Opening Statement of Chairman Eni Faleomavaega at West Papua hearing




“Crimes Against Humanity: When Will Indonesia’s Military Be Held
Accountable for Deliberate and Systematic Abuses in West Papua?”

September 22, 2010

To my knowledge, today’s hearing is historic.  This hearing is the
first hearing ever held in the U.S. Congress that gives voice to the
people of West Papua.

Since 1969, the people of West Papua have been deliberately and
systematically subjected to slow-motion genocide by Indonesian
military forces yet Indonesia declares that the issue is an internal
matter while the U.S. Department of State “recognizes and respects the
territorial integrity of Indonesia.”  The truth is, this is no issue
of territorial integrity or an internal matter, and the record is
clear on this point.

West Papua was a former Dutch colony for some 100 years just as East
Timor was a former Portuguese colony just as Indonesia was a former
colony of the Netherlands.  Because of its status as a former colony,
East Timor achieved its independence from Indonesia in 2002 through a
referendum sanctioned by the United Nations (UN), despite Indonesia’s
serious objections over East Timor’s right to self-determination.

In contrast, in 1962 the United States pressured the Dutch to turn
over control of West Papua to the United Nations.  Under the
U.S.-brokered deal, Indonesia was to “make arrangements with the
assistance and participation of the United Nations” to give Papuans an
opportunity to determine whether they wished to become part of
Indonesia or not.

In what became known as the Act of No Choice carried out in 1969, 1025
West Papua elders under heavy military surveillance were selected to
vote on behalf of 809,327 West Papuans regarding the territory’s
political status.  In spite of serious violations of the UN Charter
and no broad-based referendum, West Papua was forced to become a part
of Indonesia by the barrel of a gun.
According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), “declassified
documents released in July 2004 indicate that the United States
supported Indonesia’s take-over of Papua in the lead up to the 1969
Act of Free Choice even as it was understood that such a move was
likely unpopular with Papuans. The documents reportedly indicate that
the United States estimated that between 85% and 90% of Papuans were
opposed to Indonesian rule and that as a result the Indonesians were
incapable of winning an open referendum at the time of Papua’s
transition from Dutch colonial rule. Such steps were evidently
considered necessary to maintain the support of Suharto’s Indonesia
during the Cold War.”

Bluntly put, in exchange for Suharto’s anti-communist stance, the
United States expended the hopes and dreams and lives of some 100,000
Papuans who consequently died as a result of Indonesian military rule.
 Although some challenge this estimate it is an indisputable fact that
Indonesia has deliberately and systematically committed crimes against
humanity and has yet to be held accountable.

While I have expressed my concern that there is strong indication that
the Indonesian government has committed genocide against the Papuans,
I am disappointed that the U.S. Department of State requested that I
omit the word ‘genocide’ in the initial title I put forward for this
hearing.  The State Department requested a change in title based on
the assertion that ‘genocide’ is a legal term.

Article 2 of the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and
Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG) defines genocide as "any
of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in
part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group: killing members
of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the
group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life
calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in
part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

This definition of genocide under international law accurately
describes the crimes against humanity perpetrated by Indonesia’s
military, whether the U.S. State Department agrees or not.  But given
U.S. complicity, it is little wonder that every Administration wishes
to distance itself from this ugliness.

As Joseph Conrad wrote in his book The Heart of Darkness, “The
conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from
those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than
ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.”

When you look into it too much, nothing about Indonesia’s ruthless
brutality or U.S. complicity is a pretty thing.  In 2007, I led a
Congressional Delegation (CODEL) to Indonesia on the personal promise
of President SBY and Vice President Kalla that I would be granted 5
days to visit Biak, Manokwari, and, most importantly, Jayapura, in
support of efforts to implement special autonomy that was approved by
the government of Indonesia since 2001.

However, while enroute to Jakarta, I received word that the Indonesian
government would only grant 3 days for my visit.  Upon my arrival on
November 25, 2007, I was informed that I would be granted only 1 day
and that I would not be allowed to visit Jayapura.  As it played out,
I was granted 2 hours in Biak and 10 minutes in Manokwari.

