Human Rights Watch World Report 1994 - Indonesia and East Timor

Events of 1993

Human Rights Developments

Despite some signs of increasing receptivity to human rights concerns, Indonesia continued to detain critics arbitrarily, restrict freedom of expression, and obstruct the emergence of independent associations. Abuse of detainees immediately after arrest remained routine. Indonesian military abuses continued, but in two major cases, the killing of a young labor activist and the shooting of demonstrators at a dam site in Madura, army personnel were arrested or disciplined.

The appointment of President Suharto to a sixth term by the People's Consultative Assembly in March; the successful campaignby the armed forces to have its commander-in-chief, Try Sutrisno, appointed vice-president; and major cabinet changes announced at the end of March heralded little change in the government's approach to human rights.

Shortly before the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights in June, Indonesia announced the establishment of a national commission on human rights, headed by a former military judge and head of the Supreme Court, Ali Said. The twenty-five-member commission was set up by presidential decree and appeared to have neither independence nor investigatory powers.

Access to Indonesia by international human rights organizations remained limited, although Asia Watch and the International Commission of Jurists were permitted in March to send observers to the highly-charged political trial of Xanana Gusmao, leader of the East Timorese independence organization and guerrilla army.

Asia Watch received no reports of disappearances during the year, although outstanding cases of disappearances in Aceh and East Timor from 1990 and 1991 remained unresolved. The government appeared to be making no effort to find the missing or punish those responsible, and in both areas, the disappeared were presumed dead.

Several killings were attributed to the armed forces and police. On March 25, two men from the transmigrant community of Sei Lapan in North Sumatra were reported to have died in custody after having been beaten following their arrest in connection with a longstanding land dispute. On May 9, a young labor activist named Marsinah was found raped and murdered after a strike at her factory in Sidoarjo, East Java, in which the military had intervened. A special police investigation had uncovered no suspects by October. In late July, the body of Hans Soaf, believed to be a political activist in Irian Jaya, was found buried shortly after his arrest in Waskee, West Sarmi. Suspected leaders of Aceh Merdeka, the armed nationalist organization, continued to shot dead by soldiers, rather than captured; two were killed in August. On September 25, soldiers opened fire on a group of peaceful demonstrators in Madura, off the coast of East Java. Three people, including a fourteen-year-old boy, were killed instantly; another died later of his injuries. The demonstrators were protesting the construction of a dam. The army announced that the killings would be investigated, and later transferred four officers from the area.

Freedom of expression continued to be tightly controlled, with dozens arrested for a wide variety of offenses. In early January, two young men, Djoni Purwoto and Sugiri Cahyono, were sentenced to four and three and a half years in prison respectively on blasphemy charges for insulting Islam during a comic theatre performance in Salatiga, Central Java.

Two students from Semarang, Central Java, were tried in October for criticizing the electoral process during the parliamentary election campaign in May 1992. Both were accused of "spreading hatred of the government." Another student, David Ramone, was sentenced to six months in prison on slander charges for his role in a demonstration in which students carried posters asking a university administrator to account for his use of student fees.In late June, the trial of a young activist, Buntomi, opened in absentia in Salatiga; he was accused of distributing a calendar in 1991 that bore unflattering caricatures of President Suharto and his wife.

Freedom of association was a major issue, particularly with respect to labor and religion. The government continued to harass people associated with the independent labor union, Indonesia Prosperous Workers Union (SBSI). In June, soldiers arrested two SBSI leaders in Medan, North Sumatra, for their role in a strike at a local shrimp farm. Both men were severely beaten; they were released after a week. On July 29, the government prevented SBSI from holding its first national congress. The Indonesian military continued as a matter of routine to intervene in labor disputes and sit in on negotiations between labor and management.

The military also intervened heavily in a leadership dispute within the Huria Kristen Batak Protestan or HKBP, the largest Protestant congregation in the country, based in North Sumatra. Beginning in January and continuing throughout the year, protests against the government-installed ephorus or archbishop led to over one hundred arrests, many of them involving physical abuse. On July 25, a photographer hired by one faction to document the clashes was arrested by the district military command in Bongbongan and beaten. He suffered several broken ribs. Many of those detained tried to bring habeas corpus petitions against the army officers who arrested them, but the courts refused to hear them on the grounds that according to the Criminal Procedure Code, they only had authority to rule on irregular arrest and detention procedures involving police.

East Timor continued to receive international attention for the human rights violations committed there. The trial of Xanana Gusmao in Dili District Court from February to May 1993 was, until the end, more open than any East Timorese trial in memory, with foreign journalists, diplomats and human rights organizations all in attendance – until the defendant abandoned his hitherto passive stance and began his defense. The government first refused to let him read his defense plea in Portuguese; it then tried to prevent diplomats from attending the final sessions; and finally it barred Gusmao from reading the plea at all, declaring it to be irrelevant to the charges against him. Gusmao was sentenced to life in prison, later reduced through a disputed plea for clemency to twenty years. He began serving the sentence in Cipinang Prison in Jakarta.

Between May and July, the military commander responsible for East Timor, General Theo Syafei, tried to prevent the International Committee of the Red Cross from visiting East Timorese detainees on the ICRC's terms. Visits were resumed on July 29.

