ITT: Funding Indonesia’s Abusive Military

In These Times

October 2007

Funding Indonesia’s Abusive Military
by Ben Terrall

Counterterrorism” has become Indonesia’s latest slogan for avoiding
military reform while simultaneously strengthening its apparatus of
repression. In return for its loyalty in the war on terror, the Bush
administration has side-stepped congressional concerns of military
abuses in Indonesia.

Amnesty International observed in its 2007 country report: “The
majority of human rights violations by the security forces were not
investigated, and impunity for past violations persisted.” These
included two cases in which the National Human Rights Commission
submitted evidence in 2004 that security forces had committed crimes
against humanity.

A May report from the Center for Public Integrity’s International
Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) concluded that the
Indonesia military (TNI) is one of the largest recipients of
post-9/11 military assistance. In fact, from 2002 to 2005, Indonesia
was the largest recipient of the Pentagon’s Regional Defense
Counterterrorism Fellowship Program (CTFP). The ICIJ also noted that
under CTFP the TNI was receiving tutelage on “Intelligence in
Combating Terrorism” and “Student Military Police Prep.”

Ed McWilliams, political counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta
from 1996 to 1999, and now an independent human rights advocate,
says, “While TNI impunity for abuses and corruption remain a problem
throughout the archipelago, it is particularly acute in West Papua.
In a real sense, the post-Suharto democratic transition never
transpired in West Papua, where the military and police continue to
employ terror, torture and extrajudicial killing to enforce Jakarta’s rule.”

In 1969, West Papua was incorporated into Indonesia through the
threat of force. Not much has changed. On July 5, Human Rights Watch
reported, “Both army troops and police units … continue to engage
in indiscriminate village ‘sweeping’ operations in pursuit of
suspected militants, using excessive, often brutal, and at times
lethal force against civilians.”

On August 16, the Indonesian paper <i>Cenderawasih Pos</i>, reporting
on anticipated demonstrations in West Papua calling for
self-determination, quoted Col. Burhanuddin Siagian as saying that
the TNI “will not hesitate to shoot on sight” pro-independence
activists. In 2003, the U.N.-backed Serious Crimes Unit in East Timor
issued two indictments which stated that Siagian made similar
speeches threatening to kill independence supporters and was
responsible for the deaths of seven Timorese men in April 1999. The
group Human Rights First noted that human rights activists from Papua
were threatened after meetings in early June with a visiting U.N.
human rights official.

“[T]he TNI in West Papua is fueling sectarian strife by recruiting
largely Muslim migrants to form paramilitaries loyal to Jakarta’s
rule,” says McWilliams. “It is also creating Papuan militias along
the lines of those it created to devastating effect in East Timor. As
in the past throughout the archipelago, the TNI aims to generate
communal tensions in West Papua as a justification for maintaining
its presence and for continuing to exploit the region’s vast natural
resources.”

The East Timor and Indonesia Human Rights Network (ETAN) and its
allies in Congress, such as Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Patrick
Leahy (D-Vt.), have pushed several provisions in the new Foreign
Operations Appropriations Bill (H.R. 2764). The measures require that
the administration report that Indonesia has made progress in human
rights and military reform before $2 million in military assistance
to Jakarta is released. Though not as tough as legislation passed
following a 1991 massacre in East Timor, the new language puts on
record a dissent from the Bush administration’s policy of blanket
support for the TNI. Still, McWilliams argues, more is needed.

“The fate of real military reform and possibly the success of the
democratic transition in Indonesia depends very much on the U.S.
Congress’ willingness to insist on real reform, especially to push
for genuine civilian control of the military and an end to TNI
impunity,” he says. “Democrats must understand that an unreformed
TNI, one that– supports and has helped create fundamentalist Islamic
militias inside Indonesia, cannot be a credible partner in the so-
called ‘war on terror.’ The U.S. Congress should heed the voices of
human rights defenders in Indonesia and refuse to bankroll TNI
criminality, abuses and impunity.”

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