(WPAT) and East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN)


Contact: John M. Miller, +1-718-596-7668; mobile: +1-917-690-4391, john@etan.org

Ed McWilliams, +1-575-648-2078, edmcw@msn.com

President Barack Obama
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20500

November 15, 2011

Dear President Obama,

We urge you to seize the opportunity of your imminent return to Indonesia to consider the challenges and opportunities posed by the U.S.-Indonesia relationship more realistically than you have up to now.  Your Administration urgently needs a policy that addresses the problems created by the Indonesian security forces’ escalating violations of human rights and criminality and its failure to submit to civilian control. The recent 20th anniversary of the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre in Dili. East Timor (Timor-Leste), when hundreds of peaceful protesters were massacred by Indonesian troops wielding U.S. supplied weapons, reminds us that a lack of accountability for past crimes — in Timor-Leste and throughout the archipelago — keeps those affected from moving on with their lives, while contributing to impunity in the present.

Indonesian military and police forces continue to operate without any accountability before the law. Only in rare instances are individual personnel brought before military tribunals for crimes against civilians, often because of international pressure. Prosecution is woefully inadequate and sentencing, in the rare instance of conviction, is not commensurate with the crime.

Indonesia’s security forces, including the Kopassus special forces and U.S.-funded and -trained Detachment (Densus) 88, continue to employ against civilians weaponry supplied by the U.S. and to use tactics developed as result of U.S. training. In West Papua, these security forces have repeatedly attacked civilians, most recently participants in the October 16-19 Congress and striking workers at theFreeport McMoRan mine. Those assaulted were peacefully asserting their right to assemble and freedom of speech. At the Congress, combined forces, including regular military units, Kopassus, the militarized police (Brimob) and Detachment 88, killed at least five civilians, beat scores more, and were responsible for the disappearance of others.

Moreover, in the central highlands of West Papua, these same forces regularly conduct so called “sweeping operations,” purportedly in search of the very small armed Papuan resistance. These operations have led to the deaths of many innocent civilians and driven thousands from their village into forests where they face life threatening conditions due to inadequate access to shelter, food and medical care.

Indonesian military and police forces continue to operate without any accountability before the law. Only in rare instances are individual personnel brought before military tribunals for crimes against civilians, often because of international pressure. Prosecution is woefully inadequate and sentencing, in the rare instance of conviction, is not commensurate with the crime. Several videoed incidents of military torture of civilians — widely discussed during your November 2010 visit to Indonesia — concluded in just such failures of justice. The concept of command responsibility is rarely considered in the military tribunals.

International monitoring of these developments in West Papua is severely hampered by Indonesian government restrictions on access to and travel within West Papua by foreign journalists, diplomats, researchers, and human rights and humanitarian officials. The International Committee of the Red Cross remains barred from operating an office in West Papua. Indonesian journalists and human rights officials face threats and worse when they try to monitor developments there.

Elsewhere in Indonesia, too many times security forces have stood by or actively assisted in attacks on minority religions, including deadly attacks on Ahmadiyah followers.

The Indonesian security forces — especially the military — are largely unreformed: it has failed to fully divest itself of its business empire, its remains unaccountable before the law, and continues to violate human rights. These forces constitute a grave threat to the continued development of Indonesian democracy. The upcoming national elections in Indonesia present a particularly urgent challenge. The Indonesian military is in position to pervert the democratic process as it has in the past. The military has frequently provoked violence at politically sensitive times, such as in 1998 when it kidnapped tortured and murdered democratic activists.  For many years it has relied on its unit commanders, active at the District, sub-District and even village level to influence the selection of party candidates and the elections themselves. The territorial command system is still in place.
In the past, U.S. restrictions and conditions on security assistance have resulted in real rights improvements in Indonesia. Your Administration should learn from this history.

Given this threat to democracy and to individuals posed by Indonesian forces, it is essential that the U.S. employ the significant leverage that comes from Indonesia’s desire for U.S. security assistance and training to insist on real reforms of Indonesian security forces. Rhetorical calls for reforms are clearly insufficient. These exhortations have manifestly not worked and readily brushed aside. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s recent expression of “concerns about the violence and the abuse of human rights” in Papua were dismissed by a spokesperson for Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono , who called the escalating rights violations “only isolated incidents.”

In the past, U.S. restrictions and conditions on security assistance have resulted in real rights improvements in Indonesia. Your Administration should learn from this history and quickly suspend training for those units whose human rights records and impunity are especially egregious, as required by the Leahy law. We specifically urge you to end plans to re-engage with Kopassus and to end assistance to Detachment 88. These actions would demonstrate U.S. Government seriousness in pursuit of real reforms of the security forces in Indonesia.

Sincerely,

Ed McWilliams for WPAT

John M. Miller for ETAN

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