177 November 2004

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Nov 2004

Bulletin no. 177

Contents

1. New campaign to release political prisoners

2. A Human Rights Agenda for the new government [text unavailable]

3. Journalist sentenced on charge of defamation [text unavailable]

4. The continuing search for truth and justice

5. Using the courts for oppressive purposes

6. Kopassus chief acquitted [text unavailable]

7. Environmental activist jailed [text unavailable]

8. Heavy sentences for flag-raisers in Maluku [text unavailable]

9. A new president is elected

10. Prospects for Papua under SBY [text unavailable]

11. Horrendous abuses persist in Aceh [text unavailable]

12. Acehnese women prisoners [text unavailable]

13. Hoping for peace in Aceh under SBY

14. Munir (Obituary) [text unavailable]

15. Mendobrak Penjara Rezim Soeharto (Book Review) [text unavailable]

 

1. New campaign to release political prisoners

In the three years of the Megawati presidency, there was an explosive growth in the number of political prisoners. Up to 2,000 political prisoners are now serving sentences all over the country, from Sabang to Merauke. Following the downfall of the dictator Suharto in May 1998, a fresh wind blew and more than 230 political prisoners were released in a series of presidential amnesties during the Habibie and Wahid presidencies.

However, during the time Megawati was president, there was a serious backlash, with repressive legislation being used extensively against a variety of 'dissidents'. Government critics, including labour and political activists as well as journalists, were put on trial. But the vast majority of prisoners were Acehnese accused of being involved in GAM activities.

A considerable number of Papuans and Malukans are also serving long sentences . Some have been found guilty of nothing more than hoisting a flag or attending peaceful political meetings.

No access to prisoners in Aceh

Monitoring and updating human rights conditions in Aceh have become virtually impossible. The handful of human rights lawyers still functioning in the province complain about the difficulty of meeting their clients at a time when a very large number of people are being processed in the courts. According to the most up-to-date information (October 2004) we have been able to acquire, some 1,777 'GAM suspects' have been tried and sentenced, including fifty-two women. The vast majority are being held in Aceh but twenty-two prisoners have been transferred to the notorious Tanjung Gusta camp in Medan, North Sumatra. This is a very isolated prison camp.

Due to the intolerable conditions persisting in Aceh, regular monitoring of the conditions of the prisoners is virtually impossible. This includes the supply of food and medicinal support from outside, as well as the possibility for relatives to make regular visits. Many prisoners are suffering from the traumatic after-effects of injuries inflicted during torture sessions which would be greatly helped by regular counselling.

More than eighty per cent of the defendants were not assisted by defence lawyers. The trials were completed in record time and more often than not, the only evidence produced was the confession made by the accused which in most cases was extracted by means of torture [see also TAPOL Bulletin No 175, March/April 2004].

487 prisoners transferred to Java

There are prisoners in virtually every prison in Aceh. However, since the beginning of 2004, a large number have been transferred to twenty-six prisons located in all parts of Java. Those transferred are all serving sentences of at least three years. [See also 'Horrendous abuses persist in Aceh'].

The transfer of prisoners to places thousands of kilometres from home is contrary to the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners which also stipulates that family members should be informed of the transfer. In the vast majority of cases, the prisoners were transferred without relatives being told anything in advance.

Since the beginning of 2004, altogether 487 prisoners have been transferred from Aceh to Java, in three waves. On 24 January, 143 prisoners were moved to prisons mostly in Central Java . Some ended up in the infamous prison island Nusa Kambangan. Then a batch of 170 people was moved on 17 May to prisons in East Java and on 26 August, another 174 prisoners were sent to prisons in West Java, bringing the total to 487.

Practically all the political prisoners were tried on charges of 'makar' (rebellion against the state) which places them in a very special category, subjecting them to particularly restrictive conditions. The transferred Acehnese prisoners are not allowed to mix with other prisoners and for the first four to six weeks they are kept in strict isolation. The authorities claim that this is necessary so that they can undergo special guidance [pembinaan] or indoctrination.

