Human Rights Watch today said the resignation of Indonesia's long-serving President Soeharto was an important first step toward reform, but it was still unclear whether his successor, President Habibie, would have the will or capacity to transform Indonesia's authoritarian political system.

"The resignation is an extraordinarily important victory for the student-led democracy movement, reinforcing the key role students have played at every political watershed in Indonesia's history," said Sidney Jones, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. "But the key question now is how committed President Habibie is to democratic change and protection of human rights."

Human Rights Watch said the international human rights community would be looking for tangible signs of commitment to reform that would include:

  • freeing of political prisoners, including many critics of Soeharto. These include a former parliamentarian, Sri Bintang Pamungkas; a student leader, Budiman Soedjatmiko; a labor leader, Mochtar Pakpahan; and East Timorese resistance leader, Xanana Gusmao.
  • taking concrete steps toward the repeal of laws and regulations that Soeharto has relied on to curb dissent and prevent the formation of political institutions that could pose a challenge to his rule.
  • setting a clear timetable and procedures for a fair election where the Indonesian people would have an opportunity for the first time since 1955 to exercise their right to freely choose their own representatives. initiating a dialogue on political reform and human rights protection with the people of East Timor.
  • publicly announcing Indonesia's commitment to signing and ratifying major international human rights treaties.
  • establishing a high-level civilian-military commission to review the long-standing "dual function" of the Indonesian military that gives the armed forces a role in both social and political affairs as well as in defense and security.

Until such steps begin, Human Rights Watch urged that the governments making up the donor consortium known as the Consultative Group on Indonesia _ including the U.S., Japan, Germany, France, Australia, Canada, and Britain, among others _ continue to suspend economic assistance, including through the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. The only exceptions to that assistance, Human Rights Watch said, should be humanitarian aid, assistance aimed at strengthening civil society, and scholarship programs.