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(Washington) - Indonesia’s failure to reform its abusive military makes it essential for the U.S. Congress to maintain its restrictions on U.S. military assistance, Human Rights Watch said today. This week, House-Senate conferees are meeting to reconcile the annual Foreign Operations Appropriations bill and to decide whether restrictions on military aid to Indonesia should remain in place.

Because of the Indonesian military’s long record of abuse in places such as East Timor, Aceh and Papua, Congress in 2000 placed conditions on the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) assistance package to the Indonesian military. In fiscal year 2005, the conditions included requirements that the Indonesian government:

  • prosecute and punish members of the armed forces who have been credibly alleged to have committed gross violations of human rights or to have aided or abetted militia groups;
  • ensure cooperation by the armed forces with civilian judicial authorities and with international efforts to resolve cases of gross violations of human rights in East Timor and elsewhere; and
  • implement reforms to increase the transparency and accountability of military operations and financial management, including making publicly available audits of receipts and expenditures.

“Because President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was elected democratically, many now wrongly believe that Indonesia’s military has been reformed,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “But it continues to be responsible for routine abuses, has failed to address past crimes and remains beyond effective civilian control.”

Indonesian military officers and soldiers who commit human rights violations remain largely beyond the reach of the law. No senior Indonesian officer has been held to account for war crimes and crimes against humanity in East Timor in 1999 or other serious violations elsewhere in the archipelago. In July, an appeals court overturned all convictions in the first test-case of accountability for Suharto-era crimes, the 1984 Tanjung Priok massacre that left at least 33 civilians dead. The civilian defense minister still does not have the ability to appoint, discipline or remove officers.

Human Rights Watch called on the conferees to adopt the Senate’s language for the Fiscal Year 2006 bill, which tracks most of the conditions from last year, and adds important reporting requirements to monitor credible progress on the human rights situation in Papua and Aceh, crucial to informing policymaking on Indonesia. Another Senate provision, Report on Indonesian Cooperation, section 6108, also requires a detailed report prior to the release of International Military Education and Training (IMET) for Indonesia from the Secretary of State on U.S. and Indonesian efforts to bring to justice those responsible for the ambush and murder of two U.S. citizens and an Indonesian in Papua in August 2002.

Human Rights Watch expressed concern over recent statements by Indonesian President Yudhoyono and army chief General Endriartono Sutarto calling for the reinvigoration of the territorial command structure. The territorial command structure has, in effect, made the army an occupying force instead of focusing on national defense. Public opinion surveys in Indonesia have shown that it is deeply unpopular. Efforts to reinforce the territorial command structure serve as an alarming reminder of the failure to implement serious and structural military reform.

Human Rights Watch also voiced concern over the largely unaddressed issue of the military’s continued control of a vast network of legal and illegal businesses. While Indonesian legislation in 2004 requires all such business interests be divested by 2009, there are widespread doubts in Indonesia that this will happen. There are also fears that, if it does happen, the businesses might simply be transferred to entities controlled by senior military figures. Fanning fears of corruption, the military recently sold off shares in its private companies without notifying the authorities responsible for overseeing the transfer of military businesses. Human Rights Watch noted that financial transparency of the military’s budget, as called for in the U.S. Senate proposal, must form the backbone of any serious reform effort.

Human Rights Watch also cautioned against a simplistic response to the recent October 1, 2005 Bali bombings and other bombings in the past three years in Indonesia. Counter-terror cooperation does not justify resumption of Foreign Military Financing and export of lethal equipment. The police, long marginalized by the military, remain the key actor in counter-terror efforts. It was the police who successfully investigated the perpetrators of the October 2002 Bali bombing and other attacks. The U.S. already has numerous options available to engage with the Indonesian government, including the military, on counterterrorism.

“This is the wrong time to let up the pressure on the Indonesian military,” said Adams. “Now is the time to insist that it ends abuses against civilians, phases out the territorial structure and ends its corrupt business practices.”

Supporters of military aid argue that with direct elections of the president in 2004, the stated commitment of President Yudhoyono and Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono to reform, and the recent peace agreement in Aceh, the problems are being solved. Yet when pressed, advocates of military aid are unable to articulate how the widely recognized systemic problem of abuse is being addressed.

“Even supporters of the Indonesian military should realize that holding out the carrot of military assistance is the best way to help with military reform,” said Adams. “Continued restrictions are needed to encourage structural and financial reform and accountability for serious human rights violations.”

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