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The decision of the Obama Administration to begin "gradual and limited" engagement with the Indonesian Special Forces (Kopassus) ignores more than a decade-old, bi-partisan, bi-cameral Congressional consensus opposing assistance to that organization.

Opposition to U.S. military cooperation with Kopassus is based on that unit's undisputed record of human rights abuse, criminality and unaccountability before the law. U.S. Administration claims that the organization has recently adopted a reform course is belied by credible independent reporting that Kopassus continues to abuse human rights with impunity.  A June 2009 Human Rights Watch report detailed Kopassus abuse of civilians in Merauke in the troubled province of West Papua.

Administration claims that those Kopassus personnel "convicted" of human rights abuse have been removed from the organization ignores the reality that the impunity enjoyed by Kopassus personnel for decades has ensured that only a handful of Kopassus personnel have ever faced justice in a credible criminal court. In a rare example of judicial action, seven Kopassus officers were convicted of the 2001 murder of the leading Papuan political figure, Theys Eluay.  Of the seven convicted of what the judge in the case termed a "torture-murder," all remain on active duty after serving brief sentences (the longest being three and one half years imprisonment). Six left Kopassus but one remains in the organization. 

Administration assurances that any Kopassus candidate for U.S. training will undergo "vetting" by the State Department ignores past failures of the State Department to screen out Kopassus rights abusers and criminals.

The Administration announcement correctly notes that since the fall of the dictator Suharto, with whose military the U.S. military maintained close ties, Indonesia has been on a democratic course. But the Administration fails to acknowledge that the gravest threat to ongoing democratic progress is the Indonesian military which continues to evade civilian control. Despite 2004 legislative requirements that the military divest itself of its vast empire of legal and illegal businesses by 2009, the military retains this source of off-budget funding.

Kopassus and other military personnel continue to enjoy impunity before the law for human rights abuse and criminal activity including people trafficking and drug running as acknowledged in past U.S. State Department human rights reporting.

The Indonesian military, and particularly Kopassus and intelligence agencies continue to repress peaceful protest, most notably targeting the people of West Papua. The military, especially Kopassus,  but also the U.S.-funded "Detachment 81" and the militarized police (BRIMOB), routinely intimidate, threaten and accost Papuans who non-violently resist denial of fundamental rights, illegal expropriation of their lands and marginalization. Military and police units have repeatedly conducted purportedly anti-rebel "sweep operations" in the remote Central Highlands forcing thousands of villagers into the forests where they suffer lack of food, shelter and access to medical care.  Twenty percent of Kopassus personnel (approximately 1,000 personnel) are stationed in West Papua.

The U.S. Administration's decision to resume cooperation with the most criminal and unreformed element of the Indonesian military removes critical international pressure for reform and professionalization of the broader Indonesian military.  It signals to Indonesian human rights advocates who have born the brunt of security force intimidation that they stand alone in their fight for respect for human rights and genuine reform in Indonesia.

contact: Ed McWilliams, edmcw @, +1-575-648-2078

see also

West Papua Report


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