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NGO Letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell Opposing Resumption of Military Ties

7 March 2001

The Honorable Colin Powell 
Secretary of State 
United States Department of State 
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Powell:

As a coalition of non-governmental organizations concerned with human rights, justice, peace, and democracy in Indonesia and East Timor, we are writing to urge you to express strong opposition to any resumption of military ties between the United States and Indonesia when meeting with Indonesian Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab later this month. Rather, the U.S. government should condemn ongoing human rights violations against civilians by Indonesian security forces throughout the archipelago, especially in Aceh, West Papua (Irian Jaya), and Maluku. Strong U.S. support should be directed toward Indonesia's under-resourced civil society and troubled justice system.

While President Abdurrahman Wahid, Attorney General Marzuki Darusman, and others have made some progress in democratization throughout the past year, the Indonesian military (TNI) has strongly reasserted its power. Brutal TNI terror campaigns escalated throughout the archipelago, while military personnel expressing reform-minded agendas have been demoted or fired. Thirty-eight parliamentary seats have been reserved for security forces until at least 2009, and the military's corrupt business interests are as strong as ever. Before any re-engagement with the Indonesian military is undertaken, we believe that, at a minimum, the following benchmarks must be met.

· Dissolution of the military's territorial command structure · Elimination of the military's role in the economy · Reduction of extremely high troop numbers in Aceh, West Papua (Irian Jaya), and Maluku, and removal of non-organic troops from these areas · Safe access for international humanitarian and human rights agencies and workers in these same areas, as well as in West Timor · An end to military "sweeps" · Release of political prisoners · Disarming and disbanding of militias in West Timor and the arrest of militia leaders · Accountability for human rights violations committed in East Timor and throughout Indonesia by military and police personnel

Recent developments in West Papua (Irian Jaya), Aceh and Maluku demonstrate the need for ongoing concern about the Indonesian military's role in human rights violations. In West Papua (Irian Jaya) in early December Indonesia's security forces began a crackdown on supporters of independence for the province, resulting in at least ten deaths and the arrests of dozens of political leaders. Local human rights organizations have documented brutalities and physical assaults on political prisoners, and the military and police have restricted public access to courtroom proceedings. More recently, the Indonesian government refused to allow international observers or the media to attend the trials of seven independence activists on the basis that the trials were being conducted in accordance with Indonesian law and were therefore "internal matters."

In Aceh the recently renewed cease-fire was greeted by the murder of civilians by Indonesian security forces. While students, human rights activists, and humanitarian workers are daily targeted for execution and torture by police and TNI officers, the Indonesian government is increasing the already high troop numbers in the province. Because of safety concerns, a much-needed international presence is absent from Aceh and therefore unable to monitor conditions and provide humanitarian assistance.

In Maluku members of the Laskar Jihad militia have recently been filmed meeting with local police. These militia, imported from Java and other areas outside Maluku, are fueling a conflict which has claimed thousands of lives and displaced tens of thousands in the past three years. What is needed in Maluku is an international presence to provide transparency and encourage accountability, not more armed forces that thwart both.

Additionally, we urge you to express to Mr. Shihab clear and unreserved support for an international tribunal for crimes against humanity committed in East Timor. The demonstrated inability of Indonesia's judicial system to bring Indonesian military and police personnel and militia leaders to justice, as well as the defiant lack of cooperation of the TNI and Indonesian parliament with UN investigations of atrocities committed in East Timor, make this essential. An international tribunal is not only necessary for justice, reconciliation, and democracy in East Timor, it will hold the TNI officers involved, the vast majority of whom retain positions of power in Indonesia, accountable for past crimes against humanity and deter them from committing further human rights abuses.

We strongly recommend that you make clear to Mr. Shihab the pressing need to verifiably disarm and disband militias controlling some 100,000 East Timorese refugees still trapped in West Timor. According to credible sources, over the past year militias continued to receive support and arms from the military, commit numerous extra-judicial killings, and conduct border incursions into East Timor. The threat posed to East Timor's security, peace, and integrity, as well as to the stability of West Timor, by long-term militia control of refugee camps backed by TNI elements should not be underestimated.

While we acknowledge that the Government of Indonesia has formally separated the police from the military under law, we must emphasize that no practical evidence of this split has yet been reported. In fact, in many areas the two remain indistinguishable, operating together in joint operations, often in plain clothes. In Aceh, it is the police who have territorial command responsibility for ongoing beatings, arrests, disappearances and brutal extra-judicial executions, despite a negotiated cease-fire.

While emphatically opposing any re-engagement with Indonesian security forces, we urge you to convey to Mr. Shihab strong support for democratization in Indonesia and civilian governmental institutions. This should include support for civil society through direct aid to human rights and humanitarian organizations, technical assistance and funding for Indonesia's judicial system, and funding and effective distribution of aid to Indonesia's hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people and refugees.

We appreciate your consideration of these serious matters and look forward to your response.


Mike Amitay, Executive Director 
Washington Kurdish Institute

Bama Athreya, Deputy Director 
International Labor Rights Fund

Jeff Ballinger 
Press for Change

Michael Beer, Director 
Nonviolence International

Kurt Biddle, Editor 

Walter Engelen, Chairman 
Maluku Watch Network

Lynn Fredriksson, Interim Coordinator 
Indonesia Human Rights Network

Tamar Gabelnick, Director 
Arms Sales Monitoring Project

William D. Hartung, President's Fellow 
World Policy Institute at the New School

Jasmine Huang, Secretary 

Margaret Huang, Program Director for Asia and the Middle East 
RFK Memorial Center for Human Rights

Suraiya IT, Vice Chair 
International Forum for Aceh

Rev. Kathryn Johnson, Executive Director 
Methodist Federation for Social Action

Ed Martin, Director Central and Southern Asia Program 
Mennonite Central Committee

Mary Anne Mercer, Co-Chair 
Northwest International Health Action Coalition

John M. Miller, Director 
Foreign Bases Project

Allan Nairn 
Justice for All

Charles Scheiner, National Coordinator 
East Timor Action Network

Stephanie Spencer, Program Associate for Southern Asia 
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ

Joe Volk, Executive Secretary 
Friends Committee for National Legislation

Jeffrey Winters Associate Professor of Political Economy
Northwestern University

Phyllis S. Yingling, Chair, U.S. Section 
Women's International League for Peace and Freedom

Acting Senior Director for Democracy, Human Rights and International Operations (NSC) Tony Banbury 
Ambassador Robert Gelbard 
Acting Assistant Secretary Thomas C. Hubbard 
Acting Assistant Secretary Alan Kreczko 
Acting Assistant Secretary Michael Parmly 
Director for Asian Affairs (NSC) Mary Tighe

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