Subject: Remembering Munir Said Thalib

Congressional Record

[Page: S8524]

REMEMBERING MUNIR SAID THALIB -- (Senate - September 15, 2008)

Mr. FEINGOLD. Mr. President, last week marked the fourth anniversary of the tragic death of Munir Said Thalib, one of Indonesia's leading human rights defenders. Munir was powerful voice who brought attention to the human rights violations committed by Indonesia's military in East Timor, Papua, and Aceh Province during and after the rule of President Suharto. He founded the Commission for Disappearances and Victims of Violence (Kontras) and championed accountability and justice on behalf of the victims of ``disappearances'' during the final days of the regime in the late 1990s. Munir , 37, was poisoned with arsenic while traveling from Jakarta to Amsterdam to study international humanitarian law.

Munir as a singular figure who inspired crowds with his impassioned pleas for nonviolence, worked with progressive elements in the military even while challenging army abuses, and made a point of using himself as an example to inspire others. By refusing to show fear in the face of threats and intimidation, including several attempts on his life, he served as a model for those otherwise afraid to stand up to human rights violators.

Now, 4 years after Munirís untimely death, there is promise that those responsible for his murder will be brought to justice. Despite delays and setbacks, two of those charged have now been convicted, but those who planned the assassination remained at large. Now, 3 years after a fact-finding team established by current President Yudhoyono discovered evidence of involvement by officials of the State Intelligence Agency, a retired general and former senior intelligence officer is on trial for his alleged role in the crime. This trial is an opportunity for Munirís friends and family, for the Indonesian Government, and for the citizens of Indonesia, to obtain a fair accounting of the facts and application of the law. I note with appreciation the work of the investigators in the case so far and convey my strongest support for a fair, timely and transparent process and a just outcome for all concerned.

President Yudhoyono has called the case a test for Indonesia, and Munirís supporters similarly argue that ``justice for Munir is justice for all.'' The willingness of the government to investigate the role of senior staff at the State Intelligence Agency is a significant step forward, and I hope it is an indication of increased accountability more generally. Those who committed human rights abuses must be identified and brought to justice, both to provide a sense of closure for victims who suffered these atrocities as well as to set the important precedent that human and political rights play an important role in today's Indonesia. I encourage the Indonesian Government to undertake similar investigations for other crimes, and urge them to do so in a timely and fair manner.

The decision to undertake this trial is an important indicator of the government's commitment to address ongoing human rights abuses, and to protect human rights activists. I am hopeful this will be the beginning of a more systematic process that prioritizes basic human rights and the rule of law and recognizes that Indonesia has yet to deal effectively with past human rights violations in Aceh, East Timor, Papua, Jakarta, and elsewhere. I hope the resolution of Munirís case will be a blow against impunity and provide an opportunity to promote much-needed military and intelligence reform. Indonesia has made positive reforms since the end of the Suharto regime, but must continue to develop proper mechanisms for accountability, to ensure that such human rights abuses are not repeated.

Indonesia continues to be an important ally of the United States and we must work toward a strong and effective partnership, particularly as we seek to combat extremism around the globe. It is in the national interest of both countries for Indonesia to successfully complete its process of reform and democratization. However, this strengthening relationship must not come at the expense of a principled stance on human rights and accountability. As we commemorate Munirís death, we must remember that part of this commemoration includes addressing the continuing legacy of Indonesia's recent authoritarian past.

 


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