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The Hon Julia Gillard MP
Prime Minister
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Re: Australian Assistance to Indonesian Security Forces

Dear Prime Minister Gillard,

Congratulations on your recent election as Australia's Prime Minister. We write to you regarding Australian assistance to the Indonesian security forces as we understand you are travelling to Indonesia on November 1. 

We appreciate that Australia values its bilateral relationship with Indonesia, and that the two countries have recently upgraded the status of their relationship to that of a "comprehensive strategic partnership."  We also note that in March 2010, during Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's visit to Australia, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said that when Australia seeks to improve the Indonesian security forces' ability to handle their law enforcement responsibilities, "we always seek to take a positive and constructive approach."

We believe promoting accountability for human rights violations should play an important role in Australia-Indonesia bilateral relations. Indeed, as former Prime Minister Rudd and President Yudhoyono noted in a joint statement in March, Australia and Indonesia "seek to promote the values or freedom, good governance, tolerance, and the rule of law," and "have a mutual stake in each other's progress." 

This letter identifies ongoing concerns related to the Indonesian security forces, with particular attention to Detachment 88 and Kopassus, Indonesia's special forces, and recommends measures to increases the professionalism, accountability, and respect for human rights of the Indonesian security services.  In particular, we recommend that Australia take steps to establish a systematic, transparent method of vetting those members of the security services that Australia seeks to train. 

Australian Engagement with Kopassus

In late September 2010, the Australian Special Air Services (SAS) Regiment conducted a joint counter-terrorism training exercise in Bali with Kopassus' Unit 81, the force's counter-terror component.  Australia officially resumed cooperation with Kopassus in 2005, following a moratorium in 1999 amid allegations of serious human rights abuses in East Timor.  According to media reports, Kopassus's notorious Sandi Yudha ("secret war") unit, responsible for covert warfare and intelligence and implicated in serious past human rights abuses, also participated in that training. This raises concerns that members of Kopassus with troubling human rights records were also benefitting from the exercise.  After the exercise, Kopassus commander Maj. Gen. Lodewijk Paulus told reporters that he would press Australia to provide Kopassus with urban warfare training in 2011 as well as jungle warfare training in Indonesia.  It is unclear what, if any, counter-terrorism-related value such trainings would impart.

The Australian government has justified training to Kopassus on the grounds that such cooperation is vital in the wake of terrorist bombings in Indonesia affecting Australian citizens.  Senior Australian officials have also claimed that Kopassus's respect for human rights has increased dramatically.

But while Indonesia has implemented significant reforms to the military in recent years, members of Kopassus continue to engage in abuses, particularly in the provinces of Papua and West Papua. In a June 2009 Human Rights Watch report, "`What Did I Do Wrong?'", interviews with victims and eyewitnesses revealed a pattern of arbitrary detention and ill-treatment in Merauke, Papua. A Kopassus response on its website that denies the allegations contains several errors.  Credible sources in Papua with whom Human Rights Watch has since spoken endorse the report's findings, which we stand by.

Kopassus members also remain essentially unaccountable for past violations.  At least 11 of 18 Kopassus soldiers that have been convicted by military tribunals for involvement in human rights abuses since 1998 are still serving in the ranks of the military.  In September 2009, the Indonesian parliament, acting on a report by the National Human Rights Commission, recommended the creation of an ad hoc court to investigate the enforced disappearances of student activists in 1997 and 1998, in which members of Kopassus are alleged to have been involved. President Yudhoyono has yet to act on the recommendation and establish the court. 

Australian SAS Commander Maj. Gen. Tim McOwan has stated that the Indonesian military's decision to allow former Kopassus officers convicted of human rights abuse to remain serving in the armed forces was an issue of concern for the Indonesian, not the Australian, government.  But Australian efforts to train Kopassus should not undermine efforts to promote accountability within the military.

Indeed, your defense minister, Stephen Smith, recently stated that Australia has long "minimise[d] contact with anyone in Kopassus who is subject to human rights breach allegations or accusations."  This is a welcome commitment, and we understand that Australian embassy staff vet individuals applying for training. However unless there is more uniform and transparent means of vetting individuals, observers in Indonesia will have no way of evaluating whether or not Australia's efforts have been effective. 

Indonesian police reform and Detachment 88

Detachment 88, the counter-terror component of the Indonesian police's paramilitary mobile brigade (Brigade Mobile, or Brimob), was created in the wake of the 2002 Bali bombing.  Since that time, Australia has provided significant support to the force, reportedly pledging US$35 million over five years to build a training center, and providing millions of dollars each year to the force in the form of equipment and personnel training.

The assistance provided to Detachment 88 has not put an end to the unit's torture and other ill-treatment of suspects in custody. Human Rights Watch has investigated allegations that members of Detachment 88 committed torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in the course of anti-separatist operations against peaceful protesters, particularly in the Moluccas.  In one incident, several of those detained in 2007 for unfurling a separatist flag in front of President Yudhoyono in Ambon told Human Rights Watch they were savagely beaten and subjected to other forms of torture by Detachment 88 personnel in the weeks following their arrest.  School teacher Johan Teterisa, who led the dancers, told Human Rights Watch how police beat him continuously for at least 12 hours every day for 11 days. Several beat him with irod rods and stones and slashed him with a bayonet. In one instance on June 20, 2007, Detachment 88 officers beat him repeatedly with sticks, kicked him and pushed him underwater at the nearby Ambon sea, and continued beating him underwater. Another activist, Reimond Tuapattinaya also told how he and other activists were stripped down to their underwear, forced to sleep on a tile floor, beaten with iron bars, wooden bats, wire cables, kicked, and trampled.  This is documented in Human Rights Watch's June 2010 report, "Prosecuting Political Aspiration."

