The trial of Isak Sattu, a retired soldier who was a liaison officer present during the Paniai killings in 2014, came to a close on 8 December, with him being found not guilty of the crimes against humanity that he had been charged with. The trial has taken place in Makassar State Court since the 21st September and has been the first case tried at a Human Rights Court for 18 years. Take a look at our pre-trial briefing for more information on the events and the court background.
Despite the National Human Rights Commission recommending that 41 people be tried for responsibility for the events of the day, the trial has only seen one of the alleged perpetrators indicted by the Attorney General’s Office (AGO). This is despite the fact that there are perpetrators involved that fit into four different categories: those in command of creating army policies; those with effective command in the field; those who were actively involved; and those who neglected to stop the incident.
Isak Sattu was standing trial, charged with command responsibility during “crimes against humanity in the form of killings”, as well as persecution and mistreatment. The state prosecutor had only called for the minimum possible sentence of 10 years to be given to the defendant, should he be convicted, citing his good service, old age and his cooperation during the trial.
However, none of the victims who were invited took part in the trial process testified in court, believing that the fact that only one low-ranking soldier was named as a suspect reflects neither the gravity of the situation nor the aforementioned recommendations by Komnas HAM, the national human rights commission. This is an indication of a weak or flawed investigation, with 21 of the 29 witnesses called by the State Prosecutor being members of the security apparatus (TNI & Polri), and more evidence of significant differences presented at trial by the prosecution and Komnas HAM’s investigations.
For example, according to the civil society organisation, KontraS, the Komnas HAM investigation provided a detailed inventory of all arms possessed by security forces in the area; by contrast the prosecution’s account alleges that those protesting the beatings on the 8th December noted their alleged possession of only ‘sharp objects’. The Commander of the Armed Forces at the time, General Moeldoko, when interviewed by Komnas HAM, claimed that he had received notice that there had been a “sudden attack” in the field where the killings took place, on the 8th December 2014, implying that the armed forces were merely reacting to violence. But Komnas HAM also viewed video showing that before the killings, shots were fired in a road leading to the field.
In his testimony, Isak Sattu claimed that, during the incident on 8th December 2014, he could not get in contact with the District Military Commander, and that he did not see the shots that originated from the local police station. For the soldiers he was with, he said that they had taken up weapons at their own initiative in reaction to events. Despite not being their commander, he was the ranking officer there, so he said he ordered the soldiers to shoot into the sky, rather than at the crowd.
Sattu also mentioned that he had no knowledge at all of the beating of the young children by TNI soldiers on the 7th December. The prosecutor omitted to investigate the circumstances of this event, which led to the protest and killings on the following day. Sattu had also earlier told the court on 28th of November that: “I am being forced. I am the only defendant from numerous witnesses who were checked…whereas there is a witness who has more potential to be brought as a suspect and defendant but who was not investigated by the [prosecution] investigative team."
A litany of failure
Many of these failures can be seen in the outcomes of other trials in ‘Human Rights Courts' in Indonesia. The Human Rights Courts were established to try specific gross violations of human rights which consist of crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity. These Human Rights Courts were sanctioned in Indonesian law under Law No. 26/2000, after the transition from Indonesia's military dictatorship. Importantly, this domestic arrangement was accepted by the international community as an alternative to international tribunals to put on trial military and proxy perpetrators of atrocities committed in East Timor during its violent withdrawal in 1999.
Instead, the trials of perpetrators in those cases, including military officers and militia leaders, took place in Jakarta. The court secured just six convictions from among eighteen defendants, in spite of several of its more independent-minded judges being subject to intimidation and harassment by military and government figures. The East Timor human rights trials in 2003 had "weak and passive prosecution and inadequate support from the Attorney General's Office." Later, all those convicted by the Court had their convictions reversed on appeal. Despite numerous documented killings by the security forces, the only other Human Rights Court case dealing with crimes committed in West Papua, in Abepura, took place in 2004, where the two police officers that stood trial were acquitted and freed.
As our briefing suggested, the record of the effectiveness of the Human Rights Courts that have been set up to deal with specific human rights violations have not been good, with no defendants of any human right court ever having their conviction upheld. As has been seen, Isak Settu was indeed found not guilty by the court on 8th December, though an appeal may be lodged by the public prosecutor.
We will continue to provide updates on the outcome of any further appeals that may occur. 11 other cases of human rights violations have been pending for years at the Attorney General’s Office (AGO). Indonesia, in its recent UPR review, made a big deal that human rights violations will be referred to judicial processes and would lead to justice and reparations for the families of victims.
It is therefore important that the international community:
- Hold Indonesia accountable,
- Monitor this case and raise concern that nobody has been successfully convicted for the events of that day
- Pressure the AGO to listen to civil society demands to put trials in place that actually conform with international standards for all the other incidents.
 CNNindonesia.com, 'Kontras Catat Beda Dakwaan dan Penyelidikan Komnas HAM di Kasus Paniai', 6th November 2022.
 R. Rikang, 'Shaking on a Date' majalah.tempo.co, 5th September 2022
 CNNindonesia.com, 'Pleidol Pensiunan Mayor TNI Terdakwa Kasus Paniai: Saya Korban Fitnah', 28th November 2022
 UCB War Crimes Studies Center, ‘East Timor, Indonesian Judges Seminar on International Humanitarian Law’, September 2003, https://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~wcsc/wp-content/uploads/East_Timor_and_Indonesia/Judges_Training_Seminar/Judges_Training_seminar.htm