The case of Salbiah

The October issue of the monthly magazine, Aceh Kita is devoted to reporting about the impact of martial law on women. [See also http://www.acehkita.com]. One article discusses the case of Salbiah who was tried in Calang district court, and is now serving an 18-year sentence in Lhok Nga Prison, where she is being held together with another fifty-one women.

Now only 18 years old, the unfortunate Salbiah has been sentenced to 18 years. She was branded by the authorities as Panglima Inong Balee [commander of the Women's Corps], a special unit within GAM consisting solely of women.

Her case is one of many grotesque travesties of justice in Aceh. Salbiah's real name is Elit Baleno. Her family is from Demak in Central Java; they moved to Aceh about ten years ago as transmigrants. Salbiah grew up in a village called Teunom in Aceh Jaya district. As she has always lived among her Javanese compatriots, never mixing with local people, she doesn't speak a word of Acehnese and insists that she has never been involved in politics.

Earlier this year, she found a job in the capital Banda Aceh, helping to run a canteen. In March she received a letter from the village asking her to return home because her mother had fallen ill. Unfortunately for Salbiah, on the way home, a special force consisting of soldiers and policemen were conducting sweeping operations. Sweeping is the term used for checking the identities of travellers at check-points.

One of the security officers said that he recognised the photo on her identity card: 'This is the Inong Balee commander of Gajah Keng, a subdistrict of Teunom', he claimed. As a result, Salbiah was taken to the local police station in Meulaboh, West Aceh.

From then on, things went from bad to worse. She was taken to several places for interrogation and finally arrived at Lamno in Aceh Jaya. She was forced to take off all her clothes and was beaten. Then, she was forced to sign the investigation report. The same procedure was repeated in Calang and later at the police station in Meulaboh, West Aceh.

At the end of March, she was brought to court and put on trial without the help of a defence lawyer. It was only then that her parents discovered that their daughter was being held in captivity. The prosecution demanded 20 years but the judge sentenced her to 18 years.

Salbiah cannot understand why she is in jail and serving such a heavy sentence. Such is the nature of things at present in Aceh that her only chance of release is by means of a presidential amnesty.

Systematic torture

A report published by Human Rights Watch (HRW) in September this year contains a harrowing account of the use of torture against political prisoners by the police and military [see separate article]. The methods used include electric shocks, burning with cigarettes, beating, threats and intimidation.

HRW's findings have been confirmed by the Aceh Working Group (AWG) a coalition of civil society organisations based in Jakarta. They undertook investigations limited to conditions in three prisons in Aceh and Jawa. AWG spokesperson Henrie (PBHI) said at a press conference held early in October that they had recorded seventy-one cases of torture, before and after trial. The perpetrators were security officers (brimob/special police, army, marine and SGI/intelligence officers) as well as prison guards and members of militia units. The group drew attention to the unlawful methods used during interrogation. They discovered that many detainees had been forced to make confessions. In some cases, the interrogation report signed by the defendant had been written by an intelligence officer.AWG also mentioned 37 cases of extortion of the families of the detainees.

The case of Diwan

Diwan (45) (not his real name) was detained for two months at a police station in Aceh. He was accused of being a member of GAM and was arrested soon after martial law was declared.

His arrest was much more like a kidnap. For six days Diwan disappeared and the family became desperate in their search to find him. During his detention he saw many cases of torture, which in some cases had fatal results. Three prisoners disappeared while he was in captivity. The first, M. Noer Basyah was taken from his cell. He was told that he was being taken somewhere to be photographed but he never returned. The second one was Yuslizar who was also taken from his cell never to return. Syahril, the third man, also disappeared. It was subsequently claimed that he had died in cross fire.

Another prisoner, Ali Akbar, was heavily tortured but survived the first bout, after which he was hospitalised. But he later underwent another bout of torture and died as a result.

Diwan also endured heavy torture and was hit by a heavy piece of wood. His hearing is now badly impaired. According to a report in Aceh Kita, he said that he had been subjected to the ikan louhan method, when torturers assault the prisoner by hitting the face. Ikan Louhan is a bloated, ugly looking fish. This method is often used before the interrogation session begins, a kind of 'softening up process', when the face is badly hit. He witnesses many kinds of torture and considers himself lucky to have survived. His interrogation report was fabricated from beginning to end, written by an intelligence officer from the SGI, the special intelligence unit.

