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Indonesian Rights Activists Urge U.S. Congress To Block Military Training

For Immediate Release

Contact: Karen Orenstein, +1-202-544-6911 
John M. Miller, +1-718-596-7668; mobile: +1-917-690-4391

October 7, 2002 -- In a letter to members of the U.S. Congress, Indonesian organizations expressed "great alarm" at efforts by Senators and Representatives to lift restrictions on U.S. assistance for the Indonesian military (TNI).

The letter (see text below) urged Congress to maintain conditions on restoration of military training and weapons sales, and to cancel new “counter-terrorism training fellowships.” Otherwise, the groups stated, "the positive effect the U.S. suspension [of U.S. military assistance] has had will most certainly be squandered."

The activists wrote that "Irreparable damage will be done to our efforts at reform; any further attempts by the TNI to change old practices will almost certainly end" should Congress provide military training through the International Military and Education Training (IMET) program or the new counter-terror program,

Both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have approved the restoration of IMET for Indonesia, but neither body has held a floor vote on the bill.

"We were extremely disappointed to learn of the committees' show of support for the TNI at a time when the military continues to defy reform and has significantly consolidated power under President Megawati, resisted accountability for serious crimes committed in East Timor and Indonesia, and dramatically escalated human rights violations in Aceh and Papua," the letter said.

The letter was distributed to all members of Congress last week by the East Timor Action Network/U.S.

Congress first voted to restrict Indonesia from receiving IMET, which brings foreign military officers to the U.S. for training, in response to the November 12, 1991 Santa Cruz massacre of more than 270 civilians in East Timor. All military ties with Indonesia were severed in September 1999 as the Indonesian military and its militia proxies razed East Timor following its vote for independence.

Congress first passed the "Leahy conditions," basic human rights benchmarks which must be met before military assistance to Indonesia is resumed, in late 1999 and strengthened them last November. The FY00 through FY02 Foreign Operations Appropriations Acts required the president to certify that Indonesia had met these conditions before IMET and foreign military financed (FMF) weapons sales were restored for Indonesia. Last year, Congress allowed civilians from Indonesia's defense ministry to participate in the Expanded IMET (E-IMET) program, which involves course work in such areas as civilian control of the military and human rights. The current versions of the Senate and House foreign operations appropriations bills continue restrictions on FMF. The Counter-Terrorism Military Training Fellowship program was created through a last-minute addition to the 2002 Defense Department Appropriations Act; $4 million has been earmarked for this new military program.

The East Timor Action Network/U.S. supports human dignity for the people of East Timor by advocating for democracy, sustainable development, social, legal and economic justice, and human rights, including women's rights. For more information, see ETAN's web site at http://www.etan.org.


Dear Member of Congress:

We are writing to you with great alarm in response to recent steps to provide training to the Indonesian military (TNI). We are particularly concerned with recent Senate and House Appropriations Committee votes to resume International Military Education and Training (IMET) after many years of appropriate restriction. As Indonesian citizens and NGO leaders, we offer our views to help you make a better-informed decision when considering the U.S. military relationship with Indonesia. We were extremely disappointed to learn of the committees’ show of support for the TNI at a time when the military continues to defy reform and has significantly consolidated power under President Megawati, resisted accountability for serious crimes committed in East Timor and Indonesia and dramatically escalated human rights violations in Aceh and Papua.

We urge you to renew both the IMET and the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) restrictions legislated in the 2002 Foreign Operations Appropriations Act. We hold out hope that those Appropriations Committee members in both chambers who voted for IMET’s reinstatement will reverse their position and act to restore the restriction when the bill comes to the Floor for a vote. If not, the positive effect the U.S. suspension has had will most certainly be squandered. The little tolerance shown by the military for the investigation and prosecution of previous crimes in East Timor and elsewhere largely stems from its desperate desire to regain the approval of the U.S. government. The $4 million to be provided to train the TNI in so-called counter-terrorism programs this year will dampen this tolerance. Should the Congress provide even greater approval for the TNI through the provision of IMET, irreparable damage will be done to our efforts at reform; any further attempts by the TNI to change old practices will almost certainly end.

The current trials in Jakarta, far from representing progress towards accountability for crimes committed in East Timor, have been a farcical misrepresentation of justice and a humiliation for the Indonesian judicial system and international law. Six Indonesian police and military officers were acquitted in the first set of verdicts in August; the only East Timorese defendant received a three-year sentence for crimes against humanity. The trials are more likely to entrench impunity than end it. In particular, the prosecution team under the Attorney General has shown a complete lack of commitment to human rights and law enforcement. It has failed to indict senior officers responsible for planning and directing the violence and to adduce evidence of a widespread and systematic campaign against civilians. It has also falsely portrayed events as part of a civil conflict between two violent East Timor factions in which the Indonesian security forces were essentially bystanders and the United Nations acted discriminatorily against Indonesia.

We wonder if, perhaps, members of Congress are unaware that the kinds of violations for which the TNI was well-known in East Timor continue in Indonesia. The same tactics the TNI employed in East Timor are now used in Aceh and Papua, including the formation and sponsorship of lethal militia and village sweeps where anyone, even children, suspected of independence sympathies are targets of military violence. Peace and human rights activists are regularly assaulted with impunity; extra-judicial killings, torture, and rape remain all too common.

