Security and Commercial Interests Drive Obama Administration Policy in Indonesia
President Obama’s brief November 9-10 visit to Indonesia revealed a Washington policy firmly rooted in previous administrations’ narrow perspectives. The “comprehensive partnership,” formally announced during the visit as the centerpiece of U.S.-Indonesian relations, is reminiscent of decades-old U.S. policy towards Indonesia.
The “partnership” affirms the intent to broaden educational exchanges and offers lip-service to purportedly shared global goals related to the environment and democratization.
However, at its core, the accord betrays the same lack of vision that characterized U.S. relations with the Suharto dictatorship and its successors: e.g., Indonesia’s importance to the United States is as regional leader capable of counter-balancing China, as a market for U.S. goods and (especially) services, and as a source of raw materials and cheap labor.
Missing is any U.S. recognition of the growing challenges to democratization and stability that beset Indonesia. Indonesian democracy is increasingly hostage to an ambitious, corrupt and unaccountable military and police, as set forth in a WPAT letter to President Obama.
Nowhere is this security force brutality and rogue behavior more in evidence than in West Papua where video footage of security force murder, torture and beatings of Papuans in recent months has slipped through a cordon of silence enforced by the security forces to hide systematic brutality there. The extent of this brutality was revealed during the Obama visit by investigative journalist Alan Nairn who released secret Kopassus documents.
The documents lay bare the deliberate falsehood perpetrated by the Government of Indonesia (and gullibly accepted by foreign governments) that egregious security force human rights abuse in West Papua are anomalies perpetrated by individual personnel acting outside their orders. In fact, such abuses are revealed as systematic and doctrinal. The documents also firmly establish chain of command responsibility for these abuses extending to the most senior levels of the Indonesian military.
The “comprehensive partnership” contains, as a fundamental element, a strengthened and expanded bilateral security force relationship initially announced by U.S. Secretary of Defense Gates during a July 2010 visit to Jakarta.
That expanded relationship remarkably includes collaboration with Indonesian Special Forces (Kopassus), which had been denied U.S. assistance since its infamous role in the 1998 riots in Jakarta and other major Indonesian cities.
Kopassus’s continuing abuses and unaccountability, as documented in a June 2009 Human Rights Watch report, has demonstrated that unit’s unwillingness to reform.
Inclusion of security sector cooperation, including with Kopassus, as a key element of the “partnership” ignores what had long been bicameral and bipartisan U.S. Congressional objection to restoration of ties with Kopassus. Restoration of ties with Indonesia’s special forces, as well as continued U.S. support for “Detachment 88,” the purported anti-terror unit, credibly and repeatedly accused of human rights violations, provides Kopassus and all Indonesian security forces an imprimatur of U.S. approval that removes critical pressure for reform.
The decision to move forward broadly with U.S. military assistance also communicates a disheartening message to Indonesian reform advocates who have pressed for such reform in the face of security force intimidation up to and including murder.
Papuans Risk Arrest and Mistreatment in Appeal to President Obama during His Visit to Jakarta
Hoping to draw the attention of President Obama and the international media that accompanied his entourage to Jakarta, Papuans in various cities demonstrated
An unknown number of demonstrators in Jayapura were detained despite the peaceful nature of their November 6 march. In Jakarta, a WPAT team member monitored a two hour peaceful march of over 100 Papuans to the gates of U.S.-based gold and copper mine Freeport McMoran.
The protesters carried banners critical of the U.S. and Indonesian governments for denying Papuans the right of self determination and also decrying Freeport’s decades of destructive exploitation of Papuan resources and violation of Papuan rights. During their march the protesters followed instructions of accompanying police to minimize disruption of Jakarta’s mid-day traffic. Some demonstrators sat down in the street blocking several lanes of a major Jakarta thoroughfare near Freeport’s corporate offices, after they were denied permission to enter and meet with officials. Police were initially confused by the tactic but eventually struck at least one of the demonstrators and briefly detained three forcing the demonstrators to the side of the road.
Release of Secret Indonesian Military Documents Proves Human Rights Abuse Indonesian Government Policy
The November 9 release of a 25-page secret report by a Kopassus task force in Kotaraja, Papua, conclusively demonstrates that human rights violations in West Papua is Indonesian government policy. The document, released by investigative journalist Alan Nairn, identify individual senior members of Papuan civil society and clergy as targets for intimidation and abuse. The task force alleges without evidence that they harbor “separatist” goals.
While senior Indonesian government military and civilian officials have long groundlessly alleged separatist sympathies among Papua’s civil society, the document are unique as they name the targets for attack and explicitly ordain extralegal measures by security forces to be employed against them. The report indicates that such actions are supported at the highest levels of the Indonesian military. Moreover, calls for action to impede and prevent Papuans from peacefully exercising fundamental freedoms including the right of association and of free speech constitute clear violations of Indonesia’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights, both acceded to by Indonesia in February 2006. They also violate Indonesian law affirming these rights.
Responding to the leak, Indonesia’s armed forces commander confirmed to the Jakarta Globe, that his troops conduct intelligence gathering operations in Papua. According to the newspaper, Adm. Agus Suhartono “rejected the idea that gathering intelligence among civilians was wrong, saying all intelligence operations in Papua served to detect and prevent separatist threats.” He “added the operations were always carried out by officers sent over from the military’s central command, including from Kopassus and other elite units.”
***these have been highlights from a series of monthly reports that focus on developments affecting Papuans produced by the non-profit West Papua Advocacy Team (WPAT) co-published with the East Timor & Indonesia Action Network (ETAN). you can read the entire report clicking here.