdrawal of Indonesian troops from Indonesia must be part of the preparation for a referendum in East Timor, giving the long-suffering people of that country the right to determine its future status.

4. How reform-minded is the Habibie government? In the past few weeks, governmental decrees have introduced serious restrictions on democratic freedoms in Indonesia. The Information Ministry will now require all journalists to be registered members of a professional association. The Interior Ministry will require new political parties to comply with certain conditions. Thus for example, parties will not be allowed to be gender-exclusive or open only to certain ethnic groups, such as the persecuted Chinese minority.

Last week, President Habibie enacted a Presidential Decree seriously restricting the right of people to demonstrate. Advanced notice will have to be given to the police and rallies will not be allowed in the vicinity of the presidential palace, military installations, airports, train stations and other 'vital objects'. Anyone planning to hold demonstrations will need to state in advance the number of people involved, the route and the length of time. Human rights groups, lawyers and NGOs have condemned the decree as an insult to the reforming demands of the pro-democracy movement that forced the dictator Suharto from power, and are calling for its repeal.

Bilateral and multilateral donors meeting in Paris this week should be warned that supporting the Habibie Government means supporting a government that is betraying the demand for political change. By closing their eyes to these danger signals, the CGI member states and institutions will be condoning a government that is slipping ever more rapidly into the authoritarianism which distinguished the previous regime, giving little hope for a solution to the economic woes now bedevilling Indonesia.

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