Events of 1991
Human Rights Developments
Its new membership on the U.N. Human Rights Commission notwithstanding, the Indonesian government continued to violate fundamental rights of its citizens, including the right to life, the right not to be subjected to torture, arbitrary arrest or imprisonment, and the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association.
Summary executions by the Indonesian army continued to take place in the territory of East Timor. They also occurred in Aceh, the "special region" (as opposed to a province) of 3.8 million people on the northern tip of Sumatra where an independence movement called the Aceh/Sumatra National Liberation Front, more commonly known by its Indonesian name of Aceh Merdeka, has been engaged since 1977 in a low-level armed struggle against the Indonesian armed forces.
In East Timor, between seventy-five and one-hundred people are believed to have been shot dead when Indonesian security forces opened fire on a peaceful demonstration on November 12 at the Santa Cruz cemetery, near Dili, the capital. Thousands had turned a memorial mass for Sebastio Gomes Rangel, a young man killed by Indonesian forces two weeks earlier, into a massive political demonstration in support of independence. The march to the cemetery to lay flowers on Sebastio's grave had finished when hundreds of troops massed there began shooting. The Indonesian government's death toll was nineteen, but no official list of the dead had been compiled by early December, and there were many unconfirmed reports of bodies having been thrown in mass graves. A New Zealand citizen was killed and two American journalists were injured when they were beaten up at the scene by Indonesian troops. The Indonesian military almost immediately sent a team headed by the deputy chief of intelligence to investigate the November 12 killings, and President Suharto, after much international pressure, appointed a second commission headed by a military judge. At the same time, however, official spokespersons were blaming the marchers for the violence. Neither commission could be considered independent. More than 280 people were reported arrested; in December, the Indonesian government acknowledged still holding forty-two. A demonstration by East Timorese students living in Java was held in Jakarta on November 19 to protest the killings. The peaceful protest was broken up by force, and seventy students were arrested. At the beginning of December, twenty-one remained in detention in the Metropolitan Jakarta Police Command without access to lawyers or family, with one man held in solitary confinement.
In Aceh, the current round of ambushes of the police and military by Aceh Merdeka, and retaliatory and "counter-terror" killings by Indonesian security forces, began in mid-1989. Estimates of those killed on both sides over the last two-and-a-half years range from four hundred to over one thousand, but no organization has been able to conduct a thorough, impartial and systematic investigation in the districts most affected. In late May, when an Asia Watch representative visited the region, the army was exhorting villagers to take the law into their own hands to "exterminate" members of the guerrilla group. In one case reported by the local press on May 21, security forces stood by as villagers lynched two unarmed supporters of the movement. Asia Watch talked to residents who had seen bodies along the road in Aceh and to lawyers representing families whose relatives had disappeared after having been taken into custody by the armed forces. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was able to visit Aceh once, in mid-July, to interview persons detained in connection with the conflict, in what was expected to be the first in a series of regular visits by the humanitarian organization, but a second visit has been blocked by the Indonesian military.
Trials of suspected supporters of Aceh Merdeka began in March and are continuing. The trials have been marked by the use of coerced "confessions" and defense lawyers who were warned by the government against making any spirited defense. The government brought to trial only those against whom it believed it had sufficient evidence to convict. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of others were held in unacknowledged military detention, either to be released in large groups when the military decided that they had not been involved in Aceh Merdeka, or to remain "disappeared." Between September 1990 and October 1991, some 623 people were freed, in five groups, after highly publicized ceremonies in which they were obliged to take loyalty oaths to the Indonesian government, despite not having been convicted of any crime. Most had spent six months or more in incommunicado detention.
A death under mysterious circumstances took place in Irian Jaya, where an armed independence movement is also in place. The Indonesian army reported that it had found Melkianus Salosa, a leader of the Organisasi Papua Merdeka (Free Papua Movement), dead on August 20, 1991. Salosa had reportedly escaped on August 4 from a military-intelligence detention center run by the No. 8 Regional Military Command in Jayapura. A man who had escaped with Salosa who later turned himself in had led soldiers to Salosa's hideout in Aba Gunung, Abepura, Irian Jaya.