In Biak, I met with Governor Suebu, and other traditional, religious
and local leaders hand-selected by the government.  Other Papuans,
like Chief Tom Beanal and Mr. Willie Mandowen were detained by the
military until my office interceded.  U.S. Ambassador Cameron Hume and
I also had to make our way through a military barricade because
Indonesia military forces (TNI) had blocked Papuans from meeting with
me.  For the record, I am submitting photos showing the excessive
presence of military force.

       In Manokwari, the military presence was even worse.  Prior to my
arrival in Manokwari, I was told that I would be meeting with the
Governor only to learn upon my arrival that he was in China and had
been there for the past 5 days.  Ten minutes later, I was put on a
plane while the TNI, in full riot gear, forcefully kept the Papuans
from meaningful dialogue.  At this time, I would like to share with my
colleagues some video tape of my visit in 2007.

       After this experience and upon my return to Washington, I wrote to
President SBY expressing my disappointment but Jakarta never responded
to my letter of December 12, 2007.  On March 5, 2008, Chairman Donald
Payne of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa joined with me in
sending another letter to President SBY which expressed our deep
concern about Indonesia’s misuse of military force.  We included
photographs and a DVD of my experience while in Biak and Manokwari.
Again, Jakarta did not bother to reply.

       On March 5, 2008, Chairman Payne and I also wrote to U.S. Secretary
of Defense Robert Gates and included a copy of our letter to President
SBY as well as the DVD and photographs.  Despite the serious concerns
we raised about Indonesia’s failure to live up to its promises to
allow Members of Congress access to Jayapura and our request to
restrict funding to train Indonesia’s military forces, his reply of
April 2, 2008 was trite and indifferent, as if West Papua is of no
consequence.  He concluded his letter by erroneously stating, “TNI
performance on human rights has improved dramatically.”  Copies of
these letters as well as the photographs and DVD are included for the

Copies of our materials which we sent on March 6, 2008 to the House
Committee on Foreign Affairs, the Senate Committee on Foreign
Relations, the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on State
and Foreign Operations, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on
Defense, and the Congressional Black Caucus are also included.

       In March 2005, Chairman Payne and I wrote to Secretary General Kofi
Annan asking for a review of the United Nations’ conduct in West
Papua.  35 other Members of Congress from the Congressional Black
Caucus signed the joint letter and I am also submitting this letter
for the record.

       This year, Chairman Payne and I once more spearheaded an effort
calling upon President Obama to deal fairly with the people of West
Papua and to meet with the Team of 100 indigenous Papuan leaders
during his upcoming visit to Indonesia.  Although our letter of June
9, 2010 was signed by 50 Members of the U.S. Congress, the U.S.
Department of State could not be bothered to send us a thoughtful
reply.  Instead, we received a dismissive letter of August 11, 2010
signed by the Assistant Secretary of Legislative Affairs rather than
the U.S. Secretary of State which sends a clear signal that this
Administration may not be any different than any other in its response
to addressing our grave concerns about West Papua.  As a matter of
record, I am including these letters.

Also, I am including a video that due to its sensitive subject matter
I cannot and will not show.  The video depicts the violent murder of a
Papuan who was killed and gutted by the Indonesian Special Police
Corp, or Brigade Mobil (BRIMOB), while the victim was still alive and
pleading for someone to kill him in order to put him out of his
misery.  This isn’t the only murder.  The late Papuan leader Theys
Hiyo Eluay was also savagely murdered, and the list of lost lives goes
on and on.

As Chairman of this Subcommittee, I have been very, very patient.
Yes, I realize the importance of the U.S.-Indonesia relationship.
Indonesia is the most populous Muslim-majority nation in the world and
the U.S. has a strong interest in reaching out to the Islamic world.
But our own struggle against Islamist militancy should not come at the
expense of the pain and killing and suffering of the people of West
Papua.  This is not the America I know.

