Daily Archives: July 23, 2010

HRW: US Resumes Military Assistance to Abusive Force Obama Administration Lifts Ban Despite Military’s Lack of Reform, Accountability

Reposting from HRW

Indonesia: US Resumes Military Assistance to Abusive Force
Obama Administration Lifts Ban Despite Military’s Lack of Reform, Accountability
July 22, 2010

Related Materials:
Letter to US Department of Defense Regarding US Military Assistance to Indonesia
Letter to US Departments of Defense and State Regarding US Plans to Reengage with Indonesia’s Special Forces
“What Did I Do Wrong?”

The Obama administration has just failed a key test. This is not the way to encourage reform with a military that has yet to demonstrate a genuine commitment to accountability for serious human rights abuses. This decision rewards Kopassus for its intransigence over abuses and effectively betrays those in Indonesia who have fought for decades for accountability and justice.
Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch

(New York) – The Obama administration’s decision to lift a more than decade-long ban on US military assistance to Indonesia’s abusive special forces seriously undermines its commitment to promoting respect for human rights in Indonesia and weakens US standards for military cooperation globally, Human Rights Watch said today. The US secretary of defense, Robert Gates, announced a limited program of engagement with the elite force, Komando Pasukan Khusus (Kopassus), while in Jakarta today.

Kopassus has been responsible for numerous serious human rights abuses – including killings, enforced disappearances, and torture – since the 1990s. The Indonesian government’s failure to remove Kopassus soldiers convicted of serious abuses from the military, and its recent appointment of officers credibly linked with abuses to leadership posts within Kopassus and the Defense Ministry made repealing the ban particularly inappropriate, Human Rights Watch said.

“The Obama administration has just failed a key test. This is not the way to encourage reform with a military that has yet to demonstrate a genuine commitment to accountability for serious human rights abuses,” said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “This decision rewards Kopassus for its intransigence over abuses and effectively betrays those in Indonesia who have fought for decades for accountability and justice.”

Defense Secretary Gates said that initial reengagement with Kopassus “will take place within the limits of US law and do[es] not signal any lessening of the importance we place on human rights and accountability.”

The administration has apparently detailed to the Indonesian government various criteria to resume interactions with Kopassus: that personnel convicted of human rights violations be removed from the special forces; that the military and Kopassus pledge to cooperate with future civilian or military investigations and prosecutions of human rights abuses; that anyone convicted of human rights abuses in the future be prohibited from serving in the military; and that personnel credibly alleged to have committed human rights abuses in the future be suspended pending an investigation. However, Human Rights Watch noted that those criteria are not currently being met, and in any case, are far from adequate to address the problem.

“These standards disregard the difficulty of prosecuting Indonesian military personnel for even the most serious abuses,” said Richardson.

The Indonesian military justice system presently has exclusive jurisdiction over military personnel except in cases in which they are accused of genocide or crimes against humanity, or are alleged to have committed crimes with civilian accomplices. Human Rights Watch pointed to the structural weaknesses of the military court system, which has repeatedly failed to investigate and adequately prosecute alleged abusers in the past, in an April 2010 letter to a key Indonesian lawmaker urging him to support a bill that would transfer jurisdiction over such cases to civilian courts.

“The Indonesian justice system rarely vigorously investigates or prosecutes anyone from the military, so forces like Kopassus will likely still be able to commit abuses with impunity and still meet the Obama administration’s standards,” said Richardson. “It’s hard to see the administration’s decision as anything other than a victory for abusive militaries worldwide.”

The US government cut off all aid to the Indonesian military in 1999 as a result of widespread human rights violations in East Timor and has refused to resume aid to Kopassus in particular because of ongoing concerns about its record and lack of accountability. Human Rights Watch has acknowledged important human rights improvements in Indonesia since the end of the authoritarian Suharto regime, but has also expressed ongoing concerns that security sector reform in Indonesia has stalled in critical areas, such as accountability for human rights violations.

