Thursday, July 22, 2010

ETAN Condemns U.S. Plan to Get Back in Bed with Indonesia's Kopassus Killers


CONTACT: East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) [1] John M. Miller 718-596-7668

ETAN Condemns U.S. Plan to Get Back in Bed with Indonesia's Kopassus Killers

NEW YORK - July 22 - The East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) today condemned the Obama administration's decision to resume engagement with Indonesia's notorious Kopassus special forces.

"Slipping back into bed with Kopassus is a betrayal of the brutal unit's many victims in Timor-Leste, West Papua and throughout Indonesia. It will lead to more people to suffer abuses," said John M. Miller, National Coordinator of ETAN. "Working with Kopassus, which remain unrepentant about its long history of terrorizing civilians [2], will undermine efforts to achieve justice and accountability for human rights crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste (East Timor)."

"For years, the U.S. military provided training and other assistance to Kopassus, and when the U.S. was most involved Kopassus crimes were at their worst. While this assistance improved the Indonesian military's deadly skills, it did nothing to improve its behavior," Miller added.

"Engagement with Kopassus would violate the Leahy Law, which prohibits military assistance to units with unresolved human rights violations," said Miller. "Even the previous Bush State Department's legal counsel thought so, ruling that the Leahy prohibition applied to Kopassus as a whole."

U.S. officials, speaking to the New York Times [3], distinguished between soldiers who were "only implicated, not convicted' in human rights crimes. Administration officials have said that some Kopassus soldiers convicted of crimes no longer served with the unit, however many of them remain on active duty, including Lt. Col. Tri Hartomo, convicted by a military court of the murder of Papuan leader Theys Eluay in 2001.

The official American Forces Press Service wrote [4] that a "senior defense official said Indonesia has pledged that any Kopassus member who is credibly accused of a human rights violation will be suspended pending an investigation, will be tried in a civilian court, and will be removed from the unit if convicted." Legislation transferring members of military to civilian courts for trials has yet to pass.

"The problem remains that the Indonesian military (TNI) as a whole and Kopassus in particular rarely take accusations of human rights violations seriously and few end up in any court," said ETAN's Miller. "Engaging Kopassus with only token concessions will not encourage reform, respect for rights or accountability. It may do the opposite."

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced in Jakarta [5] that the U.S. "will begin a gradual, limited program of security cooperation activities" with Kopassus. U.S. officials told the media [3] that "there would be no immediate military training," However, Gates did not say exactly what criteria will be used to decide if  "to expand upon these initial steps [which] will depend upon continued implementation of reforms within Kopassus" and the TNI.


Engagement with Kopassus has been opposed by human rights and victims associations in Indonesia, Timor-Leste and internationally. It has been debated within the Obama administration and in Congress.

In May 2010, 13 senior members of Congress wrote [6] the Secretary Gates and Secretary of State Clinton concerning plans to cooperate with Kopassus. The letter called for "a reliable vetting process critical... for identifying Kopassus officials who have violated human rights" and said "the transfer of jurisdiction over human rights crimes committed by members of the military to civilian courts should be a pre-condition for engagement with Kopassus." Legislation to transfer members of the military to civilian courts has long been stalled. Trials of some soldiers before ad-hoc human rights courts, such as on East Timor, have resulted in acquittals.

Kopassus troops have been implicated in a range of human rights violations and war crimes in Aceh, West Papua, Timor-Leste and elsewhere. Although a few special forces soldiers have been convicted of the kidnapping of activists prior to the fall of the Suharto dictatorship and the 2001 murder of Theys Eluay, the perpetrators of the vast majority of human rights crimes continue to evade prosecution. Kopassus and other troops indicted by UN-backed prosecutors in Timor-Leste for crimes committed in 1999 during Timor's independence referendum remain at large.

Kopassus was involved in Timor-Leste from the killings of five Australian-based journalists at Balibo [7] in 1975 prior to Indonesia's full scale invasion through its destructive withdrawal in 1999. Kopassus soldiers are alleged to have been involved in the 2002 ambush murder of three teachers [8] (including two from the U.S.) near the Freeport mine in West Papua. The crimes of Kopassus are not only in the past. A Human Rights Watch report [9] published last year documents how Kopassus soldiers "arrest Papuans without legal authority, and beat and mistreat those they take back to their barracks." A report by journalist Allan Nairn describes security force  - including a U.S.-trained Kopassus general - involvement in the killing of activists in Aceh last year. [10]   The leaders of Kopassus have consistently rejected calls to hold it accountable. In April 2010 at a ceremony marking the anniversary of the unit's founding, Kopassus commander Maj. Gen. Lodewijk Paulus called [11] allegations of past rights violations a "psychological burden."  He told The Jakarta Globe "Honestly, it has become a problem and people just keep harping on them. It's not fair."

Lt. Gen. Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin [12], who served with Kopassus and is accused of human rights violations in East Timor and elsewhere, remains as deputy defense minister. His position is being challenged in court [13] by victims of human rights violations in the 1998 Jakarta riots and the 1997/1998 kidnapping of student and political activists.