       We can and must do better.  In his statement before the UN against
Apartheid, Nelson Mandela said, “It will forever remain an accusation
and challenge to all men and women of conscience that it took so long
as it has before all of us stood up to say enough is enough.”  This is
how I feel about West Papua.

It is my sincere hope that today’s hearing will help us find a way
forward.  So far, Indonesia has failed miserably to implement Special
Autonomy and, as a result, there is a sense of growing frustration
among the Papuans, and rightfully so.  According to CRS, “migration by
non-Melanesian Indonesians from elsewhere in the nation appears to be
a critical part of the mounting tensions.  By some accounts Melanesian
Papuans will be in the minority in their homeland by 2015.”

       While there is so much more I want to say about the commercial
exploitation of West Papua’s renowned mineral wealth which includes
vast reserves of gold, copper, nickel, oil and gas and Freeport USA’s
own shameful role in this exploitation, I will address these issues in
my questioning of our witnesses.

       In conclusion, I want to thank Edmund McWilliams, a retired U.S.
Senior Foreign Service Officer, who has been a long-time advocate for
the people of West Papua.  Mr. McWilliams was unable to be with us
today but he has submitted testimony for the record which will be

       I also want to welcome our Papuan leaders who have flown at
considerable expense to testify before this Subcommittee.  I presume
none flew at the expense of the Indonesian government but we will find
out during these proceedings.  Most of the Papuan leaders who are with
us today have lived the struggle.  Others have only recently returned
after living in Sweden for some 38 years.  They have since returned
home and reclaimed Indonesian citizenship but I am unclear as to their
role in a struggle they have given up or never fully lived.  I hope we
will be provided an explanation.

       For now, I recognize my good friend, the Ranking Member, for any
opening statement he may wish to make.

West Papua Report August 2010

West Papua Report
August 2010

This is the 74th in a series of monthly reports that focus on developments affecting Papuans. This series is produced by the
non-profit West Papua Advocacy Team (WPAT) drawing on media accounts, other NGO assessments, and analysis and reporting from sources within West Papua. Beginning with this edition the West Papua Report will include a Bahasa Indonesia translation of the summary and subject titles. This report is co-published with the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) Back issues are posted online at

Questions regarding this report can be addressed to Edmund McWilliams at

Fifty members of the U.S. Congress, under the leadership of House Foreign Affairs sub-committee chairs Faleomavaega and
Payne, have written to President Obama to express their deep concern about West Papua, noting indications of Indonesian
“slow-motion genocide” against Papuans. The Representatives strongly urged President Obama to give West Papua a high
priority in U.S. policy towards Indonesia and also called on him to meet with Papuans in his scheduled November visit to
Indonesia. The Obama Administration has announced it will open contact with the infamous Indonesian Special Forces (Kopassus), notwithstanding a decade old Congressional consensus against ties with that group unless and until that unit undergoes fundamental reforms. Papuan Political Prisoner Filep Karma told international media that U.S. support for Kopassus would only increase that units capacity to repress Papuans. An International Court of Justice opinion granting Kosovo the right to declare its independence would appear to have implications for Papuans pursuit of self-determination. Indonesian analysts assess that Indonesian central government unwillingness to dialogue with Papuans inevitably leads Jakarta to resort to its repressive “security approach.” Reports of abuse of Papuan prisoners in Indonesian prisons by their Indonesian guards continue. The Indonesian Seafarers Association has revealed Navy and Fisheries Ministry collusion with foreign fishing vessels illegally fishing in Papuan waters. The report also notes the role of foreign fishermen in the transmission of HIV/AIDS in Papuan ports of call.


