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East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) and

West Papua Advocacy Team (WPAT)

Comments on the U.S. Department of State
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2007

The U.S. Department of State Country Reports on Human Right Practices (2007) acknowledges the continuing threat to human rights and to democracy posed by the Indonesian security forces, including both the military and police. The report accurately notes in particular some of the brutalities perpetrated by the Indonesian Special Forces (Kopassus) and the militarized police (Brimob), though not many of the violations that the U.S.-founded and funded "Detachment 88" has been accused of. As in past years, the report identifies various militia groups such as the Front for the Defense of Islam, but fails to acknowledge Indonesian military ties to and support for these militias.

Near the start of the Indonesia chapter, the report correctly acknowledges that the Indonesian military continues to be "partly self-financed" and that this undermines "effective control" of the forces by civilian authorities. We would add that the failure to hold senior officers for past human rights crimes and the continued existence of the territorial command system also undermined civilian control. In addition, the report fails to directly acknowledge in its initial summary that the security forces "self-financing," includes illegal enterprises ranging from blackmailing and intimidation of legitimate businesses to corrupt business operations directly carried out by the military. The report does acknowledge in the body of the report military and police complicity in people trafficking, prostitution and illegal logging and correctly notes the central role of military and police in league with developers in forcing villagers off their land. The report acknowledges that in some instances the military used force to dislodge civilians from their homes in development projects specifically beneficial to the military.

While failing to acknowledge the full range of abuse perpetrated by the military and the police in summary sections of the report, many of these crimes are detailed in the interior of the report, including extrajudicial killings, rape, beatings, torture and disfigurement and intimidation of human rights advocates and groups. The report contains a litany of "no developments" and "no known developments" concerning for many of the cases of the rights violations it does document. This indicates both a lack of transparency and the ongoing fact that too many victims of human rights violations have yet to see justice. Impunity for many human rights violations remains the rule, not the exception.

The report fails to note the intimidation of smaller political parties by security forces and their militias. These actions could significantly undermine the credibility of the upcoming (2009) national elections.

In a common failing found throughout the report, violations and crimes are usually framed as having "been reported by" or "alleged by" various observers or victims rather than as fact. For example, where military courts did convict military personnel, the report comments pusillanimously that "some civilians criticized the short length of sentences imposed." This overly obliging framing of the problem undermines the credibility and utility of the report overall.

The report acknowledges the broad impunity accorded security forces, especially senior officers but often obscures the extent of the problem. In an especially flagrant example of this tendency to avoid direct criticism of the military, the report notes in connection with the atrocities that occurred during 1999 in Timor-Leste that "of 18 original defendants only [Timorese militia leader Eurico] Gutteres received a jail sentence." The report fails to acknowledge that most of those who escaped justice were military and police officers. The report also nowhere notes that of this group, some have subsequently received promotions and career-making assignments.

West Papua

The report offers commendably detailed focus on West Papua (Papua) arguably the area of the most egregious on-going human rights violations. The report correctly observes that travel restrictions and intimidation of human rights advocates are common in Papua. The report fails to note, however, that when visits are allowed, they are frequently sharply curtailed or suffer direct security force interference. Failure to report this fact is particularly surprising in so far as a U.S. congressman and the U.S. Ambassador experience such interference personally in late 2007.

Moreover, the report frequently fails to observe in the Papuan context that security force violations of rights, many documented within the report, rarely result in criminal prosecution of the perpetrators.

The report does address a fundamental Papuan human rights concern, the ongoing policy of "transmigration" whereby "settlers" from other islands in the archipelago are sent by the Indonesia government to West Papua where they compete with and frequently displace existing Papuan populations. The policy, developed and implemented most aggressively during the Suharto dictatorship, has had the effect of ethnically cleansing most Papuan towns and many valuable rural Papuan lands. However, the condemnation of the policy is presented as having been voiced by "local residents" rather than by numerous international human rights organizations or by the report itself. The report's failure to highlight and specifically condemn this policy ignores the cautionary reality that transmigration elsewhere, notably in West Kalimantan, has led to widespread civil conflict.

The report acknowledges that security forces have played the lead role in restricting legitimate, peaceful political activity by Papuans. Nevertheless, it offers a summary judgment that "the law provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right in practice (through elections)." This characterization ignores both the undermining by the central government of the autonomy law to undermine the authority of the locally-elected government, as well as persistent actions by the central government's security forces to preclude Papuan self-determination. Those actions have constituted the basis for much of the violations of human rights by the security force in the Papuan context.

The report acknowledges that Papuan religious leaders have been the target of security force abuse but fails to note that historically the brutal repression of all Papuan political dissent, has led to the emergence of clergy as the principal avenue for the expression of Papuan rights.

Finally, the State Department's annual human rights global reporting exercise, by focusing on civil and political rights, has consistently failed to address the abuse of human rights in the social, cultural and economic spheres as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This inadequate focus on this broad category of rights is particularly consequential in West Papua where decades of central government neglect has deprived Papuans of their fundamental rights to education, health care, employment and self-realization through cultural development. It is in part because of such neglect that charges of genocide against Papuans have been raised by international human rights observers.

Timor Truth & Justice

The discussion of the Timor-Leste - Indonesia Commission on Truth and Friendship (CTF) is literally scattered in several places in both the Indonesia and Timor-Leste chapters. The Timor-Leste chapter refers to "little evident progress" and notes that "the UN-appointed Commission of Experts' report criticized its terms of reference for contradicting international standards that prohibit impunity for crimes against humanity." The Indonesia chapter is a little bit more descriptive of what the CTF had done in the past year, but does not note the COE's criticism. Neither chapter describes the strong criticisms of civil society in both countries and internationally of either the mandate or conduct of the commission. The refusal of the UN to cooperate with the CTF, formally announced in July 2007, unless its terms of reference are changed also goes unmentioned. And while the report does mention Indonesia's Constitutional Court's annulling of national law establishing a national Commission of Truth and Reconciliation, it fails to draw the connection to the CTF which suffers the same flaw highlighted by the court: the ability to offer amnesty for serious crimes.

While the Timor-Leste chapter also mentions the final report of the Timor-Leste's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CAVR) in the context of the largely-dormant serious crimes process, but misleadingly describes it as investigating "less egregious human rights violations that occurred between April 1974 and October 1999." In fact the report documents a wide range of serious human rights crimes committed during that time period, as well as actions and failures by the international community which aided and abetted Indonesia's international occupation. As in previous years, the State Department report fails to acknowledge that some of the CAVR's recommendations are directed at the United States and Indonesia, or that both governments have yet to formally respond to the report. There is no discussion of the CAVR in the Indonesia chapter

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