"Slipping back into bed with Kopassus is a betrayal of the brutal unit's many victims in Timor-Leste, West Papua and throughout Indonesia. It will lead to more people to suffer abuses," said John M. Miller, National Coordinator of ETAN. "Working with Kopassus, which remain unrepentant about its long history of terrorizing civilians, will undermine efforts to achieve justice and accountability for human rights crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste (East Timor)."
"For years, the U.S. military provided training and other assistance to Kopassus, and when the U.S. was most involved Kopassus crimes were at their worst. While this assistance improved the Indonesian military's deadly skills, it did nothing to improve its behavior," Miller added.
"Engagement with Kopassus would violate the
Leahy Law, which prohibits
military assistance to units with unresolved human rights violations," said
Miller. "Even the previous Bush State Department's legal counsel thought so,
ruling that the Leahy prohibition applied to Kopassus as a whole."
The official American Forces Press Service wrote that a "senior defense official said Indonesia has pledged that any Kopassus member who is credibly accused of a human rights violation will be suspended pending an investigation, will be tried in a civilian court, and will be removed from the unit if convicted." Legislation transferring members of military to civilian courts for trials has yet to pass.
"The problem remains that the Indonesian military (TNI) as a whole and Kopassus in particular rarely take accusations of human rights violations seriously and few end up in any court," said ETAN's Miller. "Engaging Kopassus with only token concessions will not encourage reform, respect for rights or accountability. It may do the opposite."
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced in Jakarta that the U.S. "will begin a gradual, limited program of security cooperation activities" with Kopassus. U.S. officials told the media that "there would be no immediate military training," However, Gates did not say exactly what criteria will be used to decide if "to expand upon these initial steps [which] will depend upon continued implementation of reforms within Kopassus" and the TNI.
Engagement with Kopassus has been opposed by human rights and victims associations in Indonesia, Timor-Leste and internationally. It has been debated within the Obama administration and in Congress.
In May 2010, 13 senior members of Congress wrote the Secretary Gates and Secretary of State Clinton concerning plans to cooperate with Kopassus. The letter called for "a reliable vetting process critical... for identifying Kopassus officials who have violated human rights" and said "the transfer of jurisdiction over human rights crimes committed by members of the military to civilian courts should be a pre-condition for engagement with Kopassus." Legislation to transfer members of the military to civilian courts has long been stalled. Trials of some soldiers before ad-hoc human rights courts, such as on East Timor, have resulted in acquittals.
Kopassus troops have been implicated in a range of human rights violations and war crimes in Aceh, West Papua, Timor-Leste and elsewhere. Although a few special forces soldiers have been convicted of the kidnapping of activists prior to the fall of the Suharto dictatorship and the 2001 murder of Theys Eluay, the perpetrators of the vast majority of human rights crimes continue to evade prosecution. Kopassus and other troops indicted by UN-backed prosecutors in Timor-Leste for crimes committed in 1999 during Timor's independence referendum remain at large.
Kopassus was involved in Timor-Leste from
the killings of five Australian-based journalists at Balibo in 1975 prior to
Indonesia's full scale invasion through its destructive withdrawal in 1999.
Kopassus soldiers are alleged to have been involved in
the 2002 ambush murder of three teachers
(including two from the U.S.) near the Freeport mine in West Papua. The crimes
of Kopassus are not only in the past. A
Human Rights Watch report published last year documents how Kopassus
soldiers "arrest Papuans without legal authority, and beat and mistreat those
they take back to their barracks." A report by journalist Allan Nairn describes
security force - including a U.S.-trained Kopassus general - involvement in the
killing of activists in Aceh last year. http://www.etan.org/news/2010/03nairn.htm
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