• Fifty Members of U.S. Congress Write to President Obama over “Strong Indications” of Indonesian Genocide in West Papua

• U.S. Government Resumes Collaboration with Military Unit Long Associated with Human Rights Abuse in West Papua

• International Court of Justice Ruling of Kosovo Independence May Have Relevance for West Papua

• Jakarta’s Unwillingness to Dialogue with Papuans Endangers Peaceful Resolution of Papuan Claims

• More Reports of Prisoner Abuse in West Papua

• Indonesian Navy and Fisheries Ministry Collude with Illegal Foreign Fishing Vessels

Fifty Members of U.S. Congress Write to President Obama over “Strong Indications” of Indonesian Genocide in West Papua

The Chairs of the U.S. Congressional Subcommittees on Asia, the Pacific and the Global Environment, Rep. Eni F.H. Faleomavaega, and Chairman Donald M. Payne of the Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health have spearheaded an effort in Congress calling upon President Obama to “make West Papua one of the highest priorities of the Administration.”

As a result of their efforts, 50 members of the U.S. Congress signed a letter to the President stating that there is strong
indication that the Indonesian government is committing genocide against Papuans. Many of those who signed the letter are members of the Congressional Black Caucus. The signatories include men and women who fought for civil rights in America in the 1960s. In addition to the Congressional Black Caucus, many others who are long-time advocates of human rights joined this request to the President of the United States, including members of the Hispanic Caucus. The last remaining member of the Kennedy family in Congress, Rep. Patrick Kennedy from Rhode Island, also joined the letter to President Obama.

An August 1 press release from Representative Faleomavaega’s office notes that the letter to the President “suggests that slow motion genocide has been taking place in West Papua and reviews findings by human rights organizations and scholars who have conducted extensive research about crimes against humanity and genocide by Indonesian security forces.”

The press release also observes that “according to international agreements, other nations are legally obligated to intervene
when a genocide is in process and Members of Congress remain hopeful that President Obama and the U.S. State Department will hold Indonesia accountable.”

Members concluded their letter by encouraging the President to meet with the Team of 100 from West Papua during his upcoming visit, noting that President Obama has the opportunity to bring lasting change to this part of the world. While Papuan leaders have repeatedly tried to engage in dialogue with the Indonesian government, dialogues have failed to produce concrete results and Papuan leaders are now calling for an International Dialogue. In this context, signatories of the letter have asked President Obama to meet with the people of West Papua during his upcoming trip to Indonesia in November.

U.S. Government Resumes Collaboration with Military Unit Long Associated with Human Rights Abuse in West Papua

The U.S. government announced that it is resuming contact withthe Indonesian Special Forces (Kopassus). U.S. Secretary of
Gates, visiting Jakarta July 22, announced the decision with
caveats, noting that the resumption of contact would proceed “in
accordance with U.S. law, only on the basis of future reforms
within Kopassus.” Specifically, Gates told media that the U.S.
would undertake a “gradual, limited program of security
cooperation activities,” conditioned on “continued reform” (sic)
within Kopassus and the TNI. According to Gates, the engagement
“may be initially limited to including Kopassus officials in
“conferences and events involving non-lethal subjects like rule
of law, human rights and the military decision-making process.”

According to the 2001 Leahy Law, the the U.S. Administration can
not proceed beyond contact/consultations to actually resuming
training and weapons funding for Kopassus absent Indonesian
government action to ensure justice in any cases of “gross
violations of human rights” involving Kopassus personnel (past,
current or future). In the language of the law, “If the
Secretary of State has credible evidence that such unit has
committed gross violations” the U.S. Government is disallowed
from expending funds unless “the Secretary determines and
reports to the Committees on Appropriations that the government
of such country is taking effective measures to bring the
responsible members of the security forces unit to justice.”

