Funding Indonesia’s Abusive Military

Despite numerous human rights abuses, the United States continues to pump money into the Indonesian military under the guise of the war on terror

Ben Terrall

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Counterterrorism” has become Indonesia’s latest slogan for avoiding military reform while simultaneously strengthening its apparatus of repression. In return for its loyalty in the war on terror, the Bush administration has side-stepped congressional concerns of military abuses in Indonesia. 

Amnesty International observed in its 2007 country report: The majority of human rights violations by the security forces were not investigated, and impunity for past violations persisted.” These included two cases in which the National Human Rights Commission submitted evidence in 2004 that security forces had committed crimes against humanity.

A May report from the Center for Public Integrity’s International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) concluded that the Indonesia military (TNI) is one of the largest recipients of post-9/11 military assistance. In fact, from 2002 to 2005, Indonesia was the largest recipient of the Pentagon’s Regional Defense Counterterrorism Fellowship Program (CTFP). The ICIJ also noted that under CTFP the TNI was receiving tutelage on Intelligence in Combating Terrorism” and Student Military Police Prep.” 

Ed McWilliams, political counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta from 1996 to 1999, and now an independent human rights advocate, says, While TNI impunity for abuses and corruption remain a problem throughout the archipelago, it is particularly acute in West Papua. In a real sense, the post-Suharto democratic transition never transpired in West Papua, where the military and police continue to employ terror, torture and extrajudicial killing to enforce Jakarta’s rule.” 

In 1969, West Papua was incorporated into Indonesia through the threat of force. Not much has changed. On July 5, Human Rights Watch reported, Both army troops and police units … continue to engage in indiscriminate village sweeping’ operations in pursuit of suspected militants, using excessive, often brutal, and at times lethal force against civilians.”

On August 16, the Indonesian paper Cenderawasih Pos, reporting on anticipated demonstrations in West Papua calling for self-determination, quoted Col. Burhanuddin Siagian as saying that the TNI will not hesitate to shoot on sight” pro-independence activists. In 2003, the U.N.-backed Serious Crimes Unit in East Timor issued two indictments which stated that Siagian made similar speeches threatening to kill independence supporters and was responsible for the deaths of seven Timorese men in April 1999. The group Human Rights First noted that human rights activists from Papua were threatened after meetings in early June with a visiting U.N. human rights official. 

[T]he TNI in West Papua is fueling sectarian strife by recruiting largely Muslim migrants to form paramilitaries loyal to Jakarta’s rule,” says McWilliams. It is also creating Papuan militias along the lines of those it created to devastating effect in East Timor. As in the past throughout the archipelago, the TNI aims to generate communal tensions in West Papua as a justification for maintaining its presence and for continuing to exploit the region’s vast natural resources.”

The East Timor and Indonesia Human Rights Network (ETAN) and its allies in Congress, such as Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), have pushed several provisions in the new Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill (H.R. 2764). The measures require that the administration report that Indonesia has made progress in human rights and military reform before $2 million in military assistance to Jakarta is released. Though not as tough as legislation passed following a 1991 massacre in East Timor, the new language puts on record a dissent from the Bush administration’s policy of blanket support for the TNI. Still, McWilliams argues, more is needed. 

The fate of real military reform and possibly the success of the democratic transition in Indonesia depends very much on the U.S. Congress’ willingness to insist on real reform, especially to push for genuine civilian control of the military and an end to TNI impunity,” he says. Democrats must understand that an unreformed TNI, one that– supports and has helped create fundamentalist Islamic militias inside Indonesia, cannot be a credible partner in the so-called war on terror.’ The U.S. Congress should heed the voices of human rights defenders in Indonesia and refuse to bankroll TNI criminality, abuses and impunity.”

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Ben Terrall is a freelance writer based in San Francisco.
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