Subject: 'Yudhoyono Faltering on Human Rights'

INDONESIA: 'Yudhoyono Faltering on Human Rights'
Fabio Scarpello

JAKARTA, Oct 20 (IPS) - After two years at the helm, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has drawn praise for ending the 30-year war in Aceh. Yet, human rights activists do not share the same enthusiasm when it comes to reforming the powerful military and solving human rights cases.

In an IPS interview, Agung Yudhawiranata, programme coordinator for the Human Rights Campaign at the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM), labelled the former army general's first two years in office a failure. "We can really say that in two years he has achieved next to nothing in the context of human rights," he said.

Yudhoyono was sworn into office on Oct. 20, 2004 after being elected by an overwhelming majority in Indonesia's first ever presidential election -- marking a major transition from the chaotic situation that followed the 1998 ouster of Suharto, a former army general whose 32 years in power were marked by both repression and high corruption.

Yudhoyono who, according to the latest poll by the Indonesian Survey Institute, is still supported by 67 percent of the population, was once dubbed "the thinking general" for his preference for studying rather than spending time in battlefields.

During his military career, he had several tours of duty in East Timor, and many educational spells in the United States, where he gained an MA in business management from Webster University in 1991. He retired from active service on Apr. 1, 2000 as a four star general.

His political career started when he was appointed mines and energy minister in the government of president Abdurrahman Wahid in 2000. He was soon promoted to the key position of minister for security and political affairs.

In 2001, when Megawati Sokarnoputri was elected president, Yudhoyono lost the election for vice-president, but was later appointed a minister. He resigned from Megawati's government in March 2004 and beat her a few months later in the presidential race, receiving 60.87 percent of the popular vote.

According to Yudhawiranata, Yudhoyono's military past could be a reason for the slow paced military reforms. "Under Yudhoyono, the reform of the TNI (Tentara Nasional Indonesia or armed forces) started well; then it slowed down, and now it is at a standstill," said the activist.

"Maybe he does not want to rock the boat, or maybe he thinks that certain problems may involve him as well, like the abuses in East Timor," he added.

The TNI, the country's most powerful institution, has been accused of gross human rights abuses. In the wake of the 'Reformasi' movement -- the student-led uprising that disposed of Suharto eight years ago -- the army was at the core of a reform programme.. The results are mixed.

In a recent report released by the Washington-based East-West Centre, titled 'The Politics of Military Reform in Post-Suharto Indonesia', author Marcus Mietzner, noted that "Indonesia has made remarkable progress in advancing first-generation military reforms, which include extensive changes to the country's institutional framework, judicial system, electoral mechanism, composition of representative bodes, and the responsibilities of security agencies."

However, he also noted that there is a lot left to do. "Most importantly, policymakers did not proceed with initiatives to reform the territorial command structure," Mietzner, a Jakarta-resident, said.

The territorial system, under which the TNI maintained units that ran parallel to the civil government structure, was the basis of the military's domination of Indonesian society and politics under the Suharto regime. The structure gave the TNI immense influence over local politics, and led to army personnel often acting above the law.

Yudhawiranata said that the TNI still thinks it is better than the rest. "It still considers itself the supreme body," he said, citing as example defence minister Juwono Sudarsono's recent refusal to have the military stand trial for misdemeanours in civilian court.

"Yet, they want to take part in the 2009 election. That is a contradiction, as the election is a civilian matter, and if they do not consider themselves civilian, then they should not take part," he continued.

The TNI has expressed interest in participating in Indonesia's next general election in three years' time.

Yudhawiranata also noted a distinct lack of progress in the handing over of the TNI's business empire to the government, as stated by a law approved in 2004, just before the election of Yudhoyono.

The law says that all military assets -- which are estimated to be worth up to 966.18 million US dollars, and which provide for about 70 percent of TNI's annual budget -- were to be handed over to the government within five years, Yudhwiranata said. ''This topic has all but been forgotten; nobody talks about it anymore.''

The reform of the military is not the only area where human rights activists are criticising Yudhoyono. Yudhawiranata also blamed the president for the way the government is acting in the country's hot spots, Central Sulawesi and Papua, and for the proposed State Intelligence Bill.

"The State Intelligence Bill is worrying. It wants to use the state bureaucracy to check on people and extend the reach of the intelligence to district level," he said. "What do they want to do, knock on every citizen's door?" he asked.

Central Sulawesi is an area of renewed religious tension. In Papua, where foreign journalists are not allowed, a strong civil society has never stopped campaigning for independence.

On the other hand, the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), condemned the government for being inconsistent in solving human rights cases, especially that of leading human rights activist Munir Said Thalib, popularly called Munir, who was poisoned on board a Garuda flight to Amsterdam in September 2004

"In the first year of his term, Yudhoyono said the Munir case was a test case to find out whether the nation had changed. But there were no concrete results. In the second year, he became more passive," Kontras operational director, Indria Fernida, said in a statement

The sole suspect in the case, Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto, was exonerated by the Supreme Court, with a two-to-one split verdict, on Oct. 3.

In Jakarta, many believe that members of the military, or the secret services, Badan Intelijen Negara (BIN), might have been involved in the death. Munir was renowned for exposing abuses committed by the security forces and was a vocal support of the TNI reform.

Last year, an appeals court acquitted 12 soldiers of involvement in the 1984 Tanjung Priok massacre of 33 civilians which meant that no one was convicted for the gruesome incident north of Jakarta, involving the security forces.

"These failures to deliver justice and combat impunity illustrate both a flawed system and a lack of political will, which sets an extremely worrying precedent for other cases of grave human rights violations currently under investigation," Natali Hill, a spokeswoman for the rights group Amnesty International then said. (END/2006)

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