Kopassus members have been implicated in serious human rights abuses, including abducting and “disappearing” student activists in 1997-98, launching a scorched-earth campaign and forming deadly militia forces in East Timor in 1999, and abducting and killing Papuan activist and traditional leader Theys H. Eluay in 2001. In 2003, Human Rights Watch documented allegations that Kopassus soldiers engaged in torture during military operations in Aceh. A 2009 Human Rights Watch report entitled “What Did I Do Wrong?” found that Kopassus soldiers were engaging in a pattern of arbitrary detention and ill-treatment of civilians in Merauke, Papua.

In none of these cases did the Indonesian military take sufficient steps to ensure that perpetrators were held accountable. A series of ad hoc trials of soldiers implicated in crimes against humanity in East Timor in 1999 ultimately failed to convict a single defendant. A number of the soldiers convicted by a military court for the student disappearances remained in the Indonesian military as of 2007, and two remained in Kopassus until March 2010. One of the seven Kopassus members convicted of mistreatment and battery leading to Eluay’s death, Colonel Tri Hartomo, was later promoted to a senior position in the Kopassus leadership and as of March 2010 serves elsewhere in the Indonesian military. Kopassus has denied the allegations in “What did I do Wrong,” and to Human Rights Watch’s knowledge has not sanctioned any of the soldiers implicated in the misconduct documented in the report.

In April 2010, Col. Nugroho Widyo Utomo, who has been credibly accused of involvement in serious human rights abuses in East Timor as the commander of the Combined Intelligence Task Force in 1998, was appointed to the position of deputy commander of Kopassus. Widyo Utomo is alleged to have had an active role in establishing the militias that the Indonesian military used to intimidate, harass, and kill an estimated 1,400 East Timorese suspected of supporting independence from Indonesia in the run-up to a 1999 referendum – the events that prompted the United States to impose its ban on all aid to the Indonesian military. Widyo Utomo’s appointment follows the January 2010 appointment of Maj. Gen. Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin, who was implicated in the 1997-98 student disappearances, abuses in East Timor in 1999, and the Santa Cruz Massacre in East Timor in 1991, to the position of deputy defense minister by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

“The Indonesian government’s recent appointment of two individuals implicated in the very abuses that led the US to cut off aid in the first place to senior positions within Kopassus and the Defense Ministry shows that it is not serious about reform, and the Obama administration ignores this at its peril,” said Richardson.

The debate over resuming US assistance to Kopassus began in early 2010, prior to President Barack Obama’s then-planned trip to Indonesia. In response to initial demands made by the administration, the Indonesian government shifted at least three officers previously convicted of human rights abuses from Kopassus to other positions within the Indonesian military and stated, through an interview by the minister of defense to an English-language newspaper, that soldiers found to have committed genocide or crimes against humanity would be suspended and questioned, and if found responsible by the military, would be brought before a civilian court. The US government appears to have considered these steps satisfactory to ensure future accountability, even though there are no judicial mechanisms sufficiently robust and independent to reliably deliver on the necessary kind of investigations or prosecutions envisioned under the plan.

Human Rights Watch called on the Obama administration to insist that more stringent and systemic standards be met prior to the resumption of training for security forces.

Those include:

* encouraging passage of legislation in the Indonesian parliament that would transfer the prosecution of abuses committed by members of the military against civilians to civilian courts;
* that the military should permanently discharge personnel convicted of serious human rights abuses;
* that the government adopt transparent measures to ensure credible, impartial, and timely investigations into all future allegations of human rights abuse; and that
* President Yudhoyono should establish an ad hoc tribunal to investigate the enforced disappearance of student activists in 1997-98, as Indonesia’s House of Representatives recommended in September 2009.

“The Obama administration’s decision to start training Kopassus now risks undermining the limited progress towards professionalism that the Indonesian military has made thus far,” said Richardson. “The US is rewarding Indonesia for blocking justice, which sends the worst possible message for the future.”


Limitations mandated by the US Congress on providing training to foreign military forces under what is known as the “Leahy Law” bar the US from providing training, in the absence of corrective steps, to military units that are credibly alleged to have committed gross violations of human rights.

In a February 4, 2010 letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Human Rights Watch outlined three key steps Indonesia should take to address accountability for past and future abuses by Kopassus prior to resuming engagement with the force. First, the military should permanently discharge personnel convicted of serious human rights abuses. Second, it should adopt transparent measures to ensure credible, impartial, and timely investigations into all future allegations of human rights abuse. Third, President Yudhoyono should establish an ad hoc tribunal to investigate the enforced disappearance of student activists in 1997-98, as Indonesia’s House of Representatives recommended in September 2009.