Between August 1 and 7, 2010, Detachment 88 officers participated in the arrest and interrogation of approximately 21 activists in the Moluccas for planning to float separatist flags attached to helium-filled balloons during a visit by President Yudhoyono.  Following their arrest, some of the activists alleged that they had been subjected to beatings that lasted for days including by Detachment 88 officers. They told a Sydney Morning Herald journalist how they were blindfolded and hit round the head and body during interrogations, hit with wooden sticks and bars, pistol-whipped, had plastic bags placed over their heads,  or forced to hold painful stress positions. Some of this mistreatment took place at the Detachment 88 office in Ambon.

In September 2010, apparently in response to the torture allegations, Indonesian officials said that the Ambon-based unit of Detachment 88 would be disbanded. However, they stated that the Indonesian security forces would continue to use Detachment 88 to combat separatist activity in locations such as Papua. The National Police have claimed that they are investigating the activists' torture allegations, but there are serious concerns that they are not undertaking the investigation in good faith.  On September 16, as the investigation team arrived in Ambon, National Police spokesman Insp. Gen. Marwoto Soeto told the Jakarta Globe, "There was never any torture. And our team went [to the Moluccas] to prove that the allegations are false." On September 30, the Indonesian human rights group KontraS released the results of an independent investigation that it had conducted into the torture allegations in which it confirmed both the torture allegations and the involvement of Detachment 88 personnel. The Indonesian police have not publicly released the results of their investigation.

As news of the torture allegations against Detachment 88 officers in the Moluccas came to light, Australian government representatives told media sources that they were ''aware and concerned'' about the activities of the Detachment 88 officers and had sent an official to Ambon, to meet with officials there in late August. In September, a representative of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade stated that Detachment 88 had not requested Australian assistance in investigations or operations against separatists. 

While these pronouncements are welcome, they fall short of ensuring that Australian assistance to Detachment 88 is not facilitating the force's arbitrary arrest, detention and torture of peaceful activists in the Moluccas and Papua. In response to the torture allegations, the United States revealed that it had suspended aid to the Detachment 88 force in Ambon as early as 2008 as a result of human rights concerns. Australian officials have not categorically stated whether they would deny training to any component of Detachment 88 in the face of credible allegations of torture of detainees. 

Military justice

So long as Indonesia's broader efforts to combat military impunity remain stalled, simply attempting to limit the provision of training to soldiers with unblemished records may be insufficient to prevent that training from facilitating future rights abuses. 

The opaque Indonesian military justice system has repeatedly failed to adequately investigate and prosecute alleged abusers in the military. The Indonesian parliament has yet to vote on a bill that would subject military personnel to the jurisdiction of civilian courts when they are accused of committing crimes against civilians.  On March 22, Indonesia's defense minister publicly pledged to suspend from active duty military officials credibly accused of gross human rights abuses, discharge those convicted of abuse, and cooperate with their prosecution.  Six days later, soldiers in Depok were credibly accused of severely assaulting four boys who had allegedly stolen a bicycle.  Thereafter, military police claimed to be investigating but they have released no information suggesting that the soldiers were being prosecuted. 

In recent weeks, fresh allegations have come to light regarding a cell phone video in which Indonesian security forces brutally torture two Papuan men. The Indonesian government has promised to investigate these allegations, but similar promises to investigate have been made before, which then dissipate once the media spotlight fades away.


Given the concerns outlined above, Human Rights Watch recommends that during your trip to Indonesia you:

  • Call on the Indonesian government to ensure that those members of the Indonesian military implicated in serious human rights violations, including those involving command responsibility, are credibly and impartially investigated and disciplined or prosecuted as appropriate. In particular, press for credible, transparent investigations into recent incidents of torture in Papua and Ambon.
  • Urge the Indonesian government to support legislation proposed in parliament that would provide civilian criminal court jurisdiction over military personnel responsible for offenses against civilians.
  • Urge the Indonesian government to undertake an independent and credible investigation of recent allegations that members of the police, including members of Detachment 88, tortured suspected separatists in their custody in August 2010.

In addition, we urge you to develop and make publicly available a procedure by which appropriate Australian officials are to systematically vet the human rights records of the components of Indonesian security forces, and particularly members of Kopassus and Detachment 88, that Australia seeks to train. This procedure should:

  • Conduct vetting at the individual, unit, and force levels.
  • Require that Indonesia provide complete deployment histories of the individuals and units Australia seeks to train.
  • Consult with Indonesian civil society groups about the human rights performance of individuals, units, and forces Australia seeks to train before agreeing to provide such training.
  • Require that Indonesia provide information about military police investigations and military tribunal proceedings involving members of the security forces affiliated with the units Australia seeks to train.
  • State the consequences that will result if the vetting procedure outlined above reveals that members or units of the security forces that Australia seeks to train have been credibly accused of past human rights abuse and have not been effectively investigated or prosecuted by Indonesian authorities. Make this protocol publicly available. Provide that until credible investigations and appropriate prosecutions are conducted and the results made public, the individual or unit implicated will be ineligible for Australian support.

Thank you for your consideration and we look forward to discussing these issues with you and your staff at your convenience. 


Elaine Pearson
Deputy Director
Asia Division

The Hon Stephen Smith MP, Minister for Defence
The Hon Kevin Rudd MP, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade
Greg Moriarty, Australian Ambassador to Indonesia

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