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Feingold on Indonesian Elections

(Senate - June 04, 1997) 
From the Congressional Record, Page: S5280

Statement by Senator Russell Feingold, D-Wisconsin

Mr. FEINGOLD. Mr. President, I rise today to draw the Senate's attention to the parliamentary elections that took place in Indonesia last Thursday, May 29.

Actually, it does not seem accurate to call this event an election since the polling was conducted amid worsening political repression and human rights abuses by the Indonesian Government. As in past elections, all candidates were prescreened and new political parties banned. Individuals who posed even the slightest challenge to President Suharto's power were not allowed to participate. We cannot mistake this process for a real election. Rather, it was a pitiful example of a brutal authoritarian Government attempting to masquerade as a democracy.

Clearly many in Indonesia are angry about not having a voice. This latest election was the most violent in 30 years. Rampant corruption among Indonesia's ruling elite and continued high unemployment have created a deep vein of discontent. Yet Indonesians are given no choice other than Suharto, who already has ruled Indonesia for more than three decades.

Mr. President, the human rights situation in Indonesia remains as bad as ever. Five demonstrators were killed by troops last July after the Government engineered an attack on the office of an opposition party. In addition to the 5 dead, 23 protestors are still missing. Also last summer, labor leader Muchtar Pakpahan was arrested on trumped-up sedition charges. Mr. Pakpahan's only crime was to demand democracy, respect for human rights, and decent labor conditions.

The State Department's 1996 human rights report indicates that prisoners like Mr. Pakpahan frequently die at the hands of their interrogators. The report states that Indonesian `security forces continue to employ torture and other forms of mistreatment, particularly in regions where there were active security concerns, such as Irian Jaya, and East Timor . Police often resort to physical abuse, even in minor incidents.'

Indeed, the human rights situation in East Timor continues to be a matter of great concern. Since last Tuesday, as many as 41 people--both East Timorese citizens and Indonesian soldiers--have died in election-related violence. Unfortunately, such killings are a part of daily life in East Timor . Human rights monitors estimate that as many as 200,000 East Timorese have died under the Indonesian regime. Two hundred thousand. That represents a full third of East Timor 's population before Indonesia invaded the former Portuguese colony back in 1975.

On the day before Indonesia's election, East Timorese activist and co-winner of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize Jose Ramos-Horta visited Washington. Mr. Ramos-Horta carried with him graphic evidence of human rights abuses that have occurred in East Timor in the last few months, evidence that includes disturbing photographs of Indonesian military officers torturing East Timorese detainees with electric shocks and lit cigarettes.

In his statement on the elections, Mr. Ramos-Horta notes that the unrest in East Timor is now spreading into Indonesia as people grow more frustrated with the existing political system. According to Mr. Ramos-Horta `a spiral of violence can be anticipated for Indonesia from now on as dissent grows. It will be met with the customary repression by the military-backed regime, now increasingly desperate as its grip on power begins to slip, leading to an extended period of instability, disruption to peace and much human suffering.'

I agree that the violence in Indonesia will only subside after President Suharto initiates real democratic change and, for example, allows all parties to compete equally in the political process.

However, like their counterparts in China, Indonesian authorities try to argue that greater democracy will lead to instability which in turn will impede economic development. I fundamentally reject this idea. Clearly, with so many Indonesians venting their anger against the present regime, the problem is not too much democracy, but too little. Just because President Suharto's government has boosted economic growth does not mean it has the right to murder and torture Indonesians and East Timorese.

Mr. President, the events of last week only further my discomfort regarding United States policy in Indonesia. As you know, the United States has supplied Indonesia with military training and weapons. Rather than aid Indonesia's military, we should encourage the democratic forces within Indonesian society. As a world leader with great influence in Jakarta, the United States should work to convince Indonesia's leaders that holding real elections, the kind that give people a true say in how they are governed, is a sign of national strength, not weakness.

Return to Congressional Action on East Timor: Statements, etc.

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