Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard gives a speech in Sydney on September 24, 2010.

© 2010 Reuters

(New York) - Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard should use her upcoming trip to Indonesia to press for accountability of abusive Indonesian security forces, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to Gillard released today. Gillard is scheduled to travel to Jakarta on November 1, 2010, and is to meet with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Australia provides extensive assistance to Indonesian security forces, particularly for counterterrorism and to promote respect for human rights. But two recent incidents involving torture by Indonesian security forces show that serious problems persist, Human Rights Watch said.

"Prime Minister Gillard should demand that recent cases of torture by Indonesian security forces are credibly investigated, not swept under the carpet," said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Indonesia's major military partners like Australia have a responsibility to ensure their training is not simply furthering abusive forces."

Earlier this month, a cell phone video dated May 30 showing the brutal torture of two Papuan men became public. Top-level Indonesian government officials have since acknowledged that the torturers are Indonesian soldiers.

In a separate incident in August, police officers of Detachment 88 reportedly severely beat and tortured peaceful Molluccan independence activists during their arrest and interrogation. Detachment 88 is the counterterrorism component of the Indonesian police's paramilitary mobile brigade (Brigade Mobile, or Brimob).

Human Rights Watch has identified ongoing concerns related to the Indonesian security forces, with particular attention to Detachment 88 and Kopassus, Indonesia's special forces. Australia closely collaborates with both of these forces. 

Detachment 88 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 in equipment and training.

Australia most recently conducted joint military exercises with Kopassus in Bali in September. While Australian officials claim that Kopassus's respect for human rights has increased dramatically in recent years, Human Rights Watch said that Kopassus members continue to commit serious abuses, particularly in Papua and West Papua provinces.

Kopassus members also remain essentially unaccountable for past violations - at least 11 of 18 Kopassus soldiers convicted by military tribunals for involvement in human rights abuses since 1998 are still serving in the military. The opaque Indonesian military justice system has repeatedly failed to conduct adequate investigations and to prosecute military personnel implicated in human rights violations.

"The Indonesian government has made promises to investigate crimes by security forces before, but all too often these promises dissipate once the media attention fades," Pearson said. "Prime Minister Gillard should seek action, not mere words, from President Yudhoyono."

The Human Rights Watch letter recommends measures to increases the professionalism, accountability, and respect for human rights of the Indonesian security services. In particular, Human Rights Watch urges Gillard to call on the Indonesian government to ensure that members of security forces implicated in serious human rights violations are credibly and impartially investigated and disciplined or prosecuted as appropriate. To this end, Gillard should press the Indonesian government to support legislation proposed in Indonesia's parliament to provide civilian criminal court jurisdiction over military personnel responsible for offenses against civilians.

Human Rights Watch also urged the Australian government to take steps to establish a systematic, transparent method of vetting security services that Australia seeks to train. 

"Unless Australia develops a more uniform and transparent way to vet members of foreign forces, there is no way to evaluate whether Australia's efforts at military reform are effective," Pearson said.