Subject: APEC 2007: The Indonesian Military in the Spotlight

09/07/2007 09:31:09 PM EDT Australian Press Releases

APEC 2007: The Indonesian Military in the Spotlight

The purchase of advanced Russian submarines by Indonesia comes on the eighth anniversary of the liberation of East Timor in 1999. It may be recalled that the Indonesian navy threatened the troop landings of the International Force East Timor (InterFET) by deploying submarines into the theatre of operations. According to a senior officer at the Maritime Component Headquarters of InterFET, 'the Indonesian T-209 submarines shadowed the InterFET fleet and were operated with greater tactical flair than had been anticipated'. The submarines were hunted and, when detected, their locations were signalled to the Indonesians - an unmistakable hint that they could and would be destroyed if the threat were to escalate. With the shadow of power cast across the negotiating table, the Indonesian commanders immediately retired their submarines.

Today, of course, there are more pressing matters concerning the Indonesian military. Its refusal to sell off its businesses in accordance with a law passed by the Indonesian parliament means that the military disregards civilian control and impedes economic growth. The military also enjoys a culture of impunity, exposed most notably by Indonesia's own National Commission on Human Rights. The Commission officially concluded that the military had committed crimes against humanity in East Timor. The Commission described these crimes as 'crimes of universal jurisdiction including systematic and mass murder; extensive destruction, enslavement, forced deportations and displacement and other inhumane acts committed against the civilian population.' The Commission urged its government to try the perpetrators before a credible court, but none of this has occurred. 'The Indonesian military's impunity contributes to its disregard for its own parliament and is a serious obstacle to Indonesia's democratic transition', said Dr Fernandes, who is also a senior lecturer at the Australian Defence Force Academy campus of the University of New South Wales.

The Indonesian military was recently implicated in the deaths of two American citizens near the gold and copper mine of Freeport McMoRan in Papua. The people of the mineral-rich province remain subject to regular intimidation and harassment by the Indonesian military. There remain severe restrictions on foreign media in Papua and West Papua. Concerns about the ban on foreign media were recently expressed by the Australian Parliament's Joint Standing Committee on Treaties. Composed of members of both the government and the opposition, the Committee urged the Australian Government to 'encourage the Indonesian Government to allow greater access for the media and human rights monitors in Papua.' The ban on foreign media gives rise to suspicions about the conduct of the Indonesian military in these mineral-rich provinces.

Now that Indonesia has a seat on the UN Human Rights Council and is seeking to play a greater role in regional affairs, there is an urgent and continuing need for independent human rights monitors and foreign journalists to visit West Papua without hindrance. APEC 2007's noble aims of economic prosperity must be underpinned by a commitment by all APEC leaders to encourage democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law within their own countries. The media have a critical role in applying scrutiny to further this aim.

Contact: Dr Clinton Fernandes 0431-248-426

University of NSW at the Australian Defence Force Academy

SOURCE: University of NSW

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