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Groups write to Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates on Indonesia

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visited Indonesia in late February. He met with senior Indonesian officials, including the president and defense minister, and he offered increased military assistance, including weapons and training. This is a U.S. NGO response to his visit. While he mentioned human rights and military reform in passing, there is no linking of military assistance to these and other concerns, such as accountability for past human right crimes in East Timor and Indonesia. The letter with a list of signatures can be found below. - John M. Miller, ETAN

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000
March 17, 2008
Dear Mr. Secretary:
We were disturbed by statements made during your recent visit to Indonesia stating the administration's intention to greatly expand  U.S. cooperation with and support for the Indonesian military (TNI). Instead of high-tech jet fighters, Indonesians need their rights respected and an end to corruption.

As organizations deeply concerned with human rights and justice in Indonesia and East Timor, we are disturbed that assistance to the TNI is rapidly expanding, absent any significant TNI reform and despite the ongoing failure to hold the TNI accountable for its past and current human rights violations. Any pretense to condition engagement on accountability and human rights has totally disappeared.

U.S. and Indonesian soldiers train in counterinsurgency.  
U.S. and Indonesian soldiers train in counterinsurgency in March 2008.  

We strongly protest the administration plan, conveyed to Congress, to resume cooperation with Indonesia's Special Forces (Kopassus) and Indonesia's para-military police (Brimob), brutal units with especially atrocious human rights records. Kopassus and Brimob will no doubt portray engagement as an exoneration by the U.S. Their victims are left to wonder at the U.S. governments claims that security assistance promotes human rights. This is no way to improve the United States standing among the people of Indonesia.

International and domestic organizations have extensively documented the Indonesian military’s continued resistance to civilian control and oversight, its evasion of budget transparency and its widespread impunity for crimes against humanity.

The recent report by UN Special Representative Hina Jilani describes ongoing human rights violations by Indonesia's security forces, especially in West Papua. Her report describes continued threats and intimidation by Indonesia’s security forces targeting human rights defenders. 

Recent UN and State Department human rights reports describe Indonesia's human rights courts as incapable of bringing Indonesian military and police perpetrators of serious human rights violations to justice, including those involved in the Tanjung Priok massacre, Abepura (Papua) violence, and many other cases. Jakarta's ad hoc Human Rights Court on East Timor acquitted all but one defendant (an East Timorese civilian). No senior officials have been convicted for the widespread crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in East Timor from 1975-1999. Officers credibly accused of serious crimes continue to serve in major positions and to receive promotions.

Indonesian and international media have exposed past and ongoing military involvement in a range of illegal activities, including gun running, people trafficking and destructive, illegal exploitation of resources, notably in West Papua. 

The Indonesian military at best tolerates and, more ominously, continues to back militias, some religiously based, whose principle role is to intimidate civilians, particularly ethnic and religious minorities and some political parties.

Although the TNI was forced to give up its seats in parliament some years ago, the military has successfully resisted demands to end the "territorial command" system, through which the military operates a shadow government, exerting influence over civil administration and politics, commerce, and justice down to the village level. This unmonitored and uncontrolled military power poses a grave and direct threat to national elections scheduled for 2009. 

Past and present U.S. administrations have long-argued that that close cooperation with the Indonesian military will spur reform by exposing Indonesian military personnel to more democratic perspectives and inculcate respect for human rights and civilian control. This ignores the fact that decades of U.S. collaboration with the Indonesian military has shown no improvement coming from such association. Many U.S.-trained officers were involved in the worst violence in East Timor and elsewhere.  

The greatest changes occurred when the U.S. withheld prestigious military assistance, including foreign military financing and training such as IMET and JCET. These policies correlated with the brief period of serious reform in the years immediately following the overthrow of the dictator Suharto, when the separation of the police and military was completed, unelected military officials were removed from Parliament, and East Timor broke free.

