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U.S. must back human rights, not the army, in Indo

Edmund McWilliams: U.S. must back human rights, not the army, in Indonesia

Providence Journal

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01:00 AM EDT on Sunday, April 11, 2010

By EDMUND McWILLIAMS

President Obama’s upcoming visit to Indonesia (rescheduled from late March to June) will reveal to him an Indonesia substantially changed from the Indonesia of the Suharto dictatorship he knew as a boy, when he lived in that nation for a few years.

Indonesia’s democratic progress since the 1998 popular overthrow of the Suharto dictatorship is a tribute to the courage and determination of Indonesian reformers.

They have pressed forward demanding respect for human rights and an end to systemic corruption against great opposition, notably from a still repressive military and an entrenched, corrupt elite allied to international corporate interests.

Their achievement has come at a price: In 2004, Said Munir Thalib, Indonesia’s leading human-rights advocate and critic of the repressive military, was murdered by those determined to resist reform. His assassination has never been successfully prosecuted as witnesses have been forced to change or recant their testimony in Indonesia’s deeply flawed judicial system. That injustice casts an intimidating shadow over all those who seek to follow in his footsteps.

But Munir, along with the murdered Papuan leader Theys Eluay and other martyrs to democratic reform, are not the only victims in this struggle. Scores of advocates for reform and respect for rights are political prisoners in Indonesia’s notorious prison system. A 2007 U.N. report underscored the brutality inflicted on political prisoners and others in the Indonesian prison system.

In Indonesia’s gulag, political dissidents endure detention in conditions that endanger detainees’ health and are in some instances life-threatening.

Amnesty International has identified dozens of “prisoners of conscience,” incarcerated for peaceful, political protest of human-rights abuse and security-force impunity.

President Obama’s forthcoming travel to Indonesia affords an opportunity for the U.S. to take a stand against Indonesia’s continued violation of the fundamental civil and political rights of its citizens ¬ rights set forth in international covenants to which Indonesia is a party, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

President Obama should press the democratizing Indonesian government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to act decisively to defend those Indonesian citizens courageously demanding an end to human-rights abuses by security forces and other crimes, and for judicial accountability of those forces.

President Obama should also call for a release of those confined in Indonesian prisons for their peaceful political dissent.

Finally, the Obama administration should not expand its cooperation with the repressive Indonesian military, the principal agent for repression of dissent in Indonesia, absent real reform of that institution to include an end to human-rights abuse, full military subordination to civil control and an end to judicial impunity for criminal activity by the military.

Published reports that the administration is considering training and other assistance to the Indonesian military’s Special Forces is particularly egregious insofar as that branch remains the most aggressive and brutal in suppressing dissent.

Edmund McWilliams, of Harrisville, a retired Foreign Service oifficer, was the political counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta in 1996-99. Since his retirement he has been active in pro-bono human-rghts causes, especially regarding Indonesia.

ENDS

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