Statement on Indonesia

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy
A History of Impunity in Indonesia

October 4, 2017

Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, I want to speak briefly about a recent report by the Secretary of State concerning, among other things, impunity within Indonesia’s military. This has been a concern of mine, and of many others, for decades.

Senate Report 114-290, which accompanies division J of the fiscal year 2017 Consolidated Appropriations Act, requires the Secretary of State to submit a report on steps taken by the Indonesian military to –

  1. Deny promotion, suspend from active service, and/or prosecute and punish military officers who have violated human rights, and to refine further the military’s mission and develop an appropriate defense budget to carry out that mission;
  2. Cooperate with civilian judicial authorities to resolve cases of violations of human rights;
  3. Implement reforms that increase the transparency and accountability of the military’s budget and operations, and achieve divestment of military businesses; and
  4. Allow unimpeded access to Papua; respect due process and freedom of expression, association, and assembly in Papua; and release Papuans and Moluccans imprisoned for peaceful political activity.

The Secretary submitted this report on September 12, 2017, and the information it contains is both disturbing and disappointing.

Indonesia became a democracy after many years of brutal, corrupt dictatorship under President Suharto. He had the unwavering support of the Indonesian military, which was responsible for widespread atrocities not only against Indonesian citizens who opposed Suharto, but later against the people of East Timor and Papua. He was also a Cold War ally of the United States.

Suharto is gone and Indonesia has changed for the better. It remains an important ally of the United States. But no democracy can achieve its potential without an independent judiciary and security forces that are professional and accountable, or that fails to defend such fundamental rights as freedom of expression and association.

While the Indonesian military is no longer the criminal enterprise it was during the Suharto period, impunity for past crimes remains the norm. As the Secretary of State’s report notes, the Government of Indonesia continues to take inadequate steps to hold members of the Indonesian military accountable for human rights violations. One stark example includes the reemergence on active duty and promotions of several former members of the Special Forces’ Rose Team, who were convicted in 1999 of kidnapping pro-democracy activists. In another deplorable incident, the Government of Indonesia appointed as the head of the Armed Forces Strategic Intelligence Agency a military officer who was convicted in 2003 for the murder of prominent Papuan civil society leader, Theys Eluay.

Furthermore, military-related entities, such as foundations and cooperatives, continue to hold large amounts of land and other properties and businesses, despite the government’s claim that the military has largely divested itself of private enterprises.

Military personnel are still not subject to civilian judicial authorities. Instead, they are tried by military tribunals which lack transparency and often grant much shorter prison sentences than any credible judicial authority would deem appropriate. Although four district courts are authorized to adjudicate cases involving human rights violations, none of them have heard or ruled on any human rights cases since 2005.

Simply authorizing changes or espousing rhetoric without following up with tangible action makes a mockery of the concept of reform.

Other findings in the report are also illustrative of a resistance to reform. For example, the report states that “Indonesian law provides that military prosecutors are accountable to the Supreme Court. In practice, however, they are responsible to the Indonesian Armed Forces for the application of laws.”

With respect to the Moluccas and Papua, the report states that “according to international NGO reports, approximately 10 Moluccan independence activists, who were arrested in 2007, remain in custody. . . In January 2015, a court sentenced Simon Siya, a leader in the Moluccan independence movement, to five years in prison on treason charges. He remains in prison. The court also sentenced seven others to two-to-three years for displaying a banned separatist flag during a peaceful pro-independence demonstration in 2014. . . NGOs in Papua continued to report widespread monitoring of their activities by intelligence officials as well as indirect threats and intimidation.”

Accusing people of being traitors and imprisoning them for peacefully supporting self-determination is itself a violation of human rights.

Mr. President, Indonesia has come a long way since the dark days of President Suharto, but when it comes to military reform it has fallen far short. In January 2018 it will be ten years since Suharto’s death, yet the military remains a largely opaque, unaccountable institution that has not even acknowledged the extent of its responsibility for past crimes. That needs to change.

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