In Aceh, the Indonesian government persists in its pursuit of a military solution to the conflict with an excessive build up of troops, attempts to sabotage the dialogue process facilitated by the Switzerland-based Henri Dunant Centre and a vow by President Megawati to "crush" the armed resistance. The result is a terrible death toll - currently running at the rate of more than 100 a month, mostly civilians - and widespread suffering exacerbated by a complete lack of military accountability for rights violations. In 1999, a Presidential Commission concluded that 7,000 violations had occurred during and after the period from 1989 to 1998 when Aceh was a “Military Operational Area” (DOM). It identified five particularly heinous crimes for investigation and prosecution, but little progress has been made. Similarly, the authorities have failed to respond in any meaningful way to the brutal killing of three humanitarian workers employed by the organization Rehabilitation Action for Torture Victims, as well as a fourth person in December 2000, and the massacre of 31 people at the PT Buni Flora plantation in East Aceh in August 2001. In both cases the military is suspected of involvement. These are just a few examples of the hundreds of cases in which the perpetrators have escaped justice.

Impunity also persists in Papua, most notably in relation to the assassination last November of Theys Eluay, chairperson of the Papuan Presidium Council, the non-violent formal negotiating partner representing Papua to former Presidents Habibie and Wahid. Many other cases remain unresolved. The Abepura case, in which a student was shot and two others died in police custody, has been stalled by the Attorney General’s office for a year now despite a finding by Indonesia’s Commission on Human Rights that the case involved a gross violation of human rights. The authorities have failed to respond to demands for an investigation into rights violations committed in the Wasior sub-district, when operations by the police special forces, Brimob, reportedly resulted in ten summary executions, numerous disappearances and the burning of many homes.

We can only speculate that Representatives and Senators are not aware of the fact that the Indonesian military often uses militia units to further its political aims. For example, the Islamic fundamentalist militia Laskar Jihad is able to travel throughout Indonesia causing serious conflict because they enjoy the backing of powerful members of the TNI and police. In Maluku, members of both the Laskar Jihad and the Christian militia Laskar Kristus have provoked much of the inter-religious conflict that has taken place there. Dozens of police and military officers have publicly joined one of the two sides. Reconciliation stands no chance unless this open support by the military for extremist wings is ended. The knowledge that the U.S. could be directly assisting the perpetrators of such violence and inhuman acts should give pause to members of your Congress.

Like the U.S. government, we are also concerned about the existence of radical Islamic groups in Indonesia. But only a very small minority of Indonesians are involved with these organizations, which have little to no proven connection to international terrorist networks. Rather, they have a domestic base and focus. Moreover, these groups frequently operate with covert and, in some cases, overt support of elements of the military, police, and government. The greatest threat Indonesians face, and the greatest obstacle to real democracy, is the military. If the standard definition of “terrorism” is applied to events in Indonesia, then the true terrorists are the security forces.

Given that the Indonesian military makes no distinction between national defence and domestic policing (it is all "national security"), the U.S. government must recognize that any training and aid provided to the military can just as readily be turned against Indonesian citizens as against external enemies. The Indonesian military is, according to its official doctrine of "dual function," not just a military, but a political force inside the country. The Pentagon cannot claim that its ties to the TNI are purely military-to-military, since the TNI is not a conventional military. Further, since the economic meltdown in 1997, the TNI has increasingly played a dominant role in the economy, creating a tri-function doctrine. This is particularly the case in conflict areas like Aceh, Papua, and Maluku, where war economies have emerged with overriding roles for the military and police. Unfortunately, one casualty of the TNI’s economic pursuits is our environmental heritage. The military, heavily involved in the illegal exploitation of Indonesia’s many natural resources, is a major contributor to environmental destruction, including the logging that is destroying our invaluable forests.

We view the Pentagon’s justifications for resuming ties with the TNI as cynical attempts to legitimise a decision based on narrow conceptions of U.S. strategic interests. The problem with the Indonesian military is a political one, not a technical one; it cannot be remedied by any amount of training or dollars from the U.S. So long as the military the shadow government of this country receives assistance from the U.S., as it did for the thirty-three long, dark years of the Suharto dictatorship, it will feel confident in resisting public demands to reduce its powers.

We do not ask the U.S. government to actively assist the pro-democracy movement in Indonesia. We do, however, ask the U.S. government to make our job easier by not assisting the TNI. Such assistance will only serve to embolden the TNI to continue its assault on the reform movement throughout Indonesia.

Honourable Senators and Representatives, we respectfully request that you heed our words and withdraw your support for IMET for TNI. We ask that instead you renew all military restrictions present in last year’s Act when you vote on the Foreign Operations Appropriations legislation this autumn. We further urge you to cancel plans to provide the TNI with $4 million worth of training for so-called regional counter-terrorism training fellowships.

Thank you for your attention.


Ori Rahman 
Presidium of Kontras (Commission for Disappearances and Victims of Violence)

Agung Putri 
ELSAM-Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy

PBHI (Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association)

Emmy Sahertian 
National Solidarity for Papua

Bonar Tigor Naipospos 

Rachland Nashidik 
Imparsial, Indonesian Human Rights Watch

Winston Neil Rondo 
Centre for Internally Displaced People's Services

Yeni Rosa Damayant 
Women's Solidarity for Human Rights

see also:
Statement by the ETAN on Restoration of IMET Military Training by Senate Appropriations Committee

Senator Leahy's opening statement to Appropriations Committee, July 18, 2002
Leahy Conditions on Restrictions of Military Assistance for Indonesia Have Not Been Met
NGOs Urge Congress to Renew Restrictions on Military Training and Weapons Sales to Indonesia

see also Legislative Action and U.S.-Indonesia Military Ties pages



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