In 2005, the Bush administration exercised a national security waiver [14] that allowed for full engagement with the Indonesian military for the first time since the early 1990s. The conditions for U.S. military engagement, which the Bush administration abandoned, included prosecution of those responsible for human rights violations in East Timor and elsewhere and implementation of reforms to enhance civilian control of the Indonesian military. The Bush administration waited until 2008 to propose restarting U.S. training of Kopassus, which was suspended in 1998. The State Department's legal counsel reportedly ruled that the 1997 ban on training of military units with a history of involvement in human rights violations, known as the 'Leahy law [15],' applied to Kopassus as a whole and the training did not go forward.


ETAN was founded in 1991 to advocate for self-determination for Indonesian-occupied Timor-Leste. Since the beginning, ETAN has worked to condition U.S. military assistance to Indonesia on respect for human rights and genuine reform. The U.S.-based organization continues to advocate for democracy, justice and human rights for Timor-Leste and Indonesia. For more information, see ETAN's web site: [16].

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Published on Thursday, July 22, 2010 by Reuters

U.S. Ends Ban on Ties With Indonesian Special Forces

by Phil Stewart

JAKARTA - Washington said Thursday it was dropping a ban on ties with Indonesia's special forces, imposed over human rights abuses in the 1990s, a move that may eventually allow combat training of the once-notorious unit.

[The United States announced Thursday, July 22, 2010, it will resume cooperation with Indonesia's special forces after ties were severed more than a decade ago over human rights abuses allegedly committed by the commando unit. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara, File) ]The United States announced Thursday, July 22, 2010, it will resume cooperation with Indonesia's special forces after ties were severed more than a decade ago over human rights abuses allegedly committed by the commando unit. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara, File)


The decision, announced during a visit by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to Jakarta, was taken after Indonesia took steps requested by Washington including removal of convicted human rights violators from the organization's ranks.

Activists in Indonesia swiftly condemned the move and questioned President Barack Obama's commitment to human rights.

Gates, after meeting Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, said the resumption of security cooperation activities would be "gradual" and "limited."

"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.

Human rights groups have voiced concern, however, that the roughly 5,000-strong special forces unit, known as Kopassus, still harbors rights offenders who committed abuses in East Timor and elsewhere but never convicted.

"We regret this development very much. Until now, the perpetrators of past human rights abuses in East Timor, Aceh and Papua are still free. There is still impunity in the Indonesian military, especially in Kopassus," Poengky Indarti, of Jakarta-based human rights group Imparsial, told Reuters.

"We are confused about the position of Barack Obama. Is he pro-human rights or not?" she said.

Gates defended the Obama administration's commitment to human rights and said working with countries that make an effort to reform was better than "simply standing back and shouting."

U.S. defense officials also played down concerns about Kopassus itself.

"There has been a dramatic change in that unit over the last decade ... the percentage of suspicious bad actors in the unit is tiny," said Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell.

"We are talking about probably a dozen, or a couple dozen people, that some regard as suspicious still in the unit. Obviously we are working to reduce that number to zero."

For the moment, the decision only re-establishes contacts between the U.S. military and Kopassus, which were cut off entirely in 1999. Next steps could involve Kopassus participation in events on "non-lethal" subjects, like rule of law and human rights.

Actual combat training of Indonesia's special forces, suspended since 1998, would come much later and only after vetting of individuals who would receive U.S. assistance.

"Our ability to expand upon these initial steps will depend on continued implementation of reforms within Kopassus and (the Indonesian military) as a whole," Gates said.


The decision is meant to bolster the U.S. effort to build military ties with the world's most populous Muslim nation, seen in Washington as an ally in the fight against Islamist extremism.

Indonesia was hit by deadly bomb attacks on two luxury hotels in the capital Jakarta last year, blamed on a splinter group that had split from the Jemaah Islamiah militant group. Jemaah Islamiah was responsible for the 2002 bombings of the Indonesian resort island of Bali that killed 202 people. Police have the lead role in combating terrorism in Indonesia.

Human rights groups and some members of Congress have strongly resisted calls to restore funding to Kopassus without concrete steps taken to ensure that members suspected of committing abuses would not benefit from U.S. assistance.

A senior U.S. defense official said Indonesia had assured Washington that anyone who in the future was suspected of a human rights violation would be suspended from Kopassus.

"If the investigation proves that they were responsible and they were convicted, they will be removed," he said.

But those assurances did not apply to suspects of past abuses who were not convicted in Indonesia, the official said.

New York-based Human Rights Watch, in a letter to Gates and to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton earlier this year, singled out its concerns about the Kopassus counter-terror component known as Unit 81, "the entity whose members the Department of Defense presumably seeks to train."

"Members of what is now called Unit 81 have been credibly accused of serious human rights abuses or other improper conduct," it wrote.

It cited its suspected role controlling abusive pro-Indonesia militias in East Timor between 1986 and 1999 and the disappearance of student activists in 1997-1998 in Jakarta.

Kopassus has also been accused of rights abuses in secessionist hot spots such as resource-rich Papua, located on the western half of New Guinea island, which is one of Indonesia's most politically sensitive regions.

(Additional reporting by Sunanda Creagh; Editing by Sara Webb and Alex Richardson)

© 2010 Reuters


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