Far too many deaths of criminal suspects continue to take place at the hands of the Indonesian police. The usual explanation is that the suspects were shot resisting arrest or trying to escape, and in such cases no action is taken against the police officers involved. In some cases, when deaths appear to take place as a result of torture, police are prosecuted and, if convicted, given lenient sentences. Between July and September, for example, at least ten deaths of criminal suspects in the course of arrest or interrogation were reported in the Indonesian press. In March, a young man named Beni, detained for the attempted stabbing of a police sergeant, was tortured continuously from 8:00 A.M. to 8:00 P.M. in a police station in North Pontianak, Kalimantan. He was kicked, pistol-whipped and beaten with chains by three police officers until he collapsed and died. A cellmate was warned not to say anything about the incident. The family, however, complained, and the three officers were arrested and went on trial in July. At the close of the trial, the military prosecutor requested three-year sentences for each man.
Indonesians arrested on subversion charges for nonviolent activities received much heavier sentences. On May 23, the Indonesian Supreme Court reversed a reduction in sentence for four men from Irian Jaya accused of distributing T-shirts which bore the flag of "West Melanesia," the name of the state that some independence activists want to establish in Irian Jaya. Yakob Rumbiak, Ik Yoran, Pilemon Kambu and Habel Tanati originally had been given prison sentences of seventeen, thirteen, eleven and nine years by a court in Jayapura. The High Court in Jayapura had reduced the sentences by more than half in August 1990, but the Supreme Court reinstated the initial sentences. The T-shirts had been made in time for December 14, 1989, the first anniversary of the raising of the West Melanesian flag at a sports stadium in Jayapura, the capital. In August 1991, the Supreme Court upheld the prison sentence of eight-and-a-half years that had been handed down in October 1990 for Bonar Tigor Naipospos, a Yogyakarta student. Bonar was accused of possessing books that smacked of Marxist-Leninist teachings and taking part in a study group in which "Marxist" themes were discussed, such as the view that the lot of the Indonesian laborer under the Suharto government is little better than it was under the Dutch colonial regime.
On April 8, Arswendo Atmowiloto, a poet, short-story writer and editor of a tabloid weekly, was sentenced to five years in prison on charges of insulting a religion. The charge was based on his publication of a poll among his subscribers of the leaders they most admired. The Prophet Mohammed came in eleventh in the poll, behind President Suharto, Saddam Hussein and a rock singer. The poll caused demonstrations in many of Indonesia's major cities.
Some thirty-three suspected members or supporters of the banned Indonesian Communist Party remain in prison, including seven sentenced to death. Two men, Rewang, age 63, and Marto Suwandi, age 69, were released on July 24, four years after their sentences had expired. Prison officials refused to comment on the reasons for the delay, but it was believed linked to the retroactive application of a 1987 presidential decree banning routine reduction of sentences (remissions) for anyone sentenced to a life term or death.
In addition to those formally arrested on subversion charges, many other critics and political opponents of President Suharto or the Indonesian military continue to face restrictions on their civil rights. The moderate opposition grouping known as the "Petition of 50," named after a petition they submitted to President Suharto in 1980 that questioned his authority to decide on certain policies, continued to be banned from traveling abroad and receiving loans from banks. While the Indonesian press covered its activities and demands more thoroughly than at any time in the last decade, members were told that they would have to apologize to the president for the offense caused by their petition if remaining restrictions were to be lifted. In addition, some 17,000 people remain on the Indonesian government's immigration blacklist, many for political reasons. The blacklist prevents them from entering or leaving the country.
