Thursday, June 26, 2014

The US ambassador to Indonesia has come under fire after calling for a probe into presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto’s human rights records

Move blasted by some as meddling by Washington in Jakarta’s affairs.

Ambassador Robert O. Blake Jr. wrote in an e-mail to the Wall Street Journal last week that while the United States did not take a position on the candidates in Indonesia’s July 9 presidential election, “we do, however, take seriously allegations of human rights abuses, and urge the Indonesian government to fully investigate the claims.”

The statement is widely understood to refer to Prabowo, the former commander of the Army Special Forces (Kopassus), who is accused of rights abuses in East Timor and in the early 1990s and the abduction of pro-democracy activists in Jakarta in 1997 and 1998.

Blake is hardly the first person to have called for an investigation — a litany of rights groups, including the government’s National Commission for Human Rights (Komnas HAM), have also demanded a full probe into both incidents — but the fact that he did so while an envoy of a foreign power is “unethical,” says Teuku Rezasyah, the executive director of the Indonesian Center for Democracy, Diplomacy and Defense, a think tank.

“He’s made a fatal mistake. An ambassador’s duties include establishing good relations with local communities where he is assigned. He should not interfere with domestic affairs, at all,” Rezasyah said in Jakarta on Thursday.

“[The statement] is disrespectful to Indonesia’s democratic process. It’s also ironic, considering America’s claim to being a champion of democracy,” he added.

Rezasyah, whose brother, Teuku Faizasyah, is President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s spokesman for foreign affairs, said the Indonesian government should not Blake’s statement slide without doing anything.

He urged the Foreign Ministry to at least summon the US ambassador to seek clarification, or file a diplomatic note of protest.

He said the United States had a long history of interfering in Indonesian affairs, citing the 1955 bombing of an oil facility in Riau by the CIA in support of anti-communist groups critical of then-president Sukarno’s left-leaning tendencies.

But this latest incident, Rezasyah said, should be considered an alarming attempt to interfere.

“The Indonesian government must be alert. As a sovereign, democratic nation we should never let others interfere in our domestic affairs,” he said.

“America should be careful; they may be playing with emotions of Indonesians who are looking for their next leaders. [Blake’s statement] could be a double-edged sword; his criticism of the candidate may be interpreted as support for the other candidate, which could spark conflict.”

Aleksius Jemadu, the dean of Pelita Harapan University’s School of Social and Political Sciences, also expressed his surprise at the “explicit statement” by Blake.

“At the beginning they said they would respect whoever was chosen by the people of Indonesia. They had never been this explicit before. This may indicate their strong preference for the candidate,” Aleksius said, referring to Joko Widodo, the current front-runner in the presidential race.

Aleksius said that given how strong nationalist sentiment among voters was, this tacit endorsement of Joko by the United States could cost him votes.

“That is, unless Joko issues a statement to counter the suspicions,” he said.

Prabowo, on the other hand, may enjoy a boost, with the US criticism seen as affirming his nationalist credentials.

“Prabowo may play the issue [to sway voters],” Aleksius said.

The candidate’s camp has already seized on the controversy, with a senior campaign official saying in Denpasar on Thursday that Prabowo was “the only one who dares to stand up to America.”

“God willing, he will be able to end the economic imperialism in this country. That is the most important issue, among other problems,” said Amien Rais, a founder of the National Mandate Party (PAN), whose chairman, Hatta Rajasa, is Prabowo’s running mate.

Aleksius said it was also entirely possible the United States was playing the human rights card to conceal its “real intentions” of securing its “strategic interests” in Indonesia, including business investments and security interests.

“The nationalism espoused by Prabowo may be seen as an antithesis to the spirit of globalization and trade liberalization that the United States wants to see in this region,” Aleksius said.

Other, though, say Blake’s statement bears little importance.

“You could indeed see it as meddling,” Makmur Keliat, an international relations expert at the University of Indonesia. “But on the other hand, democracy and human rights will always be part of US foreign policy, just as Palestinian independence is a calling card of Indonesian foreign policy.” The Jakarta Globe By Erwida Maulia & Made Arya Kencana


1 comment:

  1. Nairn, who was working as a freelance journalist, was imprisoned in Indonesia multiple times during the Suharto years. Suharto stepped down from power in 1998 after a 32-year rule, amid a financial crisis that sent the economy reeling and caused riots across the country. In 2010, the military said Nairn could face charges after he published articles accusing the army of assassinating activists.

    The next piece of the interview to be released, Nairn said, would include information about Prabowo’s relationship to the US during his time in East Timor — a potentially damaging issue given the candidate’s emphasis on standing up to the influence of foreign powers.

    “He is the single Indonesian officer who was closest to the United States, he was the most heavily trained by the United States and he was Washington’s man,” Nairn said.