In March 2010 four prominent Indonesian nongovernmental organizations called on the US to refrain from reengaging with Kopassus until it investigated past human rights abuses involving Kopassus, including by establishing the ad hoc court on the student disappearances, and took action to ensure that similar abuses would not occur. In a May 2010 letter, 13 members of the US Congress, including Senators John Kerry and Patrick Leahy, wrote to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Gates expressing serious concerns regarding their intention to resume training Kopassus and calling for prior consultation with Congress before such engagement began to ensure it met the requirements of US law. The letter also called for US government officials to encourage Indonesian legislators to enact a bill that would give the civilian courts the power to hear cases involving human rights offenses committed by members of the military and to condition US reengagement on the passage of such legislation.

Human Rights Watch has regularly raised concerns regarding the US government’s ability to effectively vet and monitor elements of Kopassus, and particularly its counter-terrorism unit, in a March, 2010 letter to Secretaries Clinton and Gates. Human Rights Watch also urged the Obama administration to refrain from providing unconditional assistance to Kopassus until Indonesia has adopted a number of structural reforms to address Kopassus’ lack of accountability, including making genuine progress in eliminating all forms of military business; launching renewed investigations into other serious human rights abuses in which security services have been implicated, such as the 2004 murder of Indonesian human rights activist Munir bin Said Thalib; and enacting legislation allowing civilian courts to investigate and prosecute crimes committed by military personnel against civilians.

ETAN Condemns U.S. Plan to Get Back in Bed with Indonesia's Kopassus Killers

ETAN Condemns U.S. Plan to Get Back in Bed with Indonesia’s Kopassus Killers
July 22, 2010 – The East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) today condemned the Obama administration’s decision to resume engagement with Indonesia’s notorious Kopassus special forces.

“Slipping back into bed with Kopassus is a betrayal of the brutal unit’s many victims in Timor-Leste, West Papua and throughout Indonesia. It will lead to more people to suffer abuses,” said John M. Miller, National Coordinator of ETAN. “Working with Kopassus, which remain unrepentant about its long history of terrorizing civilians, will undermine efforts to achieve justice and accountability for human rights crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste (East Timor).”

“For years, the U.S. military provided training and other assistance to Kopassus, and when the U.S. was most involved Kopassus crimes were at their worst. While this assistance improved the Indonesian military’s deadly skills, it did nothing to improve its behavior,” Miller added.

“Engagement with Kopassus would violate the Leahy Law, which prohibits military assistance to units with unresolved human rights violations,” said Miller. “Even the previous Bush State Department’s legal counsel thought so, ruling that the Leahy prohibition applied to Kopassus as a whole.”

U.S. officials, speaking to the New York Times, distinguished between soldiers who were “only implicated, not convicted’ in human rights crimes. Administration officials have said that some Kopassus soldiers convicted of crimes no longer served with the unit, however many of them remain on active duty, including Lt. Col. Tri Hartomo, convicted by a military court of the murder of Papuan leader Theys Eluay in 2001.

The official American Forces Press Service wrote that a “senior defense official said Indonesia has pledged that any Kopassus member who is credibly accused of a human rights violation will be suspended pending an investigation, will be tried in a civilian court, and will be removed from the unit if convicted.” Legislation transferring members of military to civilian courts for trials has yet to pass.

“The problem remains that the Indonesian military (TNI) as a whole and Kopassus in particular rarely take accusations of human rights violations seriously and few end up in any court,” said ETAN’s Miller. “Engaging Kopassus with only token concessions will not encourage reform, respect for rights or accountability. It may do the opposite.”

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced in Jakarta that the U.S. “will begin a gradual, limited program of security cooperation activities” with Kopassus. U.S. officials told the media that “there would be no immediate military training,” However, Gates did not say exactly what criteria will be used to decide if “to expand upon these initial steps [which] will depend upon continued implementation of reforms within Kopassus” and the TNI.


