Subject: House Drops Bill On TNI Tribunals

The Jakarta Globe

September 29, 2009

House Drops Bill On TNI Tribunals

by Markus Junianto Sihaloho

In what critics say is a blow to attempts to reform the military, the House of Representatives on Monday abandoned deliberations of the military tribunal bill that would have allowed soldiers accused of criminal offenses to stand trial in civilian courts.

The development was immediately criticized by the opposition Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), as well as the government-aligned National Mandate Party (PAN), which said the decision would only ensure continued impunity for members of the Armed Forces (TNI).

The move was backed by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's Democratic Party faction in the House, as well as the Golkar Party and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS).

PDI-P legislator Andreas Hugo Pareira, who chaired the special committee tasked with deliberating the bill, said the decision meant the new crop of legislators, due to be sworn in on Thursday, would have to begin the process from the beginning.

But I hope they will not change the basic principle of the bill, that soldiers must be tried in civilian courts for criminal offenses," Andreas said.

Patra M Zen from the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI) said the failure of the House to enact the legislation demonstrated the lack of commitment on the part of lawmakers and the government to support reform within the military, elements of which have faced accusations of gross human rights abuses and involvement in criminal enterprises.

Lawmakers had spent more than four years debating the bill. In 2006, a yearlong impasse between the special committee and the Defense Ministry forced President Yudhoyono to weigh in on the debate. He issued a statement indicating his administration supported the bill's basic principles.

Under the bill, military courts would still preside over trials related to soldiers' military performance, but all criminal or civil offenses committed by soldiers would be handled by civilian courts, which often hand down tougher sentences than their military counterparts.

The drafting of the bill stalled last June when the Defense Ministry proposed preserving the power of the Military Police to investigate soldiers alleged to have committed civil offenses. It stalled again at the end of last year when the Defense Ministry and the TNI insisted that soldiers suspected of civil criminal offenses continue to be investigated exclusively by military officers.

The current policy maintains that civilian authorities can only become involved after the military briefs are handed over to prosecutors and civilian courts.

Democratic Party legislator FX Soekarno, chairman of the legislative body responsible for coordinating bill deliberations, confirmed the bill and the equally contentious state secrecy bill, which has been called a threat to freedom of expression by critics, would not be discussed during the last House plenary session today.

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