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United Nations
The primary concerns of the U.N. and its agencies were the conflict in East Timor and the impact of the economic crisis. The above-mentioned August 5 agreement between Indonesia and Portugal, brokered by the U.N. secretary-general, represented a major advance in the long stalemated talks on resolution of the East Timor conflict. Indonesia promised to release political prisoners and reduce its troops in East Timor, promises it had only partially fulfilled by November. Interests sections were to be established in each other’s capitals, and an agreement on “wide-ranging autonomy” to be worked out if possible by the end of 1998.

On August 13, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed in Geneva between the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Indonesian government. The MOU provides for a program officer from the high commissioner’s office to be assigned to the office of the United Nations Development Program in Jakarta. The officer was to have full access to Indonesia and East Timor and was to assist among other things in implementation of Indonesia’s national action plan on human rights, human rights education and training, and provision of information needed for ratification of international human rights instruments. The weakness of the MOU reflected the fact that it had been negotiated while Soeharto was still in power; at that point, even access to East Timor seemed a major advance. The usefulness of the program officer, who had no explicit monitoring functions, would depend on the person appointed; as of late September, no appointment had been made.

The MOU was an outgrowth in part of the chairman’s statement on East Timor at the fifty-fourth session of United Nations Human Rights Commission in March, a weaker critique of Indonesia’s human rights practices there than the previous year’s resolution. Indonesia also agreed, as part of that statement, to invite the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to East Timor, although the visit itself was not expected to take place until early 1999. Radhika Coomaraswamy, the U.N. special rapporteur on violence against women, made a formal request to the Indonesian government to visit to investigate the rapes of ethnic Chinese women.

The economic crisis and its impact on ordinary Indonesians were major preoccupations of the ILO and UNICEF. On May 26, the ILO issued a statement welcoming the release of detained labor union leader Muchtar Pakpahan and urging the release of others. (Dita Sari, a student labor leader, remained in prison in Surabaya as of mid-September.)

In the first part of the year, international emphasis was almost entirely on Indonesia’s economic straits, with pressure from most of the G-8 countries on President Soeharto to meet the terms of a January 15 accord with the IMF. Personal telephone calls or visits by world leaders and their representatives, including U.S. President Clinton and former Vice President Mondale, Japanese Prime Minister Hashimoto, and German Chancellor Kohl, had no noticeable impact. At a meeting on May 16-17, in the immediate aftermath of the Jakarta riots, the G-8 came as close as it ever had to calling for political reform.

At the annual donors’ meeting in Paris in late June, members of the Consultative Group on Indonesia (CGI) pressed for economic reforms, and several governments pledged assistance with social safety net programs. Japan pledged the most, some 187 billion yen. Corruption was also a key point of discussion. The U.S. raised concerns about East Timor, both in its public statement and in private discussions with Indonesian officials.

The reaction to the “disappearances” of political activists in January and February was strong. Many governments, includingkey donors and trading partners such as Japan and Australia, urged investigations and prosecution of those responsible.

United States
A furor in the U.S. Congress was unleashed in March when a news article revealed that the Pentagon was engaged in joint training exercises under the global J-CET program involving Kopassus units as well as the Jakarta Joint Military Command. The Pentagon suspended the training, and in Congressional hearings in June, U.S. defense officials described a new process of oversight of the entire J-CET program including the State Department, before any training in Indonesia would be reinstituted. Congress voted in October to ban the provision of J-CET training to countries whose security forces violate human rights; it also voted to continue the suspension of IMET (International Military Education and Training) training in Indonesia, citing ongoing abuses in East Timor.

Calls for political reform were late in coming. Just hours before Soeharto resigned, U.S. Secretary of State Albright said in a speech that he had “an opportunity for a historic act of statesmanship” that would “preserve his legacy”; the remarks were almost universally interpreted as call for him to step down.