Engagement with Kopassus has been opposed by human rights and victims associations in Indonesia, Timor-Leste and internationally. It has been debated within the Obama administration and in Congress.

In May 2010, 13 senior members of Congress wrote the Secretary Gates and Secretary of State Clinton concerning plans to cooperate with Kopassus. The letter called for “a reliable vetting process critical… for identifying Kopassus officials who have violated human rights” and said “the transfer of jurisdiction over human rights crimes committed by members of the military to civilian courts should be a pre-condition for engagement with Kopassus.” Legislation to transfer members of the military to civilian courts has long been stalled. Trials of some soldiers before ad-hoc human rights courts, such as on East Timor, have resulted in acquittals.

Kopassus troops have been implicated in a range of human rights violations and war crimes in Aceh, West Papua, Timor-Leste and elsewhere. Although a few special forces soldiers have been convicted of the kidnapping of activists prior to the fall of the Suharto dictatorship and the 2001 murder of Theys Eluay, the perpetrators of the vast majority of human rights crimes continue to evade prosecution. Kopassus and other troops indicted by UN-backed prosecutors in Timor-Leste for crimes committed in 1999 during Timor’s independence referendum remain at large.

Kopassus was involved in Timor-Leste from the killings of five Australian-based journalists at Balibo in 1975 prior to Indonesia’s full scale invasion through its destructive withdrawal in 1999. Kopassus soldiers are alleged to have been involved in the 2002 ambush murder of three teachers (including two from the U.S.) near the Freeport mine in West Papua. The crimes of Kopassus are not only in the past. A Human Rights Watch report published last year documents how Kopassus soldiers “arrest Papuans without legal authority, and beat and mistreat those they take back to their barracks.” A report by journalist Allan Nairn describes security force – including a U.S.-trained Kopassus general – involvement in the killing of activists in Aceh last year. http://www.etan.org/news/2010/03nairn.htm

The leaders of Kopassus have consistently rejected calls to hold it accountable. In April 2010 at a ceremony marking the anniversary of the unit’s founding, Kopassus commander Maj. Gen. Lodewijk Paulus called allegations of past rights violations a “psychological burden.” He told The Jakarta Globe “Honestly, it has become a problem and people just keep harping on them. It’s not fair.”

Lt. Gen. Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin, who served with Kopassus and is accused of human rights violations in East Timor and elsewhere, remains as deputy defense minister. His position is being challenged in court by victims of human rights violations in the 1998 Jakarta riots and the 1997/1998 kidnapping of student and political activists.

In 2005, the Bush administration exercised a national security waiver that allowed for full engagement with the Indonesian military for the first time since the early 1990s. The conditions for U.S. military engagement, which the Bush administration abandoned, included prosecution of those responsible for human rights violations in East Timor and elsewhere and implementation of reforms to enhance civilian control of the Indonesian military. The Bush administration waited until 2008 to propose restarting U.S. training of Kopassus, which was suspended in 1998. The State Department’s legal counsel reportedly ruled that the 1997 ban on training of military units with a history of involvement in human rights violations, known as the ‘Leahy law,’ applied to Kopassus as a whole and the training did not go forward.

ETAN was founded in 1991 to advocate for self-determination for Indonesian-occupied Timor-Leste. Since the beginning, ETAN has worked to condition U.S. military assistance to Indonesia on respect for human rights and genuine reform. The U.S.-based organization continues to advocate for democracy, justice and human rights for Timor-Leste and Indonesia. For more information, see ETAN’s web site: http://www.etan.org.


Support ETAN make a contribution here http://etan.org/etan/donate.htm
Thank you for your support.

John M. Miller, National Coordinator
East Timor & Indonesia Action Network (ETAN)
PO Box 21873, Brooklyn, NY 11202-1873 USA
Phone: +1-718-596-7668 Mobile phone: +1-917-690-4391
Email john@etan.org Skype: john.m.miller

Twitter: http://twitter.com/etan009
Blog: http://etanaction.blogspot.com/
Facebook: http://apps.facebook.com/causes/134122?recruiter_id=10193810

Send a blank e-mail message to info@etan.org to find out how to learn more about East Timor and Indonesia on the Internet