Light sentences for rights violators spark calls to pull support for TNI

25 Jan 2011
TAPOL, West Papua Advocacy Team (WPAT), and East and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN)

The West Papua Advocacy Team (WPAT), East and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) and TAPOL condemn the Indonesian government's failure to hold Indonesian military personnel responsible for the grave crime of torture of two Papuans. The torture was revealed in a video posted online in October 2010 shocked the international community ( Rather than try the perpetrators before a civilian court the Indonesian government allowed the Indonesian military to try the soldiers in a military court. On January 24, the Military Court in Papua sentenced three soldiers to minimal sentences of eight to 10 months imprisonment for the minor procedural offense of disobeying orders.

The Indonesian Government's refusal to prosecute the perpetrators in a civilian court and the failure to charge them with serious criminal offences commensurate with the violence inflicted on the victims reflect a longstanding pattern where security force personnel who commit heinous crimes against Papuans are inadequately punished, if they are punished at all. For example, the special forces (Kopassus) personnel convicted by a military court for the torture-murder of the leading Papuan political figure, Theys Eluay, in 2001 similarly received sentences not commensurate with the crime. They were lauded publicly by a leading Indonesian military figure as "heroes."

Unfortunately, Indonesia President's Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in pre-sentencing public remarks described the torture, which included the burning of the genitals of a Papuan man with a stick pulled from the fire, as "only a minor incident." This dismissal of the seriousness of the crime reinforces a pattern of impunity for security personnel.

WPAT, ETAN and TAPOL remain concerned that Indonesia has refused to make torture a specific offence under Indonesian criminal law, notwithstanding Indonesia's obligations under the United Nations Convention Against Torture which it signed in 1985 and ratified in 1998. We urge Indonesia to do so.

Indonesian military personnel, especially those operating in West Papua, which has seen the worst security forces abuse over the past decade, continue to perpetrate torture, rape, extrajudicial killings and other well documented abuses in part because they are aware they will never be effectively prosecuted for these crimes. By refusing to prosecute military offenders to the full extend of the law in civilian courts the Indonesian government is complicit in the military's continuing abuses.

The impunity long enjoyed by Indonesian security personnel for their criminal behavior stands in stark contrast to the severe sentences meted out to Papuans who assemble peacefully to protest decades of Indonesian government repression and the denial of essential services to the Papuan people. Dozens of Papuans have been imprisoned for years where, as described by UN reports, these peaceful dissenters endure health and life threatening treatment and conditions. Amnesty International and other reputable human rights organizations have identified many as "prisoners of conscience."

Government restrictions on travel to and within West Papua have long impeded the ability of the international community to monitor human rights and other developments. Indonesian security and intelligence forces within West Papua routinely shadow and obstruct the movement of the few international journalists and even diplomats who do manage to enter West Papua. Papuans who speak to these observers are often threatened and harassed.

The U.S. and other governments should act in a substantive way to end the continued abuses by Indonesian security forces against Papuans. The U.S., in particular, should exercise its significant leverage by suspending its extensive and expanding military assistance programs for Indonesia pending real reform of the Indonesian military. This reform should, at minimum, include an end to human rights violations by Indonesian military personnel, as well as effective prosecution in civilian courts of military personnel who perpetrate abuses and with sentencing commensurate with the crimes. The U.S. should also make any resumption of military-to-military cooperation contingent on an end to Indonesian government restrictions on access to West Papua by independent journalists and other observers, as well as an end to Indonesian security and intelligence force intimidation of those Papuans peacefully advocating for their political and other human rights.

More generally, WPAT, ETAN and TAPOL appeal to the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom and the European Union to promptly and publicly register with the Indonesian government their deep concern over what is only this latest example of decades of failed justice in West Papua.

see also West Papua Report
U.S.-Indonesia Military Assistance

Contact: Ed McWilliams (WPAT), +1-575-648-2078
Paul Barber (TAPOL) +44 1420 80153 or +44 774 730 1739
John M. Miller (ETAN) +1-917-690-4391