In our next issue, we will include further information about the situation of political prisoners and report on a campaign calling for the release of political prisoners now being held in a number of places apart from Aceh, including West Papua and Maluku.

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4. The continuing search for truth and justice

On 7 September, the Indonesian House of Representatives passed a long-awaited Law on the Commission on Truth and Reconciliation ('the Truth Commission'). Human rights advocates are questioning whether this will be a significant step in the search for the truth about past rights abuses and whether it will satisfy victims' needs for justice, or whether it will simply reinforce impunity in the same way as Indonesia's ad hoc human rights court on East Timor.

It is important to acknowledge that despite the relative success of this year's parliamentary and presidential elections, Indonesia is undergoing a fragile transition from dictatorship to democracy. Improving respect for human rights and the rule of law is a long-term process in a country which has emerged from decades of authoritarianism. Allowance must be made for this in assessing the likely impact of transitional justice initiatives such as the Truth Commission.

Transitional justice

Transitional justice has many interrelated dimensions, which vary according to the country context. It normally involves the search for the truth about past abuses; the punishment of perpetrators; legal and institutional reform; the provision of restitution and rehabilitation for victims; reconciliation; and a move towards increased official protection and promotion of human rights.

For progress to be made, comprehensive strategies are required. They must address the need for: increased political commitment to the rule of law; a reduction in the power and influence of the military and its greater accountability to civilian authorities; the adoption of appropriate new laws and regulations; the improvement of the capacity and technical competence of judges and legal personnel; the eradication of judicial corruption; and the strengthening of civil society organisations, especially those involved in legal and human rights advocacy.

The need for justice is particularly acute in Aceh and West Papua. However, it is unlikely that progress will be made if the government continues to use repressive policies which deny space for credible investigations and prosecutions into past abuses.

Piecemeal approach

So far the Indonesian government appears to have adopted a piecemeal approach to transitional justice. This is evident from the experience of the aptly named ad hoc human rights courts for East Timor and Tanjung Priok. This approach does not augur well for the Truth Commission.

The flaws in the trials conducted by the ad hoc court for East Timor have been well documented. The main reasons for their failure were the lack of political will at the highest level and the influence of the military on the outcome of the proceedings. Particular problems arose in relation to the lack of independence and competence of prosecutors - epitomised by a prosecution request for the acquittal of one of the main suspects, Adam Damiri - and the inadequacy of protection for victims and witnesses.

Ominously for the Truth Commission one of the main features of the trials was the way in which the prosecution and defence comprehensively distorted the truth of what happened in East Timor. The violence was falsely portrayed as resulting from a struggle between two violent East Timorese factions in which the Indonesian security forces were essentially bystanders. Primary blame was directed at the UN.

The Tanjung Priok trials have also been criticised for continuing the cycle of impunity for perpetrators of rights violations [see separate item].

Unsurprisingly, during the initial debates on the Truth Commission Law, the military/police faction in parliament objected to provisions designed to reveal the truth about past violations. A spokesman for the faction suggested that 'the nation bury all hatchets in the past along with the truth, otherwise it would lead to a greater cycle of conflict' ['Military Objects to 'Truth'', Jakarta Post, 11 May 2004].

At best, the Truth Commission can be only one of several transitional justice mechanisms. If complementary mechanisms, such as the ad hoc human rights courts, are ineffective, the Truth Commission is unlikely to succeed. And impunity, instead of being ended, will be further strengthened.

Test for Yudhoyono

The idea of a Truth Commission was initiated by the administration of former president Wahid. It was provided for in Law 26/2000 on Human Rights Courts, the law under which the ad hoc courts for East Timor and Tanjung Priok were established. Law 26/2000 states that the 'resolution of gross violations of human rights occurring prior to the coming into force of this Act may be undertaken by a Truth and Reconciliation Commission' (Art 47(1)). Many human rights advocates hope that one of the Commissions first tasks will be to expose the truth about one of the last century's most heinous crimes - the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of leftwing suspects following the rise to power of former president Suharto in 1965.

