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Letter to Michael H. Posner, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Michael H. Posner
Assistant Secretary
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
U.S. Department of State
2201 C St., N.W.
Washington, DC 20520

October 13, 2009

Dear Mr. Assistant Secretary:

We represent non-governmental organizations whose work focuses on human rights in Indonesia and Timor-Leste. We congratulate you on your assumption of responsibility as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the Department of State.

Indonesia is among those countries posing especially serious challenges for U.S. policy makers. Its democratic progress continues to be highly uneven. As described by Amnesty International and others, Indonesia continues to hold dozens of political prisoners, notably in West Papua and to restrict freedom of speech. There has been no effective prosecution for the 2004 murder of Munir Said Thalib, Indonesia's leading human rights advocate. The Indonesian military, particularly the special forces (Kopassus), continues its criminality and human rights violations. Moreover, the military and elements of the police continue to enjoy impunity for their past crimes and ongoing violations.

We commend the thrust of your written answers to questions from Senate Foreign Relations Committee in conjunction with your July 28 confirmation hearing. These responses indicate an understanding of the challenges posed for U.S. human rights policy, especially toward Indonesia.
In response to a question posed by Senator Russell Feingold, you correctly stated that U.S. assistance provided to foreign security forces should not support individual units that have engaged in gross violations of human rights. The U.S. should certainly seek to use any assistance to encourage host governments to prevent such violations and to hold accountable persons accused of committing human rights crimes.

Unfortunately, for many years, U.S. assistance has flowed to the Indonesian military absent any meaningful reform or accountability and despite continued human rights violations by Indonesian security forces. Rather than use assistance as leverage for genuine change, the U.S. keeps expanding assistance. This seriously undermines efforts by Indonesians to press for real reform and genuine accountability. We especially urge the administration to clearly state that Kopassus as a unit and its individual members are not eligible for U.S. military assistance.
Like you, we share U.S. Congressional concern that "Indonesia has not taken adequate measures to hold accountable those who perpetrated human rights abuses in the past. While you highlight those named by the United Nations for crimes in Timor-Leste in 1999, but also for those credibly accused of human rights abuses in Papua and Aceh." We welcome your pledge to press for progress on bringing the accused to account. We are eager to hear any concrete plans that the current administration has to do so.

The controversial, extra-judicial release of the militia leader Martenus Bere, demonstrates the need for international action on justice and accountability Bere was indicted by the UN-backed serious crimes process for crimes against humanity committed in 1999. The unwillingness or inability of the government of Timor-Leste to resist Indonesian pressure, clearly shows the need for additional international action and pressure.

We remind you that crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Timor-Leste are significantly broader than those which took place in 1999, extending back to the 1975 Indonesian invasion. Only a small portion of the deaths caused by the U.S.-backed occupation occurred in its final year. We urge you and the administration to respond to Chega!, the report of the Timor-Leste Commission  for  Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR) and to work toward establishing an ad hoc international tribunal to try senior officials responsible for the most egregious crimes during the occupation.
Inauguration of an integrated database system to ensure proper vetting of military candidates for U.S. assistance is long overdue with progress towards completion of system proceeding only fitfully in recent years. But the utility of any database is dependent on the information it contains. We urge that the system draw on the experience and data developed by local human rights organizations.

Mr. Assistant Secretary, we are ready to work with you to realize real reform and accountability of the Indonesian security forces and to secure continued democratic progress in Indonesia. We look forward to further discussing these issues with you.

John M. Miller
National Coordinator
East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN)

Edmund Williams
West Papua Advocacy Team


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