The Clinton administration fought an uphill battle all year trying to persuade Congress to allocate new credits for the IMF, arguing that IMF support was crucial to continue support for Indonesia and other Asian economies. But the House of Representatives insisted that any funding be accompanied by reform of the IMF itself to provide greater transparency and accountability. The budget for financial year 1999 included the full $18 billion requested by the administration for the IMF, and included IMF reforms, including a report by the Treasury Department on abuses of core worker rights in IMF-recipient countries and whether IMF measures have had a negative effect on worker rights, particularly the right of free association. Under the reforms, the Treasury Department would establish an IMF advisory committee composed of representatives from industry, labor, and environmental and human rights organizations.

The rapes of ethnic Chinese sparked a vigorous grass-roots campaign to link bilateral U.S. economic assistance to investigation of the perpetrators and compensation of the rape victims. House and Senate letters to the Administration were accompanied by language inserted into the foreign aid bill in both houses calling for action and urging U.S. technical and funding assistance with the rape investigations.

European Union
On June 18 the European Parliament adopted an urgent resolution expressing its dismany at the limited progress toward greater political openness in Indonesia and called on authorities to unconditionally release all political prisoners. The E.P. also called on the Habibie government to take steps to introduce democracy by setting a date for free elections. It also urged that a peaceful solution to East Timor be found.

Ambassadors in Jakarta representing the E.U. troika countries visited East Timor from June 27 to July 30. When the ambassadors reached Baucau, a clash between pro-independence supporters and supporters of the Indonesian government led the Indonesian army to fire on demonstrators, killing one man, Orlando Mercado. The E.U. asked the Indonesian government to conduct an inquiry into the shooting. A report on the visit issued in late July stressed the urgency of involving the East Timorese people in a search for a political solution to the conflict and said that the withdrawal of troops should be a top priority.

Indonesia was a focus of special attention. During the year Japan gave Indonesia over $1.3 billion in yen loans, plus a $1 billion loan by the Japanese Export-Import Bank, a $30 million grant for medical assistance, and contributions of rice and other in-kind humanitarian aid. Japan also increased its contacts with Indonesian NGOs involved in dealing with the social dimensions of the economic crisis.

Members of the Diet continued to be active on East Timor. Parliamentarians in the Diet Members Forum on East Timor called on the Japanese delegation to the U.N. Human Rights Commission to cosponsor an E.U. resolution on East Timor. In meetings with U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson in January, they urged her to set up an office in Jakarta to monitor abuses in East Timor.

International Financial Institutions
The IMF played such a high-profile role in the Indonesian crisis that it was accused inside and outside Indonesia of worsening a bad situation. The letters of intent between the IMF and the Indonesian government signed on October 31, 1997 and January 15 caused major problems, both in terms of the substance of the reforms sought and the unwillingness of then-President Soeharto to implement them. At the same time, the Indonesian crisis helped lead the IMF to focus more than it had before on the impact of its standard program on the poor and vulnerable, meaning food subsidies targeted for removal were eventually restored, and on the need for good governance, a concept that entailed legitimate leadership.

The World Bank made a visible effort to consult with nongovernmental groups, including in a highly publicized meeting in Jakarta in February between dozens of highly vocal critics of past bank policy and James Wolfensohn, the bank’s president.

Private Sector
The business community also played a critical role during the year, and in some cases, directly addressed human rights concerns. For example, a delegation of leading U.S. companies went to Jakarta in early May, at the height of the crisis, and brought up the “disappearances” in meetings with Habibie and other senior officials. Companies and trade organizations also raised scholarshipfunds for Indonesians studying abroad and donated food and medical supplies to particularly hard-hit rural areas. At year’s end, foreign investors remained deeply worried about political stability and continuing food riots.

Relevant Human Rights Watch reports:
The Damaging Debate on Violence Against Ethnic Chinese Women , 9/98
Release Prisoners of Conscience Now!, 8/98
Academic Freedom in Indonesia: Dismantling Soeharto-era Barriers , 8/98





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