The Truth Commission was neglected by the Megawati administration until this year and it will now be a major test of the political commitment to transitional justice of the new administration under Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Perpetrators favoured

Unfortunately, Yudhoyono's administration will have to deal with a Truth Commission Law which is seriously flawed. It has been criticised in Indonesia because it 'leans too heavily towards the possibility of pardoning past perpetrators of human rights violations, and not enough toward rehabilitating and compensating their victims' ['Towards reconciliation', Jakarta Post editorial, 8 September].

The Law is concerned only with gross violations of human rights as defined by Law 26/2000, namely genocide and crimes against humanity. There are particular problems with the provisions which deal with the possibility of amnesties for the perpetrators of such crimes. Articles 28 and 29 provide that in circumstances where the perpetrator and victim have agreed to reconcile, the Commission must issue a recommendation to the President to grant an amnesty. If the perpetrator admits wrongdoing but the victims or their relatives refuse to forgive him or her, the Commission can recommend whether or not an amnesty should be granted. If the perpetrator denies wrongdoing, he or she foregoes the right to an amnesty and the case will be referred to an ad hoc human rights court for trial.

Arguably, the Law should not include any provision for amnesty since it is concerned with crimes of such gravity that the appropriate course is for suspects to be tried in a court of law. A recent report by the UN Secretary-General, The rule of law and transitional justice in conflict and post-conflict societies [S/2004/616], explicitly rejected any 'endorsement of amnesty for genocide, war crimes, or crimes against humanity'.

The provision for a perpetrator who denies wrongdoing to be referred to an ad hoc court could offend the principle that criminal laws (in this case Law 26/2000) should not be applied retroactively. However, the same problem was overcome by the ad hoc court for East Timor on the basis that the crimes in question (perpetrated in 1999) were crimes under international law at the time they were committed.

The new law's approach to reparation is anomalous and unlikely to provide adequate restorative justice to victims. Article 27 states that compensation or rehabilitation can be ordered only if the perpetrator is granted an amnesty. It is not clear what is supposed to happen in other cases although reparation can be ordered under Law 26/2000 for cases referred to an ad hoc human rights court. A government regulation on compensation, restitution and rehabilitation was issued under Law 26/2000 but was rushed through on the day before the start of the East Timor trials. It is not yet clear how it will work in practice. A similar regulation will presumably be required for the Truth Commission. Amongst other things, it will have to clarify the extent to which the government is obliged to provide reparation [for an analysis of the right to reparation as applied in Indonesia, see Justice for victims should include right to reparation, Jakarta Post, 8 September 2004].

Justice paramount

The record of other Truth and Reconciliation Commissions around the world, particularly those in South America, is not altogether encouraging. Certainly, it is clear from past experience that there can be no reconciliation without justice. The Commission on Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor is regarded as a good initiative but there is concern that the Government of East Timor will be reluctant to implement what it considers to be politically sensitive recommendations when the Commission reports in the next few months. Furthermore, it does not and cannot address the paramount issue of securing accountability for serious crimes. This remains a major concern for Indonesia.

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5. Using the courts for oppressive purposes

Things have changed markedly since the fall of the dictatorship in 1998. Nevertheless, old political forces are still trying hard to turn the clock back. Freedom of speech, for example, is one of the major political achievements since 1998, to much dismay in some circles. Four-star General Hendropriyono is a striking example of somebody who refuses to accept present-day political freedoms.

General Hendropriyono is more than just one of many middle-of the-road retired generals. During the Megawati presidency, he was head of BIN (Badan Intelijen Negara, National Security Agency), the main intelligence body in the country. Hendropriyono has such a close relationship with the Megawati family that he joined her party, PDI-P, in return for which he got the job as intelligence supremo.

In the past few months Hendropriyono has been particularly busy harassing two key advocates in Indonesian civil society, Indro Cahyono, former student leader and currently coordinator of SKEPHI, a leading environmental NGO, and Hendardi, the very vocal chair and spokesperson for many years of PBHI, one of the main human rights NGOs in Indonesia.

