Subject: Farsetta: U.S. must own up to its past in Indonesia

Wisconsin State Journal

SAT., FEB 23, 2008 - 11:53 AM

Farsetta: U.S. must own up to its past in Indonesia

By Diane Farsetta

In May 1998, when General Suharto was forced to step down as president of Indonesia, the members of the Madison chapter of the East Timor Action Network (ETAN) decided to have a little fun.

To mark the end of Suharto 's 32-year-long dictatorship and the rise of the vibrant Indonesian "reformasi " movement, made up of student, labor and human rights activists, we created a giant farewell card.

We brought it to the Dane County Farmer 's Market and the WORT block party, educating people about the situation in Indonesia and then-Indonesian-occupied East Timor, and inviting them to add their own message to Suharto. A fellow ETAN member, John Roosa -- now a history professor and the author of a book chronicling the massacres that accompanied Suharto 's rise to power -- wrote my favorite comment. The gist of it was: "Suharto, you 've worked long and hard to repress your country 's people and steal your country 's wealth. Take a nice, long vacation. And then get ready to defend yourself in court. "

Unfortunately, Suharto died on Jan. 27, without facing a single trial. There has been no justice for the 500,000 to 1 million Indonesians killed in the aftermath of Suharto 's 1965 seizure of power, including intellectuals and leftists targeted with the help of U.S. intelligence agencies.

There has been no justice for the 100,000 to 200,000 East Timorese killed during Indonesia 's illegal, quarter-century-long occupation.

There has been no justice for the 100,000 people in West Papua, or the tens of thousands in Aceh and elsewhere across the archipelago. There has been no justice for Suharto 's stealing an estimated $15 billion to 35 billion from Indonesia 's coffers to enrich his family and friends.

The U.S. State Department professes to care about world public opinion -- especially in counties like Indonesia, which houses the world 's largest Muslim population.

But the statement released by U.S. Ambassador Cameron Hume following Suharto 's death poured bitter salt in the wounds of millions. The statement trumpeted Suharto 's role in what it called "remarkable economic and social development. " The only indication of the trail of blood and tears left by Suharto was a brief aside that "there may be some controversy over his legacy. "

As one Clinton administration official told the New York Times back in 1995, Suharto is "our kind of guy. "

The need for justice doesn 't only rest with Indonesia. United States complicity in many of Suharto 's crimes, the growing U.S. support today for the Indonesian military -- many of whose leaders are Suharto proteges, and the universal obligation to ensure that war crimes and crimes against humanity do not go unpunished make the need for justice a U.S. issue, too.

The United States should own up to its past and live up to its commitments under international law.

As the country that green-lighted Indonesia 's invasion of East Timor, the United States must support an international tribunal on serious crimes committed throughout the occupation, from 1975 to 1999. The United States must also end all military assistance to Indonesia, until the Indonesian forces are under civilian control and observe human rights standards.

If we were to send a card today, it might read "Farewell impunity. " It 's long past time.

Farsetta is coordinator of the Madison-Ainaro (East Timor) Sister-City Alliance and a member of ETAN/Madison ( since 1996. 

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