In October, as the political atmosphere heated up in anticipation of the 1992 parliamentary election campaign, local authorities in Magelang, Central Java banned four Muslim preachers from giving public religious lectures (pengajian). Pengajian have often been a forum for sharp critiques of government policy. In another effort to ensure uniformity of political views prior to the 1992 elections, the government required that all those selected as candidates by Indonesia's three legal political parties go through a screening procedure called litsus (short for penelitian khusus, or special investigation) to determine whether they had any involvement in the 1965 coup attempt which the Indonesian government has blamed on the Indonesian Communist Party. Senior figures in the ruling Golkar party and former Golkar ministers were exempted from the screening.
Although the mainstream press was unusually lively in 1991, formal censorship, if anything, intensified. The attorney general's office banned ten books during the year. One, banned in September, a translation of Ersatz Capitalism in Southeast Asia by the Japanese scholar Yoshihara Kunio, was said to contain material which discredited the nation and the president and made invidious comparisons between the latter and former President Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines. The attorney general's office said another book banned at the same time, entitled The Gulf War: Islam will Return Triumphant, could damage Indonesian-Saudi relations because it was critical of the Saudi royal family.
Also in September, an article on the killings in Aceh published in the Bangkok English-language newspaper The Nation, drew a formal protest from the Indonesian ambassador in Thailand and a response from the Thai government that it could not place restrictions on Thailand's free press.
The Indonesian government made numerous efforts to restrict freedom of expression about land disputes. In February 1991, in Bengkulu Selatan, villagers were forced to retract a letter they had sent in May 1990 to "Box 5000" (a government post-office box for receiving corruption complaints) about the failure of local officials to resolve a land dispute. Their complaint resulted in an investigation by the provincial government – and subsequent pressure from the officials at fault until the villagers backed down.85
In Semarang in February, students were interrogated by the police and copies of a 1991 calendar called "Land for the People" were confiscated because of the way the calendar caricatured officials. It showed President Suharto sitting on and squashing wailing peasants, while his wife was dressed in a bikini and swinging a golf club. Criminal charges against the student distributors were later dropped, but the calendar remained banned.
Freedom of assembly was also restricted. On February 14, security forces broke up a peaceful march on the American, Japanese and British Embassies to protest the Gulf War, and six people were arrested and briefly detained.
Freedom of association for trade unionists became a major issue in 1991. Even as Indonesian Manpower Minister Cosmos Batubara was selected to chair the International Labor Organization's annual conference, the right of Indonesian workers to strike, ostensibly protected by Indonesia's Constitution, continued to be violently suppressed. The military was routinely summoned to end strikes by workers protesting low wages, compulsory overtime, and other violations of Indonesian law. In many cases, military intervention in labor disputes was preceded or followed by interrogations of strike leaders at district military headquarters. Often, the labor leaders involved were coerced into signing letters of resignation. In June, nine workers at P.T. Evershinetex, a textile factory, were reported tortured by District Military Command 061 in Bogor, and five workers at a factory called P.T. DWA were reported to have been intimidated and beaten at subdistrict military units in West Jakarta. In August, after the government sent two hundred soldiers to suppress a strike at the tiremaker P.T. Gadjah Tunggal near Jakarta, nine workers were reported to have been detained and intimidated by security forces, and one of them was held for three days. Despite explicit government acknowledgment that wage levels frequently are below the level necessary to support the minimum physical requirements of workers, and despite legal protection of the right to strike, Admiral Sudomo, coordinating minister for general policy and security, and Manpower Minister Batubara continue to assert that strikes are unnecessary. They openly rationalize the use of military force in ending the strikes as a justifiable precaution against public disturbance. At a seminar in Jakarta on October 16, Batubara defended the government's use of troops: "If you go on strike in the streets it will disturb people and neighboring factories. It's the security officers' job to take care of public order."
In June, Saut Aritonang, the leader of the independent Indonesian trade union Solidarity (Setia Kawan), was taken at gunpoint from a taxi, blindfolded and held captive for three days. Although the identity of his captors was unclear to him, a military intelligence source was reported to have said privately during his absence that the union leader was being held by the regional military command. Aritonang said that he had been interrogated about the activities of Solidarity and had been threatened with death should he continue to interfere in the government's development plans. The military publicly denied any involvement in the abduction.
The abduction of Aritonang follows a pattern of military and police harassment of Solidarity members and officials which has plagued the independent union since its founding in 1990. In addition to "preventive questioning" of union members at police centers, the government has declared that it considers the union illegal, implying that it will not tolerate any expansion of the organization. Although freedom to organize is guaranteed by the Indonesian Constitution, the Indonesian government has put in place such onerous labor-union registration requirements that the only union allowed in practice is the government-manipulated SPSI (All Indonesia Workers' Union). A 1987 law requires, among other things, that a union have offices in at least twenty of Indonesia's twenty-seven provinces, with at least one thousand company-level units, before it can bargain on behalf of workers. By intimidating Solidarity, at present the only alternative to SPSI, the government makes it virtually impossible for the organization to expand to the extent necessary for official recognition. The government's response to Solidarity shows that any stirrings of a free, independent and democratic trade-union movement will be actively suppressed.
The Right to Monitor
Human rights monitoring by domestic organizations was restricted. No Indonesian human rights organization operates in East Timor, in part because permission to do so would almost surely be denied, but also because Indonesian human rights organizations are sensitive to the problems they would have working in a territory where most victims of human rights abuses would feel more comfortable talking to a Timorese priest than to an Indonesian lawyer.
Lawyers from the Medan, North Sumatra branch of Indonesia's largest human rights organization, the Legal Aid Institute, were not allowed to defend any suspected members of Aceh Merdeka; the ban extended to the Medan office's outpost in the town of Lhokseumawe, Aceh. After the article about human rights abuses in Aceh appeared in the Bangkok newspaper, the head of the Medan office of the Legal Aid Institute, who was quoted in the article, was "invited" by the local military commander to army headquarters and criticized about his lack of nationalist feeling.
Following the East Timor massacre, two human rights activists were intensively interrogated in Jakarta, accused of having organized the demonstration of East Timorese students on November 19. H.J.C. Princen of the Institute for the Defense of Human Rights and Indro Tjahjono of the organization INFIGHT were interrogated for eight hours on November 20, not only about their activities in relation to East Timor but also about all of their other human rights work. As of early December, they were having to report to the internal security agency BAKORSTANAS every day, a clear form of intimidation.
The United States maintains friendly relations with Indonesia, and the Bush Administration, like the Reagan Administration before it, has been reluctant to criticize the government of President Suharto. Indonesia's support of the allied Gulf War policy and its constructive role in working toward a settlement of the Cambodian conflict may have increased that reluctance.
The Bush Administration goes out of its way to accentuate the positive. In a submission to Congress outlining security assistance requested for fiscal year 1992, the State Department and Defense Security Assistance Agency noted, "The debate over political, economic and social issues is broadening, and the Parliament has somewhat enhanced its dialogue with the Executive. Reports of human rights violations declined in recent years, particularly in East Timor." The request for $2.3 million for fiscal year 1992's International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, made before the November 12 massacre in Dili, nevertheless came at a time when killings, disappearances, arbitrary arrests and unfair trials in Aceh were making 1991 a very bad year for human rights in Indonesia. The statement noted that IMET "exposes Indonesians to U.S. traditions of democracy, human rights and civilian control of the military." Given what happened in Aceh and East Timor, that exposure seems to have had little influence. Indonesia received $1.9 million in IMET assistance in fiscal year 1991.
The U.S. Embassy and State Department desk officers have been ready and willing to check on reports of restrictions on human rights monitors, but the State Department generally has not gone far enough to condemn military abuses in Aceh or East Timor. An exception was the reaction to the Dili massacre. On November 13, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher expressed concern over the "tragic loss of life" in the massacre of the day before, although he cited contradictory reports on what had caused the shootings to occur. On November 14, the Administration said it was "gratified" at the announcement of an Indonesian government investigation into the killings, and urged Jakarta to discipline those responsible for using "excessive force." The same day, State Department spokesman Boucher increased the public criticism of Indonesia, saying that "nothing that may have taken place could justify a military reaction of this magnitude, resulting in such a large loss of life by unarmed civilians." The State Department also made a point of summoning the Indonesian ambassador to express concern, and sent three officials to Dili to investigate the matter for themselves. Given the magnitude of the slaughter, the Administration should have gone beyond these welcome gestures to insist on an international inquiry, to suspend IMET until the results of the investigation were made known, and to resume it only if there were reasons to believe that the military had acted responsibly.