Both men have recently been taken to court by Hendropriyono for allegedly publicly defaming and destroying his good name. In both cases, Hendropriyono has demanded Rp. 10 billion compensation and an order for the two to publish half-page apologies in the press for five days running in the three main dailies: Kompas, Jakarta Post and Media Indonesia.

Putting Hendropriyono in context

Hendropriyono has an abominable track record as an army officer and has been widely condemned by human rights groups, in Indonesia and abroad. He is widely known as the 'Butcher of Lampung', in connection with an incident going back 15 years when he ordered a raid on a Muslim community in Lampung, South Sumatra. As the local commander at the time, he organised hundreds of troops to launch a massive attack, backed by helicopters and Brimob, the Police special forces. Hundreds of villagers died in the massacre and so far there has been no attempt to make anyone accountable for the crime. Meanwhile, his military career had soared by leaps and bounds.

He is known as a good communicator, a typical example of key army officers in those days. Overconfident about their leading role in society and shamelessly meddling in major political matters. He became an important public figure when he was appointed commander of the Jakarta military command (1993-1994), one of the most prestigious posts in the army, and became part of the Jakarta jet-set. Hendropriyono is known to be very ambitious and he has never made a secret of his ambitions.

His military career was phenomenal and typical of other military high flyers of those days. He possesses a Kopassus (red berets) background combined with a variety of posts in the intelligence branch. In the eighties Kopassus officers were excessively represented at the top of the army.

In the late eighties he became the intelligence chief of Kopassus and later moved upwards to serve as one of the directors of BAIS, the military intelligence body. Hendropriyono belongs to the generation of top-ranking officers who combined military positions with business connections. He is a wealthy man and likes to put in an appearance when important happenings take place. He has also established a successful lawyers' office, winning many clients from the business community. Along with all these activities, he is also chair of the National Boxing Association and more recently of the Indonesian Judo Association.

Sidelining the police

In the heyday of the Megawati reign, key military figures like General Hari Sabarno and General Hendropriyono planned to boost co-ordination between the intelligence agencies and upgrade the position of BIN.

In the post-Suharto days, the police gained more power and took charge of intelligence work such as investigating the Bali bombing and the Marriott Hotel explosion, with good results, obtaining considerable assistance from police officers from the UK, the US, Japan and Australia.

This support for the police has provoked a lot of jealousy. BIN's place in the jungle of intelligence bodies has not been clarified. The ministry of defence has its own intelligence unit and the three wings of the armed forces, (the army, navy and air force) all have their own groups. Special units like Kopassus have kept their own intelligence units.

The police force was officially separated from the armed forces in 2002 and has an own intelligence unit. The entire discussion about the overhaul of intelligence agencies has become a burning issue because of the security threat placed in the global war against terrorism.

Hendropriyono has always regarded his job as BIN chief as being comparable to the national security advisor to the White House, ready with advice for the president at a moment's notice. Megawati upgraded the position of head of BIN to a ministerial post.

Hendropriyono also wanted BIN to retain its operational functions, so as to be able to arrest people and launch operations when needed. It all sounds like the old police state of Indonesia in the seventies.

But in the meantime, the political constellation has changed and Hendropriyono has lost his job after the installation of the new cabinet. The four star general is without a job but will likely find ways to remain an active player in the power politics of Jakarta.

The Indro Cahyono case

Indro Cahyono's track record of criticising the military goes back to 1978 when he was put on trial because of his active opposition role in the student movement. His defence plea was called Dibawah Sepatu Lars (Under the Jackboot) which was acknowledged as being the most substantial writing on the disastrous role of the military since the birth of the Indonesian republic in 1945.