In early September, prior to the visit of a delegation of Congressional staff members, over fifty East Timorese were detained for what were euphemistically referred to as "courses." They were released after the delegation returned to Jakarta.

The Right to Monitor

Human rights organizations continued to be subject to harassment and threats from the government, even as their visibility andinfluence increased. In September, Vice-President Try Sutrisno warned darkly of traitors who gave information to foreign organizations. He made the remarks in connection with an announcement from the office of the U.S. Trade Representative that tariff benefits could be revoked unless labor rights practices improved.

Several activists from LBH-Ampera, a legal aid organization, were detained after a peasant demonstration on October 6 in Bogor, West Java. The police chief of Bogor accused the group who organized the demonstration of being linked to the banned Communist Party. Jauhari Ahmed, who works for the organization, received death threats from unidentified men who vandalized his home at 2 A.M.

U.S. Policy

The Clinton administration was particularly active and outspoken on the issues of East Timor and workers' rights in Indonesia, raising these concerns at the highest levels with Indonesian officials.

At the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva in March, the U.S. played a pivotal role in generating support for a resolution expressing concern about human rights abuses in East Timor, clearly signaling to Indonesia that it intended to take a tougher line on human rights than the Bush administration. The resolution was adopted by a vote of 22 to 12 (with 15 abstaining).

At the World Bank-convened donors meeting of eighteen nations in Paris on June 30, the U.S. raised East Timor and worker rights during the general discussion and in its bilateral talks. The Consultative Group pledged $5.1 billion in development assistance, with no specific human rights conditions attached. Several governments including the U.S., Canada, Austria and Switzerland, referred to human rights and the issue of "good governance."

On July 3, forty-three senators wrote to President Clinton urging him to bring up East Timor with President Suharto at the G-7 summit meeting in Tokyo. The president did so.

In response to petitions filed in June 1992 with the U.S. Trade Representative's office by Asia Watch and the International Labor Rights Education and Research Fund, Mickey Kantor announced on June 25 that Indonesia's GSP (Generalized System of Preferences) export benefits would be in "serious jeopardy" if "substantial concrete progress" was not made to protect workers' rights. USTR announced it would develop an "action plan" with Jakarta and would decide by mid-February 1994 whether to continue the GSP program in Indonesia. The GSP report, issued in July, was especially critical of the lack of freedom of association for workers and the role of the military in labor relations. The Indonesian government's moves to ban the national congress of the independent union SBSI, in the midst of the GSP review, sparked a strong denunciation by the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta and a stern statement from Timothy Wirth, State Department Counsellor.

On September 20, an inter-agency team, led by USTR, visited Indonesia for five days of talks with Indonesian officials,nongovernmental organizations, independent union organizers, and others. Such a visit had never taken place before during the annual GSP review.

Throughout 1993, Congressional concern on human rights in Indonesia was focused almost exclusively on East Timor. A Congressional staff delegation visited Indonesia, and briefly went to East Timor, from August 21 to September 5.

The fiscal year 1994 foreign aid bill continued the ban on International Military Education and Training (IMET) to Indonesia enacted by Congress in 1992.

Indonesia was due to receive $46 million in development assistance, plus an increase in foreign military sales estimated at $15 million in fiscal year 1994, and an additional $15.8 million in commercial military sales. An amendment to the Senate authorization bill, sponsored by Sen. Russell Feingold, was approved by the Foreign Relations Committee on September 8, linking future military sales to Indonesia to human rights progress in East Timor. The administration opposed the Feingold amendment, however, on grounds that it would hamper other efforts to address Indonesia's human rights behavior.

In August, following consultations with Congress, the administration had rejected a request by Jordan to sell U.S. F-5 jet fighters to Indonesia, partly on human rights grounds. At that time, the State Department emphasized that the decision was "not a precedent for other arms transfer decisions."

The U.S. Embassy in Jakarta in 1993 continued energetically to raise concerns about human rights abuses.

The Work of Asia Watch

Asia Watch worked with Indonesian human rights organizations to define priorities and tried to mobilize pressure from governments including the U.S. and Japan to address those concerns. Six short reports and several press releases were issued, and consultants and interns visited the country three times. Although Executive Director Sidney Jones remained banned from the country, the government permitted an Asia Watch consultant to observe one session of the trial of East Timorese leader Xanana Gusmao and gave her full access to military and civilian officials. She was offered an opportunity to meet with Gusmao, as well, but turned it down after certain safeguards requested to ensure continued access by outsiders to Gusmao after the interview were not forthcoming.

Asia Watch continued to meet with Indonesian officials from the ministries of Foreign Affairs and Manpower during their visits to New York and Washington, and was in regular contact with a wide range of nongovernmental organizations based in Indonesia.

Asia Watch gave particular attention to restrictions on freedom of expression and labor rights, especially the right to organize trade unions. Much of the work on the latter involved ensuring that demands raised by worker organizations inside Indonesia were reinforced by publicity and pressure from outside.

Concern in the business community about Indonesian government retaliation for threatened U.S. sanctions over labor practices led to fruitful explorations into how U.S. businesses and thehuman rights community might work together for the protection of human rights. One result was that Asia Watch was able to open new channels for raising concerns in situations where American companies themselves were involved with the Indonesian government in possible rights violations.

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