US renews ties to Indonesia special forces with record of human rights abuses
- Length: 4:28 minutes (4.08 MB)
- Format: MP3 Mono 44kHz 128Kbps (CBR)
The U.S. military announced it is re-establishing ties with Kopassus - a unit of Indonesia special forces that operated during the genocide in East Timor and in crackdowns in Aceh. Human rights activists are condemning the move, saying it’s still the same, deadly Kopassus – and the U.S. is failing to hold the unit accountable. Tanya Snyder reports:
In Indonesia Thursday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates made an announcement human rights groups had hoped they wouldn’t hear:
GATES: The U.S. will begin a gradual, limited program of security cooperation with the Indonesian Army Special Forces.
He tried to reassure critics who have closely monitored human rights in the region:
“These initial steps will take place within the limits of U.S. law and do not signal any lessening of the importance we place on human rights and accountability.”
Gates said the decision was based on military reforms and "actions taken by the Ministry of Defense to address human rights issues."
But John Miller of the East Timor Action Network says Kopassus’ long history of human rights abuses is still very much a problem.
MILLER: You can start at the beginning. One of the better-known killings was of five journalists a couple months before Indonesia launched its full scale invasion at Balibo, and those journalists were killed by a unit of Kopassus. Then you can go to the end, and the killings and destruction in the aftermath of East Timor’s pro-independence vote in 1999. Kopassus officers were certainly involved directly in the killing.
The Indonesian military killed between 500,000 and a million people in an anti-Communist rampage in the late '60s. Up to a third of the East Timor population was murdered in Indonesia’s invasion and occupation between 1975 and 1999, and at least 100,000 West Papuans died under Indonesian control since 1963. Very few prosecutions have resulted from this violence.
Although Secretary Gates said the assistance at this point would not include direct training, Miller says that engagement with Kopassus would violate the Leahy Law, which bans U.S. military assistance to military units with unresolved human rights violations.
Many human rights advocates and members of Congress have demanded that one condition of re-engagement be that human rights cases be handled in civilian courts, not military courts. But legislation to make that happen is stalled in the Indonesian parliament.
MILLER: What the U.S. has been doing is taking the goalposts and not putting them further away- but dismantling them.
The administration says it’s important to work with Indonesia on maritime security, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Observers also note that Indonesia is the most populous Muslim nation in the world, home to a relatively moderate strain of Islam, and that cooperation with them is a strategic goal.
President Bush resumed relations with the Indonesian military in 2005, but left Kopassus out.
Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch says that remained a sore point with the Indonesian government, especially as it has made progress on human rights:
RICHARDSON: Well, my response to that is to say you’re absolutely right, Indonesia has made enormous progress since the end of the Suharto era. There are a number of realms in which the Yudhoyono administration has made clear progress, and we should engage on those. Sadly, Kopassus is not one of them. You are giving credit where credit is not due.
Some Indonesian military officials said the human rights issue was resolved. But they have failed to remove from the Kopassus members found guilty of human rights violations, according to the Jakarta Post. Several other supposed conditions of re-engagement have also not been met.
Human Rights Watch recently reported that Kopassus soldiers have engaged in torture in Aceh and that there was a pattern of arbitrary detention and mistreatment of civilians in Papua.
John Miller says the East Timor Action Network will monitor the impact of the U.S. re-engagement with Kopassus. He says the Indonesian military has committed many of its worst abuses during times of full cooperation with the U.S., and that the cutting off of ties has often resulted in some of the most notable improvements.
Tanya Snyder, FSRN, Washington.
Photo: Indonesian Special Forces unit, in ceremony marking joint anti-terrorist campaign with U.S.-March 2010
Photo credit: Lisa