He has retained this staunch anti-military tradition and is often interviewed and quoted by the press. In a recent interview, he criticised the way Sidney Jones, the ICG (International Crisis Group) director, was kicked out of the country. It is a public secret that Hendropriyono, as chief of BIN, had much to do with her deportation. Indro was interviewed by Radio Netherlands in the summer and some time later, Hendropriyono struck back with his anti-defamation case. He also demanded the confiscation of Indro's house and land. In the meantime Indro and his family had to face many acts of intimidation. His house in Bekasi has frequently been visited by suspicious individuals, making strange demands, such as wanting interviews or saying they are going to measure the property. In late August, Indro received a letter from the District court in Bekasi with more information relating to the confiscation of his property. The case is still continuing.

The case against Hendardi

Hendardi also criticised Hendropriyono in public and went so far as to demand that he should step down as intelligence chief because of the poor quality of his performance.

Several terrorist incidents have occurred lately in Jakarta, such as the bombing of the KPU (Elections Commission) office and the bomb in Kuningan, in front of the Australian embassy. In the last few years Jakarta has been hit by several serious terrorist attacks but so far BIN has failed to come forward with a single clue.

Hendardi has expressed the opinion that intelligence performance has been weak, unprofessional and like a lame duck. As in the old days, it still focuses on observing and monitoring groups in society like NGOs, student groups and people who concentrate on analysing the situation in Indonesia such as Sidney Jones.

Hendropriyono gave the same reaction to this as he has done with the case against Indro, demanding the confiscation of Hendardi's house in Cipete. The case continues.

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9. A new president is elected

On 20 October, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, popularly known as SBY, a retired army general, was inaugurated as Indonesia's 6th President. This followed the first direct presidential election in which more than 60 percent voted for SBY. In the first round in June, SBY achieved a majority but not enough to avoid a runoff. Throughout, opinion polls gave SBY a convincing edge over the incumbent, President Megawati. As the first directly-elected president, SBY can lay claim to being the first 'people's' president. His legitimacy is unprecedented as compared with his five predecessors.

Indonesia held three elections this year, all of which took place under relatively peaceful conditions. The third election on 20 September was by far the easiest; it was the second round of the presidential election with only two candidates. As a huge archipelago with 13,000 islands, organising an election in Indonesia is a logistical nightmare; it takes weeks before the result can be announced. But only hours after the polling booths closed and the counting started, it was clear that SBY was the winner.

High hopes and promises

SBY is the 6th President since the birth of the republic in 1945. While the majority of voters are optimistic about how he will handle complex economic, political and legal problems, his job will be a tough one. Indonesia remains economically 'the sick man of Asia' with abysmal economic growth, a widening gap between rich and poor and double-digit unemployment.

While small groups within civil society campaigned against his candidacy because of his background as a retired army officer, the majority saw SBY as new figure in Indonesian politics, taking heart from his track record in recent years when he was a cabinet minister.

In his public appearances, he came across more as a civilian than a military man. In three television debates with Megawati, he emerged as the superior politician with a clearer vision of how to handle state affairs.

SBY's career as politician

SBY's career as a politician has been short and tumultuous, characterised by ups and downs. But in hindsight, it gave him the popularity needed to run successfully for president. His career as a politician started when President Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur) appointed him minister for mining and energy in 2000 This was a crucial post as oil and natural gas are Indonesia's main sources of foreign exchange. Gus Dur's presidency was volatile. In just eighteen months, he carried out many cabinet reshuffles. Early on, SBY shifted from the mining ministry to become Coordinating Minister for Politics and Security (Menko Polkam).

At the height of the power struggle during Gus Dur's presidency, he refused to support a decree issued by Gus Dur on 28 May 2001 for firm measures to be taken to rescue the presidency. He was sacked by Gus Dur but a few weeks later, on 25 July, the MPR (People's Consultative Congress) found a pretext to impeach Gus Dur.

Megawati became president and SBY decided to run for vice-president against two heavyweights Hamzah Haz, chair of PPP, one of the main Muslim parties, and Akbar Tandjung chair of Golkar, the main secular party and former political vehicle of the dictator Suharto.

SBY failed because he lacked the backing of a political party. A few months later, in September 2001, the Partai Demokrat (PD), his political vehicle, was established. At about the same time, he received a call from President Megawati asking him to take back his job as Menko Polkam, which he accepted.

