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Phil Goff Speech - Towards Democracy In Indonesia

Hon Phil Goff
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Speech Notes


Conference Centre,
University of Auckland
Saturday 1 April 2000

Thank you for your invitation to speak at your seminar this afternoon on ‘Towards Democracy in Indonesia’.

Had this seminar taken place two years ago, most of us would have offered a bleak assessment on the outlook for Indonesia. The Suharto regime appeared entrenched. The military occupied a central role in state power. Human rights were regularly infringed. Democracy was a thin veneer, where neither the election process, nor expression of opinion, nor the media were free. Corruption was rife. The rule of law scarcely existed. The expression of protest had cost thousands of lives in East Timor, in Aceh and elsewhere, including in the capital, Jakarta.

In this context, the changes which have occurred since the fall of the Suharto regime in May 1998 have been remarkable.

No one suggests that all of the fundamental problems confronting Indonesia have been resolved or indeed that all of the features of a democracy as we understand it are now entrenched and unchallengeable in the Indonesian system. Clearly, that is not yet the case. Change in Indonesia still has some way to go.

However, we should not make the mistake of failing to acknowledge the huge progress that has been achieved.

Those who have struggled to achieve change and democracy in Indonesia need and deserve support from the democratic world. Not to provide that support to a still fragile democracy would simply give comfort to those vested interests who stand to lose status, power and wealth in the new Indonesia.

The election of President Wahid and the new Indonesian parliament represents the first truly democratic election process since 1955.

They have, however, inherited a difficult legacy: a history of human rights violations in Aceh, East Timor and elsewhere, a tradition of dominant military influence rather than a military subordinate to civil authority, excessive executive and weak legislative power, and widespread corruption.

In seeking to overturn this tradition, Abdurrahman Wahid draws on a background of long-standing advocacy of democratisation, respect for human rights and inter-faith tolerance.
He has appointed to his cabinet people of good ethics who by and large share his vision for Indonesian society.

He has moved early to put civil-military relations onto a new, more balanced footing. It would be premature to say that supremacy of civil power has been achieved, but the political influence of the armed forces has been significantly reduced. Among the symbolic changes which have reinforced this sense of new direction is his appointment of the first civilian Minister of Defence since the early years of the Indonesian Republic.
He has appointed the first non-army (naval) commander in chief of the armed forces.
He has announced the intention to phase out armed forces representation in Parliament (DPR) from the year 2004, and the armed forces have agreed.
He has reshuffled key personnel in the armed forces appointing officers loyal to the president or known to be politically neutral or reformist in outlook.
He has enforced the rule that military officers in civil posts, including Cabinet, must resign their commissions.
Perhaps most significantly, he has suspended of the former TNI head, General Wiranto, from his post as Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs. This was a defining moment in the civilian government gaining the upper hand and in bringing to justice those responsible for human rights violations.

