Indonesian General Not Fit for Civilian Defense Post
John M. Miller, East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN),
Trained in the U.S. in 1985 and Australia in
1993, he is accused of coordinating some of the
most notorious events in East Timor, including
the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre and the
post-referendum violence in 1999.
January 9, 2010 - The appointment of Lieutenant General
Sjafrie Sjamsuddin as Indonesia's Deputy Minister of Defense
undermines human rights accountability and civilian control
of the military, said the East Timor and Indonesia Action
"This is Suharto redux, leaving the military in charge of
itself" said John M. Miller, National Coordinator of ETAN.
"Sjamsuddin appointment clearly demonstrates that the
'reformer' President Yudhoyono would rather reward former
military colleagues than hold them accountable. This sets
back the limited efforts to bring the Indonesian military
under civilian control."
"Sjafrie is a poster boy for the argument that U.S. military
training does not instill respect for human rights in
Indonesian officers, especially those belonging to
Kopassus," said Miller.
The Obama administration is currently
training of Kopassus.
General Sjamsuddin has spent
most of his career in Indonesian military's brutal
Kopassus special forces. Trained in the U.S. in 1985 and
Australia in 1993, he is accused of coordinating several of
the most notorious events in East Timor, including the 1991
Santa Cruz massacre and
the post-referendum violence in 1999. He was military
commander in Jakarta at the time troops opened fire on
protesters in May 1998.
Human rights groups in Indonesia
have protested Sjamsuddin appointment citing his human
rights record. They also point out that
the appointment violates Indonesian law, which prohibits
the promotion of active duty soldiers to political posts.
"Sjamsuddin not only defends the military's system of
territorial command, he has little understanding of the need
for civilian supremacy over the military," said Miller.
General Sjafrie Sjamsuddin
refused a visa to accompany President Yudhoyono on his visit the
United States in October 2009.
Sjamsuddin (also spelled Sjamsoeddin) played a key role in the
counter-insurgency campaign in Aceh throughout 1999, arriving in
East Timor just three days before the UN-organized referendum on
independence. General Sjafrie Sjamsuddin and other senior TNI
officers reportedly met to discuss "plans to destroy vital
infrastructure, and to kill key pro-independence leaders, in the
event that the ballot result favored independence," according to
a report commissioned by the United Nations Office of the High
Commissioner For Human Rights (OHCHR). An eyewitness identified
Sjamsuddin, dressed in civilian clothes, as directing the attack on
Bishop Belo's official residence on September 6, 1999. The OHCHR
report identifies Sjamsuddin as belonging to a group of senior
officials "known or alleged to have been involved in planning and
coordinating the militias and the violence more generally. A strong
case can be made that these officers and officials bear individual
criminal responsibility by virtue of their participation in a
'common criminal purpose' that led to the crimes against humanity
committed in 1999.
Sjamsuddin participated in the invasion of East Timor in 1975 and
served a number of tours there. According to
Inside Indonesia, "He has also taken at least five specialist
military courses in the U.S., including one on Terrorism and Low
Intensity Conflict which, according to Sjafrie, involved training by
US Special Forces flown in from Peru on 'how to create terror'.
Sjafrie topped his class." He commanded the Kopassus SGI
(Intelligence Task Force) in East Timor in the early 1990s.
Gen. (retired) Theo Sjafei accused Sjamsuddin of masterminding
the November 1991 Santa Cruz massacre.
In a 2008
interview with the Jakarta Post Sjamsuddin defended the
Indonesian military's (TNI) territorial role. Ending the TNI's
territorial function, which stations troops down to the village
level throughout Indonesia, is crucial to finally ending military
"It's not appropriate today to talk about civilian supremacy....
Differentiating between civilians and the military will only lead to
a dichotomy, which is narrow-minded..." he said in the same
interview. "TNI territorial commands are in the form of military
deployment as a defense force. Therefore, if the function is
scrapped, TNI will lose its strength."
ETAN was formed in
1991 to advocate for self-determination for occupied East Timor.
The U.S.-based organization continues to advocate for democracy,
justice and human rights for Timor-Leste and Indonesia. ETAN
recently won the 2009 John Rumbiak Human Rights
Defenders Award. For more information, see ETAN's web site: