Indonesian Rights Issues Unlikely to Upset Military Ties: Analysts

Indonesian Rights Issues Unlikely to Upset Military Ties: Analysts

, 9 November 2010


By: Nivell Rayda


US President Barack Obama’s administration is likely to continue providing support to Indonesia’s Armed Forces despite growing concerns over alleged human rights abuses, analysts say.

The military has been under intense international criticism´╗┐ after a 10-minute video showing soldiers torturing two Papuan civilians was posted on the Internet last month.

Ahead of Obama’s planned visit today, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had pledged to investigate the torture allegations but rights groups were outraged when a military tribunal was instead held into another, less serious incident in Papua, which was recorded on a soldier’s cellphone.

International rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, urged the United States to sever military ties with Indonesia, but a former US diplomat and political analyst, Ed McWilliams, said that was unlikely.

“The US hasn’t seemed to be responding that much to the torture,” McWilliams told the Jakarta Globe on Monday.

“I would expect Obama to ask about the latest development [in the investigation] but that would not be the main topic of discussion and not be done publicly.”

Additionally, the United States’ 12-year ban on military ties with the Indonesian Army’s special forces unit, known as Kopassus, ended in July when US Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced a resumption in its joint training program.

Kopassus is accused of some of the worst rights abuses in conflict areas such as East Timor, Aceh and Papua during the 1990s.

Bantarto Bandoro, a security expert from the University of Indonesia, said that while the resumption of ties would give Obama leverage to push for more military reforms, US business interests in Indonesia might cancel out any such pressure.

“Obama has to juggle between appeasing activists in the United States who want him to resolve cases of torture in Indonesia, and protecting arms deal and businesses operating in the country,” Bantarto said.

´╗┐Indonesia has since the mid-1980s relied almost entirely on the United States and its NATO allies for arms imports, according to a 2010 report by the World Policy Institute.

Arms deals with the United States since 1975 are estimated to be worth a total of $2.4 billion, the report says.

During Ronald Reagan’s four years in office, arms sales to Indonesia averaged $40 million a year.

Terrorism expert Noor Huda Ismail, meanwhile, said the defense ties were now influenced by Indonesia’s key role in the US-led war on terrorism.

“Indonesia is considered as a buffer ground for terrorism attacks against Australia and the United States,” he said. “It’s unlikely they would sever ties with Indonesia.”

Washington has funded part of Indonesia’s counterterrorism campaign, including providing training for Densus 88, the police’s elite counterterrorism unit, shortly after the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, including seven Americans.

But the unit has also been accused of torturing and killing terrorism suspects and is also believed to be behind the alleged torture of activists from a separatist group, the South Maluku Republic (RMS), in June.

On Sept. 23, the US Congress held a historic hearing on human rights abuses in Papua, gathering testimony from Papuans and academics about violations committed by the military.

Before the congressional hearing, Joseph Yun, the US deputy assistant secretary of state, said the United States would continue to support the Indonesian military but would not overlook allegations of human rights abuses.

Salmon Yumame, of the Forum for Democracy in Papua, who was at the hearing, said the US position on Papua was prompted by its business interests there.

Arizona-based Freeport McMoRan runs the world’s biggest copper and gold mine in Papua.

The company has been widely accused of financing Indonesian military operations there in return for suppressing protests by indigenous Papuans about environmental damage in the area. In 2005, the New York Times reported that the company had spent $20 million paying off military officials´╗┐.

The company said that it did not pay individual officials, but conceded it did pay for food, housing, fuel and travel for military personnel.