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Indonesia Should Take U.S. Congressional Restrictions on Military Aid Seriously

by John M. Miller

John M. Miller is National Coordinator of the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network.

The U.S. annual foreign aid bill, H.R. 3057, is now law. The legislation, signed by President Bush on November 14, continues U.S. restrictions on some forms of military assistance for Indonesia.

Jakarta has reacted to this latest U.S. congressional decision on military aid with bluster and misinformation, as it has done repeatedly with past congressional actions on Indonesia. Some press and government statements have misinterpreted or misreported what has actually passed. Others have mixed up two very different bills.

Many members of Congress believe that the Indonesian military still has a long way to go before it constitutes a professional institution that respects human rights and is fully accountable to civilian authority. Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican chair of the Senate Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs, recently told Voice of America (VOA) that while Indonesia has made initial steps toward military reform and accountability for human rights violations, she is not "convinced that they're there yet."

Military Restrictions

H.R. 3057, officially known as the Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2006, continues the ban on grants of military equipment and training through the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program and on licenses for export of "lethal" equipment until certain conditions are met. (An exception is made for a small amount of aid to the Indonesian navy.) These three conditions are similar to those that Congress has imposed since 1999 after the Indonesian military and its militia proxies destroyed East Timor in the wake of that country's independence vote.

Specifically, the bill requires the Secretary of State to certify that "the Indonesian Government is prosecuting and punishing, in a manner proportional to the crime, members of the Armed Forces who have been credibly alleged to have committed gross violations of human rights." Second, that the TNI is "cooperating with civilian judicial authorities and with international efforts to resolve cases of gross violations of human rights in East Timor and elsewhere," and, finally, that "Indonesia is implementing reforms to improve civilian control of the military."

Senator Patrick Leahy, the Democratic ranking member of the State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Subcommittee told the Senate regarding Indonesia, “…one area where there has been no discernable progress is accountability for crimes by the army…. Thousands of innocent people died [in East Timor], and no one has been punished…. How do you prevent future atrocities if you let those who order and commit murder get away with it? What is more fundamental to democracy than justice?… For many years, the Congress has put conditions on U.S. assistance to the Indonesian army. The conditions in our law require nothing more than that the army respect the law…”

West Papua

Despite some assertions to the contrary, none of the congressional conditions pertains to counter-terrorism or the killing of Americans in Timika, West Papua, on a Freeport McMoRan mining road in 2002. In fact, the one condition present in 2005 legislation not included in the 2006 version dealt with certification that Indonesia is cooperating with the "war on terrorism." Rather, congressional negotiators wrote this year that they "are grateful for Indonesia's contributions to the global war on terrorism."

While congressional concern remains about progress in the investigation of the August 2002 Timika killings, no military aid is contingent on this case. Instead, Congress has asked the Department of State for a report on the status of the investigation and Indonesian cooperation in bringing to justice those responsible for that crime.

There has also been confusion about legislation concerning West Papua. In H.R. 3057, Congress has directed the Secretary of State to submit a report on troop deployments and humanitarian and human rights conditions in West Papua and Aceh. An entirely separate bill, the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, H.R. 2601, contains language requiring a report, though not any action, on West Papua's Act of Free Choice and on the implementation of special autonomy for that region. The House of Representatives passed its version of H.R. 2601 last July. Therefore, the House language on West Papua still stands. However, it cannot become law until the Senate passes its version of the bill, which has not yet happened. The two versions of the bill must then be reconciled. Because congressional sittings last two years, work can continue on the Foreign Relations Authorization bill in 2006.

Congress has not denied all cooperation with Indonesia' security forces. The U.S. government will continue to heavily fund police training for Indonesia. There are no specific restrictions on Indonesia's participation in the International Military and Education Training (IMET) program. IMET was the first military aid program cut in 1992, following congressional outrage at the November 12, 1991, Santa Cruz massacre, when Indonesian troops wielding U.S.-supplied weapons gunned down peaceful protesters in East Timor. The Indonesian military also remains eligible for a special counter-terrorism training program covered by separate legislation.

Recently, Indonesian officials have said that they will urge President Bush to issue the national security waiver allowed in the law and start the weapons flowing. While the administration can legally do this, it is unlikely to risk the political fallout from such an action

Indonesian officials often speak as if U.S. security assistance should be theirs by right. After well over a decade of restrictions on military aid, it is about time for Indonesia to take Congress at its word and start seriously implementing reforms. It is precisely because of this failure to reform that the partial ban remains in place. Even Pentagon officials acknowledge "that Indonesia has not met the congressional conditions as of now," according to VOA.

Some ways Indonesia could demonstrate genuine progress are by endorsing the UN Commission of Experts' recommendations on justice for crimes against humanity in East Timor; ending the military's territorial role (instead of expanding it); placing the military fully under the defense ministry; and allowing unconditional access to West Papua for humanitarian agencies, the media, and human rights monitors.




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