His time as Menko Polkam was fraught with problems. Regional conflicts were at their peak; along with widespread unrest in Aceh and West Papua there were local conflicts in Poso and Maluku. On top of this, he had to deal with several acts of terrorism, the bomb blast in Bali which killed around 200 people, and the bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta. It is more than likely that these problems strengthened his resolve to run for the highest job while Megawati failed to make serious efforts to tackle these problems.

SBY, the underdog

SBY's ambition to run for the presidency soon became a public secret. Ads appeared in the press promoting SBY as the future president, souring his relationship with Megawati. By late 2003, Megawati was excluding him from key cabinet sessions. Their relationship fell to zero with communications being conducted by letters or through go-betweens. Megawati's husband, the influential Taufiq Kiemas, openly supported his wife and attacked SBY, calling him 'childish'. This arguably gave him more popularity as the 'underdog', always popular with voters. On 11 March 2004, he resigned from Megawati's cabinet and successful ran for the presidency.

Megawati's campaign in the second round was little short of disastrous. Her party, the PDI-P, Indonesia's second largest party entered a coalition with Golkar, Indonesia's largest party. The two parties held a big majority in parliament, and their leaders firmly believed that this coalition would attract the majority of votes. But as it turned out, the electorate voted massively for SBY. It was clear that party allegiance played little role; voters were voting for personalities. SBY's popularity soared as the public and the press sided with the 'victim'.

An almost perfect military background

In many ways, SBY personifies the kind of army officer now at the top of TNI, the Indonesian army. In the early days, army recruits came from all levels of society, mostly from the grassroots but since the seventies, there has been a gradual shift. The prominent role of the army in society has affected the class origins of its new cadets.

Officers have gradually become a caste of their own. Through inter-marriage and as the sons of senior officers who follow in the footsteps of their fathers, many highly-placed officers are related to each other. SBY's father was in the army, serving as a first lieutenant while his father-in-law is the infamous Major-General Sarwo Edhie, who played a brutal role in the bloody killings of tens of thousands of innocent peasants in the red drive of 1965 in Central Java. His eldest son is a graduate from the Military Academy and holds the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. There are similar family ties between many high-ranking officers.

In many ways, SBY can be said to have an almost perfect military background. As a cadet, he was one of the brightest, graduating from the Academy in 1973 at the top of his class. He was soon sent abroad for further training and took three courses in the US (Airborne and Ranger Course, Fort Benning, 1976; Infantry Officer Advanced Course, Fort Benning, 1982-1983; Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, 1990-1991). He attended a Jyngle Warfare School in Panama in 1983. He also underwent training in Belgium and Germany (Anti-Tank Weapon Course, 1984) as well as in the UK while serving as commander of the UN Peace Keeping Force in Bosnia in 1995-1996.

Dubious military activities

Not much has been reported about his combat duties or his involvement in serious human rights violations. He served three times in East Timor which, in those days, was a necessary step in one's military career. He took part in Operasi Seroja in 1976-1977 (for the pacification of East Timor), in Operasi Tuntas in 1979-1980 (for the eradication of the resistance) and so-called mopping-up operations in East Timor in 1986-1988.

Also little has been said about his role when he was army chief-of-staff in the Jakarta military command in 1996 during the attack on the headquarters of the PDI, which was chaired by Megawati. Even less is known about his role during the violence that erupted in East Timor in 1998-1999, at which time he was chief-of-staff for territorial affairs (from 9 November 1998 till October 1999) which continued until international forces stepped in.

By the time of the downfall of Suharto in May 1998, SBY had joined the ranks of more liberal-minded officers, which included people like Agus Wirahadikusumah, Agus Widjoyo and Saurip Kadi.

His political will and influence

SBY made many promises during the presidential election so people now expect deeds, not words. He promised to fight corruption and to pay special attention to the conflicts in Aceh and West Papua. He also warned of the 'spectre of terrorism' still haunting Indonesia. Regarding his human rights agenda, see our letter to the new government. SBY has promised to deal with burning issues regarding the armed forces. He speaks optimistically about the TNI adjusting itself in the process of democracy. There are three burning issues relating to internal reform within the TNI.