Senator Clairborne Pell, chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, who sharply condemned the massacre and declared that "the violence in East Timor casts serious doubt on Indonesia's ability to be a civilized nation," introduced a resolution calling for a suspension of U.S. military aid to Indonesia under the IMET program. However, the Administration opposed the cutoff in IMET funds, arguing on November 14, in the words of State Department spokesman Boucher, that U.S. training of the Indonesian military contributed to its "professionalism." As ultimately adopted by the full Senate, the Pell resolution urged an immediate reassessment of the IMET program, as well as U.S. support for investigations into the atrocity under United Nations auspices. In a letter to Secretary of State James Baker, Senator Patrick Leahy, the chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, indicated that he would propose a prohibition on any military assistance to Indonesia for fiscal year 1992 if the Indonesian government failed to conduct a full investigation and punish those responsible.86
House members were also outspoken in condemning both the October 28 shooting and the massacre on November 12. Ranking members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee urged the Indonesian government to "hold accountable those military personnel responsible ... and release immediately those who were arrested on November 12 for their participation in a peaceful funeral procession." The Committee approved a measure similar to the one passed in the Senate, specifically urging the Administration to make future IMET funding contingent on the outcome of the Indonesian government's investigation.
The State Department was notably lukewarm about pressing for access by the ICRC to Aceh or criticizing the military for failing to allow a second visit. Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs Richard Schifter noted in written response to congressional questions that there was nothing to suggest human rights violations on a "massive" scale in Aceh.
The Work of Asia Watch
Much of Asia Watch's work during the year focused on the human rights violations in Aceh. A report issued in late December 1990, Human Rights Violations in Aceh, was widely covered by the international press in January and was used by diplomatic circles in Jakarta to press the Indonesian government to allow the ICRC into Aceh. A follow-up report, based on a visit to Aceh and Malaysia (where some Acehnese involved in the conflict have fled) in late May and early June, was issued in mid-June and also was widely covered by the press. The second report was used in a campaign to persuade the Malaysian government not to deport boat people from Aceh whose return had been requested by the Indonesian government. As of December, some two hundred refugees had been permitted to stay in Malaysia.
Following the May-June visit to Aceh, Asia Watch met with the Australian foreign minister and other senior government officials in Canberra to raise concerns about the human rights situation there. Asia Watch staff also met with senior staff of the Indonesian Embassy in Washington to discuss human rights violations in Aceh.
After the killings in East Timor on October 28, Asia Watch wrote the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, urging it to press for an investigation. After the massacre two weeks later, Asia Watch helped to disseminate information on developments through an international network of human rights organizations, and sent a statement outlining what an independent, impartial investigation should consist of to every major newspaper in Jakarta. After East Timorese demonstrators were arrested in Jakarta on November 20, Asia Watch sent a formal letter of protest to Foreign Minister Ali Alatas. A major report on the killings and their aftermath was issued on December 12, in cooperation with the Human Rights Council of Australia.
Short reports were also issued during the year on freedom-of-expression cases, such as the calendar with the caricatures of government officials and the trial of the newspaper editor who conducted the poll of his readers.
In late October, Asia Watch formally requested permission to visit Indonesia and East Timor and hold talks with senior government and military officials in both places. There was no response by the end of the year.
The Senate bill was adopted on November 21. Senator Leahy wrote to Secretary Baker on November 20: "The U.S. Government should make it absolutely clear that there must be a thorough, prompt and credible investigation if an assistance relationship with Indonesia is to be maintained."
Disclaimer: © Copyright, Human Rights Watch