Swift army response to torture shows Indonesia is changing

Swift army response to torture shows Indonesia is changing

Sydney Morning Herald, 3 November 2010


At the Cendrawasih military command in Jayapura, Papua, five Indonesian soldiers will appear in court charged with the terrible abuse of two Papuan men, one burnt repeatedly on his genitals, the other threatened with decapitation.

In the annals of Indonesia's chequered history of military justice, tomorrow's hearing is unprecedented in its speed, no doubt reflecting the fact that the torture was allegedly filmed by one of the soldiers on his mobile phone, a video that was subsequently obtained by the Herald and went via internet and television around the world.

Advertisement: Story continues below For Indonesia's President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the quick administration of justice is proof that the new, democratic Indonesia takes human rights seriously, and there is no need for the international community to press him on the issue.

And, indeed, there are plenty of observers, including Australia's Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, who take great heart from the quick apprehension and detention of the soldiers and Yudhoyono's strong condemnation of the practice and pledge that there will be ''no immunity'' for the perpetrators.

''President Yudhoyono has already indicated that those matters will be the subject of an investigation. I welcome that,'' Gillard said.

The leaders discussed the video in their talks yesterday, despite an Indonesian request that it not be raised.

The veteran Indonesia watcher John McBeth summed up the feeling of many when he wrote in Singapore's Straits Times that the early action on the video ''says more about how far the TNI [Indonesian military] has progressed on the human rights front than anything else it has done in the democratic era''. But just how severe any punishment will be remains uncertain.

In announcing the imminent start of the military tribunal hearing for the five soldiers, the chief of Indonesia's armed forces, Admiral Agus Suhartono, seemed to be paving the way for a lenient sentence.

''It wasn't torture,'' he said. ''They are regarded as responsible for conducting interrogation in an excessive way when looking for weapons hidden by those people.''

Moreover, Yudhoyono and other senior officials insist the abuses are not widespread.

But an International Crisis Group analyst, Sidney Jones, sees things differently. ''We all know it's not an isolated case,'' she said. ''It's not only Papuans. We know similar techniques are being used in all kinds of situations. On drug dealers, terrorists. There's an endemic problem that needs to be addressed.''

And part of addressing the problem, said Ms Jones, is giving strong punishments for those who have transgressed.