The first is the army's involvement in business, the second is the territorial command structure of the army and thirdly is the ending of impunity. Civilian presidents like Habibie, Gus Dur and Megawati were not able (or unwilling) to handle these issues. It remains to be seen whether a retired general has the necessary political will and influence to deal with them.

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13. Hoping for peace in Aceh under SBY

Aceh will be the best place to judge whether the incoming government is any different from previous regimes in Indonesia. One of the biggest challenges for the government of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is to resolve the conflict in Aceh peacefully. The way he approaches resolution of the almost 30-year conflict in Aceh will show whether he is indeed different.

Not long after the election, Yudhoyono met an audience of teachers. He promised to work to settle the conflict by peaceful means, saying: "Let us not just go ahead with the military operation" (AP, 22 September 2004). However, he has shown considerable ambiguity. He also stated that the country must remain united and that there could be no compromise on this, as well as stating that the conflict must be resolved in a fair manner, and as peacefully as possible.

His statement clearly aimed to show that the Aceh problem is on his priority list. On several other occasions, he promised to create a more peaceful Aceh. However, Aceh is a place where actions are infinitely more important than words. In the past many Indonesian politicians have made numerous promises about Aceh while rarely, if ever, doing anything to deliver on them. In Megawati's acceptance speech after her election to the presidency, the new leader wept in public and promised that no blood would fall in Aceh during her time in office. Contrary to these tears and promises, the situation in Aceh was allowed to deteriorate until she declared martial law in May 2003. Similar commitments for a better Aceh were also made by Abdurrahman Wahid. He made even grander promises, favouring a referendum for the Acehnese people. Needless to say this never happened.

So history has taught us caution in expecting new presidents to deliver on their promises. Will Yudhoyono's words of peace be put into practice in Aceh? This has to happen. There are no other viable long-term options available to Jakarta for resolving the conflict in Aceh. Equally, the Acehnese have little confidence that Jakarta can generate the political will necessary to bring about change and a positive, peaceful future in Aceh. This is an opportunity for the new president to demonstrate his presidential ability, by proving that he is more effective than any previous Indonesian leadership.

Start the peace process again

These realities of the conflict provide a number of opportunities for SBY, as Yudhoyono is also called, to start improving the situation in Aceh. His much-touted legitimacy, as the country's first directly-elected president, provides him with a powerful platform from which to pursue peace. Re-engaging in dialogue with GAM, and giving the non-combatant population space at the negotiating table will always be hugely unpopular for nationalistic Indonesia but SBY's unique position may mean he can take this path to a peaceful solution.

SBY needs to assess the current military approach immediately. The new government should evaluate the administration of martial law from May 2003 to May 2004, as well as monitoring and reviewing the events of the civil emergency administration to date. It is imperative that an impartial assessment is made of how these military operations were conducted and how many civilians have been killed. SBY should also immediately respond to rampaging human rights violations allegedly perpetrated by government troops, as described in the report by Indonesia's own human rights commission, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch [see separate article].

When the military operations got underway last year, the military stated that their operations were targeting five thousand members and supporters of GAM. Yet by the end of martial law, the military claimed to have killed over two thousand, arrested over two thousand and acknowledged the surrender of over one thousand (Jakarta Post, 24 May 2004). Even though this meets the military's own target figures civil emergency status was nonetheless imposed. Some five to ten people a day have been killed under this new civil status. The new Indonesian government needs to tell us who they are. Are they really all GAM, as claimed by the military?

The government should show its commitment to a new and productive approach in Aceh by allowing access to the province. Independent rights groups that are currently not allowed in can make credible assessments of the human rights situation in Aceh. Aceh should also be accessible to Indonesian and foreign journalists.

The other critical way to move forward in Aceh requires the new government to lay out their strategy for a viable, credible peace process. The president has stated, on many occasions that he would like to see the situation in Aceh improve. What is not clear yet is what actions he will be taking to bring about this improvement. On the contrary, he continues to cling to ambiguous commitments. It is imperative for him to show the Acehnese that he really does want to bring peace and positive change to Aceh.