Subject: Jakarta Globe: Decision Near on Military Bill

The Jakarta Globe Saturday, December 06, 2008

Decision Near on Military Bill

Markus Junianto Sihaloho

A House of Representatives special committee said on Friday that it expected to decide next week on a Defense Ministry proposal that civilian crimes committed by soldiers should continue to be investigated by military police but that any prosecution be handed over to civilian jurisdiction.

At present, soldiers accused of crimes not related to military performance are investigated and prosecuted within the military system.

Committee chairman, Andreas Hugo Pareira, said that at the most recent meeting of the commission, four political parties had agreed to the Defense Ministry's proposal, three objected and two others abstained.

The committee then gave time to several legal experts to provide opinions on the controversial topic, Andreas said.

"Next Wednesday, December 10, we will settle all differences, with all of us voicing our final decisions whether to follow or reject the idea," he said.

He added that it was still a possibility the committee would approve the bill, but that majority factions on the commission were likely to push for the military to retain investigative rights over civilian crimes committed by soldiers.

"The exception might be for offenses such as corruption," Andreas said.

"The Corruption Law has mandated that such a probe can only be handled by the KPK [Corruption Eradication Commission]," Andreas said.

"Besides, there must be a transition time of about two to three years. After the transition time, the investigation must be handled by police."

Defense Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Slamet Hariyanto said on Friday said they would highly appreciate if the House supported the ministry's proposal.

"We agree that any corruption case involving a soldier should be investigated by the KPK, while all the other civilian crimes committed by soldiers be inquired into by military police. I think we can accept such a logical decision," Slamet said.

Rights activists had earlier called for the House of Representatives to reject the proposal, claiming the national legal system required any criminal action be investigated by civilian police.

In the same system, they said, specific criminal actions would also be probed by special investigators.

The activists had said that the House's approval of the proposed bill would be seen by the public as still favoring the military.

"Because the Indonesian legal system enshrines the equality-before-the-law principle, that means even the president must be investigated by the police for any alleged criminal action," said Patra M.Zen, chairman of the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation.

In its present form, the proposed bill aims to give soldiers, who have long enjoyed special privileges in the Indonesian legal system, the same legal standing as civilians.

According to the bill, military courts would still preside over trials related to a soldier's military performance, all other criminal or civil offenses — such as theft or murder — would be handled by civilian courts, which often hand down tougher sentences than their military counterparts.

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