Friday, November 5, 2010

Statement of East Timor and Indonesia Action Network on President Obama's Visit to Indonesia

As President Obama departs on his twice-delayed trip to Indonesia, the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) urge him to use the opportunity to build a relationship between the U.S. and Indonesia based on the promotion of human rights and the rule of law. As we wrote to President Obama last March, "the history of U.S.-Indonesia relations is much better known for the U.S.'s largely uncritical support of the Suharto dictatorship, from its bloody seizure of power in 1965 through its illegal invasion and occupation of then Portuguese Timor to the Kopassus kidnappings and murders of student leaders in 1997 and 1998."

President Obama's visit coincides with Indonesia's Heroes Day, and the dictator Suharto is under consideration to be named as a "National Hero."
We urge President Obama to use the opportunity of his visit to decisively break with past U.S. support for torture, disappearances, rape, invasion and illegal occupation, extrajudicial murder, environmental devastation. and more. U.S. weapons, training, political backing and economic support of Indonesia facilitated these crimes. President Obama should apologize to the peoples of Indonesia and Timor- Leste for the U.S. role in their suffering during the Suharto years and to offer condolences to Suharto's many victims throughout the archipelago.

Crimes against humanity and other violations of human rights did not end with Suharto’s fall. Since then U.S. policy has largely focused instead on narrow strategic and economic interests that have little to do with the well-being of the Indonesian people. In recent weeks, horrific videos and other reports of torture, the burning of villages and other crimes show that the people of West Papua and elsewhere continue to suffer at the hands of military and police. We urge President Obama to condition U.S. security assistance on an end to human rights violations and impunity. We urge him to follow the recommendation of Timor-Leste's Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in Timor-Leste (CAVR), which urged nations to "regulate military sales and cooperation with Indonesia more effectively and make such support totally conditional on progress towards full democratisation, the subordination of the military to the rule of law and civilian government, and strict adherence with international human rights, including respect for the right of self-determination."

We urge the President to announce that the U.S., as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, will work to establish an international tribunal to bring to justice the perpetrators of human rights crimes committed during Indonesia’s 24-year occupation of Timor-Leste. This would send the critical message that no one is above the law and would serve as an important deterrent to future human rights violators. A tribunal was recommended by the CAVR and is supported by the many victims of these crimes and by human rights advocates in Timor-Leste, Indonesia and elsewhere. We are deeply concerned about the administration's recent announcement that the U.S. will for the first time in a dozen years engage with Indonesia's notorious Kopassus special forces. We also call on President Obama to end this planned engagement and to suspend all funding and training of Indonesia's Detachment 88 police unit pending review of charges leveled against the unit for systemic human rights violations, including use of torture. We believe that U.S. law bars cooperation with military and police units with such egregious human rights records. These actions by President Obama would change the current course from one of repeating failed policies. While much has changed in Indonesia, U.S. security assistance does not promote further change. Instead it encourages impunity and violations of human rights and sets back reform.

In his book The Audacity of Hope, President Obama wrote that "for the past sixty years the fate of [Indonesia] has been directly tied to U.S. foreign policy," a policy which included "the tolerance and occasional encouragement of tyranny, corruption, and environmental degradation when it served our interests." A new relationship between the two countries must be built on an honest assessment of the bloody past. President Obama's special connection to Indonesia offers an important opportunity to usher in a new era in the relationship between our two nations. One that rejects a relationship based largely on militarism with one that respects human rights and promotes the rule of law.

Members of ETAN are available for interviews contact: John M. Miller, ETAN, +1-718-596-7668, +1-917-690-4391,,

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