That said, institutional resistance to a reduced political role for the military has not been fully overcome, as demonstrated by a number of recent incidents in East Timor and Aceh. It is not yet clear whether these are challenges to the President’s policies, or reflect a breakdown in the chain of command or poor discipline at lower levels.
A start has also been made in judicial and legal reform. The former head of Komnas Ham (the Indonesian Human Rights Commission), Marzuki Darusman is now Attorney General. President Wahid has stated his support for another member of Komnas Ham being appointed Chief Justice.
For these people to come from Komnas Ham is quite logical. Since its inception in 1993, Komnas Ham has won respect for its outspokenness and independence, no mean feat in the difficult circumstances of the Suharto regime. Its inquiry released at the end of January into East Timor human rights violations, which documented abuses that constituted crimes against humanity, was frank and courageous.
Other Indonesian initiatives should be commended. A Law Commission has been set up to improve legal and judicial conduct. A reformist head of the National Police has been appointed. And a team of Ombudsmen has been established to deal with public complaints against officials.
The new Attorney General is showing a determination to address past abuses, in particular, to bring the big corruption (Bank Bali and Suharto family) and human rights (Aceh and East Timor) investigations to court. Draft legislation to establish a human rights court will be introduced into Parliament soon. This legislation will provide for ad hoc tribunals to investigate specific cases from the past, such as last year’s events in East Timor. Legislation to establish a Truth Commission is also in the pipeline and President Wahid has recently raised the possibility of investigating the massive killings of 1965 and 1966.
We should not, however, underestimate the difficulties facing the Indonesian Government in bringing to account the senior military personnel implicated in the East Timor violations. There is still some way to go. The judicial case against Wiranto, who is accused of overall responsibility for, rather than ordering or committing, the violence, will be a difficult one to make. But to date Komnas Ham and now the Attorney General have been pursuing a credible process that, if successful, could remove the need for the UN Security Council to consider an international tribunal. The possibility of an International Tribunal should be retained, however, in the event that the process in Indonesia falls short of what is needed.
The situation highlights the need for an International Criminal Court. The record of the two ad hoc tribunals of the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda has been mediocre. Clearly, we need an International Criminal Court to ensure we can hold to account those who commit crimes against humanity.
The Indonesian Government faces a larger challenge in responding to the violence in Maluku and separatist sentiment in Aceh and Papua (Irian Jaya). These conflicts have been marked by grave human rights abuses. In Maluku more people have been killed and displaced than in last year’s violence in East Timor. Because of their complexity, a lasting solution to these conflicts will not be easy.
On the positive side, the Indonesian Government has pledged to implement laws adopted last year to devolve greater political and economic power to local and provincial governments. Such measures should help address years of resentment of centralised control and unfair distribution of income from local resources. The Government has also sought dialogue with pro-independence and other representatives of Acehnese and Papuan society. This is a positive sign.

It is encouraging that direct action and demonstrations by various pressure groups are commonplace and tolerated. Indonesia has a free and increasingly responsible press, with a competitive print media that is widely read. There is a thriving culture of NGOs. The mere fact that a former social justice activist, Erna Witoelar, is now the Minister for Housing and Regional Development, shows how far Indonesia has come in a short time.
I would like to touch briefly on East Timor.

The potential for instability and violence remains an obstacle to the rebuilding and creation of a new East Timor. Around 100,000 East Timorese still remain in West Timor. The Indonesian government has announced that it will stop humanitarian aid as of 31 March. We believe that deadline is unrealistic and we are pressing for it to be more flexible.

The UN estimates around half of refugees wish to return to East Timor. Their return is hampered by militia intimidation. The UN and Indonesian authorities must work to ensure that people can return without fear. Those who want to stay, need to be able to leave the camps. What we want to avoid is a Timorese "Gaza strip" – a group of disaffected refugees in camps on the border from where new generations can breed ferment and violence.

We have made representations to the Indonesian authorities on this issue earlier this year. A New Zealand Embassy team will visit West Timor from next week to gather information and to pursue this course. We are also joining with the US, Canadians and Australians, all friends of Jakarta, to make diplomatic representations to the Indonesian Government.

I will also be raising these issues with the people I meet when I visit Indonesia in three weeks time.

Indonesia is a society of great vigour, rich in contrasts and contradictions. New Zealand and others in the international community - through the UN and bilateral representations – must encourage and support President Wahid to continue down the reform path. Further progress in the areas of economic and political reform and the addressing of human rights issues will ensure that such international support continues.

To conclude: from my perspective the changes over the last two years in Indonesia and East Timor stand alongside the earlier dramatic and unexpectedly sudden collapse of apartheid in South Africa and totalitarian government in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

I had not expected so soon to be able to step foot this January in a free East Timor. Nor did I anticipate that the Suharto regime and what it represented would collapse as quickly as it did in Indonesia.

There is much to welcome in these changes. But as in South Africa and in Russia, democratic change by itself does not signal the end to all problems. The struggle to entrench positive democratic institutions and rights, and the stable and growing economic substructure needed to support them is not easily won.

We in New Zealand should not simply be critics on the sideline saying what is still to be done. We should be actively and constructively involved in working with new governments in both Indonesia and East Timor to secure freedom and economic progress in those countries, who are part of our region.


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