Sign the petition opposing U.S. cooperation with Kopassus

The career fates of a number of prominent and not so prominent
Kopassus officers with credible claims of human rights
violations in their records have been and continue to be the
focus of much debate in Washington regarding U.S. aid to
Kopassus. In recent months the U.S. has quietly pressed for the
Indonesian government to scrub abusive officers from Kopassus’s

One of the Kopassus officers upon the policy debate has focused
is Lt. Col, Tri Hartomo who was convicted in 2003 of the
“torture murder” of Papuan political leader Theys Eluay. Hartomo
was sentenced to 42 months in prison. That sentence, and even
shorter sentences handed down against the other six Kopassus
personnel convicted in the case, pale beside those handed out to
Papuans for nonviolent crimes such as displaying the Papuan
“morningstar flag.” Moreover, Hartomo upon release returned to
Kopassus ranks. General Sjafried Sjamsuddin, appointed deputy
Defense Minister earlier this year, is a Kopassus officer
similarly charged with egregious human rights abuses, notably in
East Timor. The U.S. administration’s casual claim that the
general was “only implicated’ and not “convicted” of numerous
human rights abuses begs the broader reality that Sjamsuddin,
like so many other senior Kopassus and TNI officers, has managed
to evade any trial for his behavior in Indonesia’s flawed
justice system. The U.S. administration’s willingness to look
the other way regarding Sjamsuddin contrasts with its decision
in September 2009 to deny Sjamsuddin a visa to visit the U.S.

The U.S. Administration’s decision to move forward to resume
ties to Kopassus notwithstanding its insubstantial reforms has
particular relevance for West Papua. Twenty percent of
Kopassus’s 5,000 personnel are stationed in West Papua. Human
Rights Watch, in a June 2009 report, documented continued
Kopassus human rights abuse targeting Papuans in the Merauke
area. Political Prisoner Filep Karma, convicted of non-violent
protest in 2001 and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment, told
media in late July that U.S. assistance to Kopassus would simply
increase the capacity of that unit to torture and kill Papuans.


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

• WPAT: Statement Regarding the U.S. Government’s Decision to
Resume Cooperation with Indonesian Special Forces (Kopassus)

International Court of Justice Ruling of Kosovo Independence May
Have Relevance for West Papua

The International Court of Justice ruled, July 22, 2010, that
the Kosovo 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia did not
violate international law. The decision flowed from the
submission of a question by the government of Serbia to the ICJ
which won the support of 77 members of the UN General Assembly
(including Indonesia). That initiative sought (unsuccessfully)
to secure an ICJ ruling that the Kosovo declaration was illegal
under international law.

The ICJ decision has drawn broad international comment, much of
it arising from the prospect that other cases involving
secessionist movements might be advanced by this “Kosovo
precedent.” The Kosovo case was the first case of unilateral
secession to be brought before the ICJ.

Thus far, there has been no systematic attempt to apply the ICJ
decision to the case of West Papua. Nevertheless, several
principles established within the ICJ decision may apply to the
call by some Papuan organizations and individuals for a Papuan
“right to self-determination.” These include the ICJ’s
acceptance of the presumption in international law that civil
and human rights, including the rights of minorities, should be
protected. A Dutch government submission to the ICJ in the
Kosovo case, for example, would appear to be relevant to the
West Papua circumstance: “The people of Kosovo had the right to
self-determination and secession from Serbia because the
Belgrade authorities systematically violated civil and human
rights of Albanians for years. International law thus allows the
proclamation of Kosovo’s independence.” The violation of Papuan
civil and human rights is well-established including by reports
of UN special rapporteurs, various governments (including annual
reports by the U.S. State Department) and respected
international NGOs and journalists.

A second principle established by the July 22 ICJ ruling of
possible relevance to West Papua addresses the “right to
self-determination” itself which the ICJ earlier found in the
case of East Timor to be jus cogens, a fundamental principle of
law accepted by the international community, and that this right
extends to all peoples, not only those emerging from a colonial
context. The right is also enshrined in Article 1 of the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Indonesian is a party to both covenants.

