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Human Rights Watch Backgrounder on Indonesia:
For the Visit of President Megawati Sukarnoputri
(September 2001) On September 19, 2001, Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri will meet U.S. President George Bush. Support from Indonesia, the country with the world's largest Muslim population, for a U.S. "war against terrorism" is likely to be high on the agenda. U.S. sources have said that the Osama bin Laden network has penetrated Laskar Jihad, a radical Java-based Muslim militia that now has thousands of young fighters in Maluku, an archipelagic province east of Bali and north of East Timor. The Bush administration, in an effort to secure Indonesia's support, will almost certainly move to boost ties with the Indonesian military. The question is whether the U.S. Congress will be more sympathetic to that effort than it would have been before the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Related Material

Human Rights Developments: Events in Indonesia in 2001
Human Rights Backgrounder, September 2001

Indonesia: Transition and Regional Conflict
HRW Indonesia Home Page

The debate over military assistance should be informed by a close examination of Indonesia's human rights practices. Indonesia remains in a state of political and economic uncertainty. Its transition from authoritarianism to democracy is not at all secure. Political institutions that can effectively channel local grievances and concerns remain weak. Regulatory structures are almost non-existent. The legal system is a shambles, and civilian law enforcement agencies, led by the police, are corrupt, poorly trained, and incapable of responding to serious violence. The military remains one of the country's strongest institutions, but its abusive actions over the last thirty years have fueled violence and rebellion in many parts of the country. Strengthening the military is not the way to ensure Indonesia's unity as a country. Strengthening accountability and the rule of law will, in the long run, be far more effective.

While it is clearly appropriate for U.S. officials to raise the issue of countering terrorism with their Indonesian visitors, they should not downplay human rights concerns or the need for basic reforms. Human Rights Watch believes the Bush administration should:

1) keep the need for accountability for human rights violations in Aceh, Papua, East Timor and elsewhere high on the agenda with President Megawati. It would be a huge disservice to pro-democracy reformers in Indonesia to do otherwise.

2) avoid rushing to re-engage with the Indonesian military in a way that reduces the pressure to establish human rights courts and prosecute key human rights violators.

3) indicate the importance the U.S. attaches to fundamental legal and judicial reforms and engage Indonesian officials in a discussion of what steps Megawati's Minister of

Justice and Attorney-General are planning to take in this regard. Neither man has a strong track record on reform.

4) underscore continued U.S. support for nongovernmental organizations and how important it is that local human rights organizations in particular be able to continue their work without fear of harassment from security forces.

One of the main curbs on re-engagement has been the Leahy amendment to the FY 2001 foreign operations appropriations bill. It says that funds may be available to Indonesia for International Military Education and Training (IMET) and Foreign Military Financing Program (FMS) -- US government-funded arms sales -- only if the president certifies to Congress that certain conditions have been met. These include evidence that the Indonesian government and armed forces are taking effective measures to bring to justice members of the military and associated militia groups against whom there is credible evidence of human rights violations and that they are demonstrating a commitment to accountability by cooperating with investigations and prosecutions of those violators.

In written testimony to the House of Representatives this past June, James Kelly, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia, said "To date, the Government of Indonesia has not met the requirements of the Leahy amendment in pursuing accountability for human rights abuses by the TNI in East Timor or elsewhere. …We will continue to make clear to the [Indonesian military and government] that a return to normal mil-to-mil relations would require meeting the conditions in the Leahy Amendment."

In the meantime, the Bush administration has decided to significantly increase engagement with TNI in order to reward the military for supporting a constitutional transition, and to support reform elements within the armed forces. The administration has said it plans to proceed with increased TNI engagement while consulting with Congress and respecting the basic human rights conditions contained in the Leahy amendment.. It has also indicated an interest in easing some of the restrictions in the fiscal year 2002 appropriations bill, still under consideration. For example, it plans to carry out ship visits, some commercial arms sales including so-called "dual use" supplies and spare parts, bilateral operational contacts, and other high level activities. However, the administration has said it does not plan to resume combat training of Indonesian forces. In light of strong Congressional opposition to moving prematurely towards reengagement, it's unclear precisely how and when the administration will implement its decision.

For an analysis of human rights developments in Indonesia in 2001, see: