Sunday, June 6, 2010

Indonesia’s Special Forces Kopassus is the unit that has most prominently flown above the law, the worst thing the US could do would be to provide aid

No justice, no aid to Kopassus!

One month before President Obama’s planned June 14 visit to Indonesia, members of the US Congress raised questions about his administration’s apparent plans to restore aid to Kopassus, the Indonesian Army’s Special Forces.

In a May 13 letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Minister Robert Gates, legislators from both parties urged an end to impunity and requested clarity on what was being asked of Indonesia in exchange for full military ties.

Congress is right to raise these questions, but they do not go far enough. The problem of human rights violations by the Indonesian military is not just about Kopassus, and it cannot be solved just by vetting individual soldiers.

The Congressional letter comes during a pitched debate about whether to lift the last remaining restrictions on US military assistance to Indonesia. Senator Patrick Leahy, for who the law that restricts assistance to abusive military units is named, has said that he recognizes that changes have taken place but remains concerned that Indonesia still has not fulfilled its promise to bring perpetrators to justice. On the other side, supporters of full military ties argue that “This is not Soeharto’s Indonesia.

This is not Soeharto’s TNI” or that “Kopassus Indonesia in 2010 is not Kopassus in 1991.”

There may be some superficial truth to these statements, but they do not provide the whole picture. Are those responsible for past crimes no longer part of Kopassus? And have Kopassus and the Indonesian Military (TNI) as a whole really transformed themselves into rights-respecting institutions under civilian control?

The answer to these questions is “no”. If the US does restore all aid to Kopassus, without concrete and meaningful preconditions, it would be a disaster for Indonesian human rights. Aid which is not meant just for Kopassus, but also for the TNI, the State Intelligence Agency, and the Ministry of Defense should be carefully tailored to exert maximum pressure to put structural reforms in place that can ensure accountability and civilian control.

Accountability for past crimes is not a separate question from military professionalism and human rights protection in present-day Indonesia. Kopassus has been implicated in major crimes such as the Wamena tortures in 2001 and the assassination of Papuan leader Theys Eluay in 2001, as well as recent reports of the assassination of Aceh political activists in 2009. These occurred under democratic governments, precisely because Kopassus has never been held accountable.

Recently, Kopassus commander Maj. Gen. Lodewijk Paulus replaced Col. Hartomo as Group I commander and also removed Lt. Col. Untung Budiharto to a teaching job at the Army Staff College in Bandung. Paulus didn’t mention that they were moved due to the controversies of rights record after the US government raised the idea to retrain Kopassus.

In 2003, Hartomo was convicted in the Theys Eluay murder and sentenced to 3.5 years jail and dismissal from the Army. A military tribunal sentenced Untung, involved in student kidnapping in 1997-1998, to 32 months imprisonment and dismissal.

They remain active, and even Untung was promoted as district commander with other convicted officers in disappearance, such Fausani Syahrial Multhazar (0719/Jepara), Dadang Hendra Yuda (1504/Ambon) and Djaka Budi Utama (115/Macan Leuser).

In the absence of a system that can hold perpetrators accountable for grave crimes, abuses continue to take place. Former Kopassus chief Maj. Gen. Muchdi Purwopranjono left the elite unit after being implicated in the disappearances of activists in the the late 1990s. But he was never prosecuted, and later implicated in the 2004 assassination of Munir, Indonesian’s leading human rights defender, while Muchdi work for the State Intelligence Agency (BIN).

Human rights violations are not just artifacts of the distant past. In Merauke and Keerom of Papua, as the Human Rights Watch has reported, Kopassus continues to make secret deployments and abuse civilians.

Yet in none of these cases are civilian judicial authorities or the police able to bring Kopassus officers to account. Military impunity continues through the use of separate military courts that lack basic transparency and independence. Implicated Kopassus officers are not only set free, but are promoted upwards through the command structure.

Furthermore, it is not just Kopassus that continues to be untouchable. The other TNI branches and intelligence also operate with impunity.

A recent development demonstrates both impunity and the absence of civilian control. Victims and some rights groups have filed lawsuits against the appointment of Lt. Gen. Sjafrie Sjamsuddin as deputy defense minister, a senior post in the civilian institution charged with overseeing the TNI. Yet Sjafrie, a Kopassus general, has been implicated by the National Human Rights Commission in political violence, including the disappearance and shooting of students and the May riot in Jakarta in 1998.

The Obama administration has indicated that it only intends to give aid to officers and soldiers who have passed human rights “vetting”. But this procedure only operates on an individual basis, and does so ineffectively. It is not possible to know the names of all these who have pulled the trigger, and, in any case, the disappearances, tortures and murders are not the result of individual soldiers running amok.

They are the result of institutional doctrines, policies and practices. Therefore, the only effective way to stop the crimes is to assign command responsibility and achieve structural reform in the institutions.

In fact, the US should restrict aid to the TNI, Kopassus, and Indonesian intelligence agencies such as BIN until they stop their current abuses in places including Aceh and Papua, and facilitate full prosecution of active and retired officers involved in crimes.

Such policies would support Indonesian legislators and civil society in crucial reform efforts, such as initiatives to resolve the student disappearances and to bring military perpetrators before civilian courts.

Since Kopassus is the unit that has most prominently flown above the law, the worst thing the US could do would be to provide this force with any aid or comfort.
In the absence of concrete progress in 1) removing human rights violators from the armed forces 2) prosecuting those responsible for past crimes and 3) putting soldiers under the jurisdiction of civilian courts, restoring assistance would be seen as Washington’s “green light” for further military impunity in Indonesia. Such a policy threatens the hopes of democracy and justice in Indonesia.

Usman Hamid, Jakarta coordinator for the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence.

1 comment:

  1. Training Kopassus is a really bad idea. It will only set back efforts to achieve accountability for past and recent human rights violations and will not discourage future crimes, according to the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network ( ).

    Oppose U.S. training for Kopassus by signing their Petition -

    For decades, the U.S. military provided training and other assistance to the Indonesian military, despite the demonstrated failure of international assistance to improve its behavior. The widely acknowledged abuses and criminal activity of Kopassus just went on. Restrictions on U.S. military assistance to Indonesia provide leverage to support democracy and human rights in Indonesia. Working with Kopassus, which has a long history of terrorizing civilians, will undermine those fighting for justice and accountability in Indonesia and East Timor.