Jakarta’s Unwillingness to Dialogue with Papuans Endangers
Peaceful Resolution of Papuan Claims

The Jakarta media in July reported on the deteriorating
prospects for peaceful settlement of a rising tide of Papuan
discontent over the failure of “special autonomy” in West Papua.
The July 29 Jakarta Post carried a report by Max Sijabat which
emphasized that efforts to address “long-standing problems” were
in “limbo” due to an absence of dialogue. Analysts cited in the
report drew special attention to the June 9-10 consultation in
Jayapura among 450 leading Papuans (see July 2010 West Papua
Report ) who urged among other things, formal rejection of
“Special Autonomy.” The report cited leading Papuan civil
society figure Benny Giay as noting that the consultation that
Special Autonomy funds “only enriched local elites, while most
indigenous people have been marginalized by immigrants or remain
isolated in the jungle.”

Statistics revealed by consultation participants underscored the
extent to which Papuans remain marginalized in their own lands:
Poverty among Papuans stands at over 81 percent while 70 percent
of residents with HIV/AIDS In West Papua are indigenous Papuans.
Underscoring Giay’s point regarding failure of special autonomy
to address Papuan needs, the consultation revealed that 95
percent of local budget funds “are spent outside Papua.”

According to the Jakarta Post, Agus Alua, spokesman for the
Papuan Peoples Consul (MRP), noted that Jakarta has declined to
draft regulations that would allow the Papuan MRP and the
provincial legislature to issue regulations, including
affirmative action for indigenous people and the settlement of
human rights abuses.

Muridan S. Widjojo of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences
(LIPI), who was assigned by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono
in 2005 to identify the most serious problems in Papua, spoke
candidly about the current situation. He told the Jakarta Post
that the Indonesian Government “should learn from now
independent Timor-Leste and the peace talks ending the war with
separatists in Aceh. In Timor Leste, he said, “we relied too
much on the Indonesian Military and the National Intelligence

As in the Suharto era, Jakarta has relied heavily on the
“security approach” to address Papuan discontent and, also as in
the Suharto era, has sought to hide the resultant suffering of
the Papuans behind a a curtain of restrictions that impede or
bar journalists and others from covering developments in West

A July 27 Jakarta Post article, authored by prominent Papuan
religious leader Father Neles Tebay, argued that the symbolic
action of handing back the Special Autonomy law would complicate
an already difficult situation for the government, specifically
in its diplomatic efforts to convince the international
community that the autonomy law is fully implemented and has
improved Papuan prosperity.

More Reports of Prisoner Abuse in West Papua

The Jakarta Globe on July 12 carried a detailed report of a July
11 prisoner “riot” in Abepura prison. The violence reportedly
erupted after prison guards beat another inmate and stole his

The report comments that “Abepura Penitentiary has a wretched
security record, with mass breakouts occurring regularly at the
facility. In May, 18 inmates escaped during a protest by
correctional guards over the sacking of then chief warden
Antonius Ayorbaba.

In June, 26 prisoners broke out by scaling down a prison wall
using a rope strung together with bed sheets. Only two inmates
have been recaptured.

“Several correctional guards refuse to cooperate with the new
warden, leading to gross derelictions of duty that have left
security at the penitentiary in an appalling state,” Nazaruddin
said after the June breakout.

Separate reporting of prisoner beatings, failure to provide
adequate medical care are common. A UN Special Rapporteur in
2007 detailed systematic abuse of prisoners. More recent
reporting by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and
others have reconfirmed those findings.

A resolution addressing the detention of Papuan political
prisoners is currently gaining co-sponsors in the U.S. Congress.

Indonesian Navy and Fisheries Ministry Collude with Illegal
Foreign Fishing Vessels

Papuans and foreign observers have long been critical of the
Indonesian government for failing to protect Papuan forest
resources which have been exploited, often illegally, with no
attempt by security forces to protect those resources. There are
many well documented reports of security force collaboration
with those involved in the illegal exploitation.

