For Immediate Release
ETAN Condemns U.S. Plan to Get Back in Bed with Indonesia's Kopassus Killers
NEW YORK - 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
its long history of
terrorizing civilians, will undermine efforts to achieve justice and
accountability for human rights crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste (East
"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
"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."
speaking to the New York Times, 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.
American Forces Press Service wrote 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
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates
announced in Jakarta that the U.S. "will begin a gradual,
limited program of security cooperation activities" with Kopassus.
U.S. officials told
the media 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
Congress wrote 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
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
Kopassus was involved in Timor-Leste from
the killings of five Australian-based journalists at Balibo 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 (including two from the U.S.) near the
Freeport mine in West Papua. The crimes of Kopassus are not only in the
Human Rights Watch report 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.
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
Lodewijk Paulus called 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, 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
court 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
security waiver 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
law,' applied to Kopassus as a whole and the training did not go
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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: http://www.etan.org.