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Groups Write to State Dept: Indonesia Military Aid

P.O. Box 15774, Washington, DC 20003

8 March 2006

Assistant Secretary Christopher R. Hill
Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520

Via Facsimile 202-647-7350

Dear Mr. Assistant Secretary:

We note with dismay remarks attributed to you by media sources at your March 3 press conference in Jakarta. Reportedly, you stated that the U.S. was "very satisfied with the approach of the TNI (the Indonesian military) toward reform," and expressed confidence that "the Indonesian military is continuing on its reform path and we want to assist in that process."

While we all wish to see positive change in Indonesia, it does a disservice to the advancement of real democratic progress to exaggerate the impact of small reforms, which continue to be overshadowed by Indonesia's vicious cycle of impunity and military insubordination to civilian authority.

Such claims of progress, coupled with Secretary Rice's November 2005 decision to waive restrictions imposed by a bipartisan congression consensus to maintain pressure for military reform, forfeit leverage for real reform.

Indeed, the reality is that the TNI remains a largely rogue institution which commits human rights violations without concern for the law. Its political power and corruption jeopardize democracy.
Links to and support of thuggish militia, including Jihadist groups, that intimidate minority populations reveal unchanged adherence to military tactics brutally employed in 1999 against the people of East Timor.

A candid review of current TNI performance clearly indicates a continuation of, and in some instances a return to, Suharto-era military behavior. For example, the State Department's own 2004 annual human rights report for Indonesia notes that "retired and active duty military officers known to have committed serious human rights violations occupied or were promoted to senior positions in the Government or TNI." Not one Indonesian officer has served a day in jail for crimes against humanity inflicted on the people of East Timor and the UN mission in 1999 or before. In the small number of other cases that have gone to trial, defendants have been limited to low-level officials, sentences are consistently not commensurate with crimes, and command responsibility is neither assessed nor pursued. This cycle of impunity encourages military personnel to commit abuse and intimidates those who seek to stop it.

TNI involvement in politics and civilian government administration remains overbearing and appears to be strengthening. While the State Department has made much about the military's relinquishment of assigned parliamentary seats in 2004, the TNI actually retains far more important powers through its vast territorial command structure. Such a structure constitutes a shadow government that is usually more powerful than the elected or appointed civilian bureaucracy. New TNI leadership has no plans to relinquish this structure. Furthermore, the 2004 local government law relaxed prohibitions on military officers running in local elections, and military officers can occupy senior posts in the Department of Defense, as well as in the areas of drug enforcement and intelligence.

The vastly corrupt nature of the TNI remains unchanged. It operates beyond civilian government control in large measure because it draws most of its funding from non-budget sources. The president has so far failed to issue regulations required to implement a 2004 law ending military-controlled business interests by 2009, nor are there timetables or benchmarks for full implementation. In the very limited actions taken so far, the military has employed a narrow definition of what constitutes a military business, excluding, for example, cooperatives that constitute a significant portion of military holdings. In addition to these formal military enterprises, many units engage in illegal activities, including trafficking in persons and narcotics, prostitution rings, illegal logging and fishing, and extortion that sometimes targets U.S. firms. These illegal businesses need to be shut down.

Progress has occurred in some areas, notably the still-fragile peace process in Aceh. However, it is essential that the U.S. exercise leverage to ensure the Indonesian military does not play a disruptive role, as it did in 2003. Moreover, there are fears that soldiers withdrawn from Aceh are being sent to West Papua. Regrettably, a ban on foreign journalists and others has prevented verification of this and other allegations of serious abuse in that easternmost province.

We, the undersigned non-governmental organizations, request the opportunity to meet with you to discuss the continued absence of meaningful TNI reform. We wish also to express our concern that the Administration's abandonment of congressionally imposed restrictions on assistance to the Indonesian military rewards and encourages continued human rights violations, impunity, and corruption, thus undermining Indonesian democracy. We would also welcome the chance to discuss ways for the Administration both to credibly measure reform progress and create incentives for it.

We thank you for your consideration and look forward to your response.


Karen Orenstein, National Coordinator
East Timor and Indonesia Action Network

Bama Athreya, Deputy Director
International Labor Rights Fund

Rev. James Kofski, Associate
Asia-Pacific and Middle East Issues
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Edmund McWilliams
West Papua Advocacy Team
Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Human Rights Center

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