When the administration waived remaining congressional restrictions on military assistance in 2005, it pledged that it would carefully calibrate any security assistance to promote reform and human rights. Given a lack of benchmarks, these words ring hollow.  The TNI cares only about what the U.S. does, not what it says. Any statements promoting rights and reforms, like your recent statements in Jakarta, will be ignored as the TNI gratefully accepts unconditional assistance from the U.S. This all-carrot, no-stick approach undermines efforts to strengthen civilian control of the TNI and achieve judicial accountability for victims of human rights violations.

We strongly oppose any expansion of assistance for or cooperation with the Indonesian military absent meaningful reform and insist particularly that the U.S. reject any relationship with the unreformed Indonesian Special Forces (Kopassus) and the militarized police (Brimob).


John M. Miller
National Coordinator, East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN)

Max White
Chair,  Indonesia Co-Group, Amnesty International USA

Mark C. Johnson, Ph.D.
Executive Director, The Fellowship of Reconciliation

Kevin Martin, Executive Director
Peace Action and Peace Action Education Fund

Dave Robinson
Executive Director, Pax Christi USA: National Catholic Peace Movement

Sharon Silber and Eileen B. Weiss
Co-Founders, Jews Against Genocide

Jeff Ballinger
Executive Director, Press for Change

David Hartsough
Executive Director, Peaceworkers

The Borneo Project

Brian Keane
Director, Land is Life

Ed McWilliams
Eben Kirksey
West Papua Advocacy Team

Roger S. Clark
Trustee, International League for Human Rights

Diana Bohn
Co-Coordinator, Nicaragua Center for Community Action (NICCA)

Kirsten Moller  Executive Director
Medea Benjamin, co-founder
Global Exchange

Rev. James Kofski
Asia/Pacific and Middle East Issues, Maryknoll Global Concerns

Staff Collective
School of Americas Watch

Joanne Landy
Co-Director, Campaign for Peace and Democracy

Mary T. Whittlinger
Treasurer, GOMA (Moluccan America Ecuminical Church)

Matthew W. Daloisio
Witness Against Torture
NY Catholic Worker

Mary Anne Mercer
Timor-Leste Program Director, Health Alliance International

John Witeck
Coordinator, Philippine Workers Support Committee, USA
David Swanson

Jeanne Kyle
Production Manager, Global Voices for Justice

Alfred L. Marder
President, U.S. Peace Council

Rev. Dennis M. Davidson
President, Unitarian Universalist Peace Fellowship

Rev. John Chamberlin
National Coordinator, East Timor Religious Outreach

Frida Berrigan
Senior Program Associate, Arms and Security Initiative, New America Foundation

Roland Watson
Dictator Watch

Sr. Sheila Kinsey
Wheaton Franciscans

James W. Keady and Leslie Kretzu
co-Directors, Educating for Justice, Inc

Charles Johnson
Editor, Dulce et Decorum Est, Las Vegas, NV

Seattle International Human Rights Coalition (SIHRC)

Diane Farsetta
Coordinator, Madison-Ainaro (East Timor) Sister-City Alliance

William Seaman, Coordinator
East Timor Action Network / Portland

Elaine Donovan, co-founder
Concerned Citizens for Peace, Hemlock, NY

Daniel Muller
Executive Director, Peace Action Maine

Herbert Rothschild Jr.
Convenor, Peace Action - Greater Houston Chapter

Shelagh Foreman
Program Director, Massachusetts Peace Action

Polly Mann
Middle East Committee, Women Against Military Madness, Minneapolis

Debra Stoleroff

Julie Byrnes Enslow
Project Organizer, Peace Action Wisconsin

William H. Slavick
Coordinator, Pax Christi Maine

Stacey Fritz
Coordinator, No Nukes North, Fairbanks, AK

Cristy Murray
Code Pink Portland

Sue Severin
Marin Interfaith Task Force

Joellen Raderstorf
Director, Mothers Acting Up, Boulder

Bill Towe
Coordinator, North Carolina Peace Action

Jim Haber
Director, War Resisters League West

Carol Jahnkow
Executive Director, Peace Resource Center of San Diego

Michael Eisenscher
Coordinator,* Bay Area Labor Committee for Peace & Justice

* For i.d. purposes only

Carolyn Scarr
Ecumenical Peace Institute/CALC


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