Recent studies by the Indonesian Seafarers Association (KPI),
reported in the July 28 Jakarta Post, document security force
failure to protect Papuan sea resources as well. The KPI study
revealed that although the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries
Ministry had stopped issuing permits to foreign fishing vessels,
thousands were still freely operating. The foreign vessels,
mostly from the Philippines, South Korea and Thailand, fish
illegally with impunity due to the failure of the Indonesian
Navy and Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry ships to
protect Indonesian waters. Instead, “many Navy and Ministry
ships regularly patrol the waters – not to catch illegal fishing
vessels but to extort money from them,” according to KPI
chairman Hanafi Rustandi.

The Seafarers study also revealed that the government’s failure
to control the operation of foreign fishing vessels, contributed
to an increase in cases of HIV/AIDS in the country’s eastern
regions of Papua and Maluku. The KPI study revealed that the
highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS cases are in two fishing ports in
Maluku and in and Papua’s coastal regencies, including Merauke,
Mimika and Fakfak.

KPI Chairman Rustandi noted that foreign ships cost Indonesia
dearly in terms of fish, and have caused incalculable damage in
terms of facilitating the spread of HIV/AIDS in the region.

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.

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:


Support ETAN make a contribution here
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 Skype: john.m.miller


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




The decision of the Obama Administration to begin “gradual and limited” engagement with the Indonesian Special Forces (Kopassus) ignores more than a decade-old, bi-partisan, bi-cameral Congressional consensus opposing assistance to that organization.

Opposition to U.S. military cooperation with Kopassus is based on that unit’s undisputed record of human rights abuse, criminality and unaccountability before the law. U.S. Administration claims that the organization has recently adopted a reform course is belied by credible independent reporting that Kopassus continues to abuse human rights with impunity. A June 2009 Human Rights Watch report detailed Kopassus abuse of civilians in Merauke in the troubled province of West Papua.

Administration claims that those Kopassus personnel “convicted” of human rights abuse have been removed from the organization ignores the reality that the impunity enjoyed by Kopassus personnel for decades has ensured that only a handful of Kopassus personnel have ever faced justice in a credible criminal court. In a rare example of judicial action, seven Kopassus officers were convicted of the 2001 murder of the leading Papuan political figure, Theys Eluay. Of the seven convicted of what the judge in the case termed a “torture-murder,” all remain on active duty after serving brief sentences (the longest being three and one half years imprisonment). Six left Kopassus but one remains in the organization.

Administration assurances that any Kopassus candidate for U.S. training will undergo “vetting” by the State Department ignores past failures of the State Department to screen out Kopassus rights abusers and criminals.

The Administration announcement correctly notes that since the fall of the dictator Suharto, with whose military the U.S. military maintained close ties, Indonesia has been on a democratic course. But the Administration fails to acknowledge that the gravest threat to ongoing democratic progress is the Indonesian military which continues to evade civilian control. Despite 2004 legislative requirements that the military divest itself of its vast empire of legal and illegal businesses by 2009, the military retains this source of off-budget funding.

Kopassus and other military personnel continue to enjoy impunity before the law for human rights abuse and criminal activity including people trafficking and drug running as acknowledged in past U.S. State Department human rights reporting.

The Indonesian military, and particularly Kopassus and intelligence agencies continue to repress peaceful protest, most notably targeting the people of West Papua. The military, especially Kopassus, but also the U.S.-funded “Detachment 81” and the militarized police (BRIMOB), routinely intimidate, threaten and accost Papuans who non-violently resist denial of fundamental rights, illegal expropriation of their lands and marginalization. Military and police units have repeatedly conducted purportedly anti-rebel “sweep operations” in the remote Central Highlands forcing thousands of villagers into the forests where they suffer lack of food, shelter and access to medical care. Twenty percent of Kopassus personnel (approximately 1,000 personnel) are stationed in West Papua.

The U.S. Administration’s decision to resume cooperation with the most criminal and unreformed element of the Indonesian military removes critical international pressure for reform and professionalization of the broader Indonesian military. It signals to Indonesian human rights advocates who have born the brunt of security force intimidation that they stand alone in their fight for respect for human rights and genuine reform in Indonesia.

contact: Ed McWilliams,, +1-575-648-2078

Create a website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: