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World Report Indonesia and East Timor 1990
Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Developments
The human rights situation in Indonesia and East Timor took a sharp turn for the worse in 1990. The Indonesian military tortured and summarily executed detainees in the course of counterinsurgency efforts along the Irian Jaya-Papuan New Guinea border, in Aceh in northern Sumatra, and in East Timor. Elsewhere, at least 12 criminal suspects and probably many more were shot dead by police, and others died in custody, apparently as the result of torture. Four men in their 60s, accused of involvement in the 1965 coup attempt, were executed by firing squad outside Jakarta on February 16 after almost 25 years in prison. Freedom of expression was sharply curtailed, with newspapers banned, plays cancelled, journalists blacklisted and critics of the government sentenced to heavy prison terms. New "screening" procedures designed to uncover supporters of leftist organizations in the 1960s constituted a serious infringement on freedom of opinion and privacy. A community legal aid organization in Sumatra and a new labor federation in Jakarta confronted restrictions on freedom of association, and peaceful political demonstrations were broken up in Dili, East Timor and Yogyakarta. The independence of lawyers, already limited, suffered further setbacks. It was not a good year.
Military actions against pro-independence activists in Aceh, Irian Jaya and East Timor resulted in serious human rights abuses. In Aceh, attacks on police and soldiers by an armed opposition group, the Aceh/Sumatra National Liberation Front, more commonly known as Aceh Merdeka, led to massive retaliation by combined troops of the regular army, the mobil brigade of the police, the special forces (Kopassus) and units of the air force. Suspected supporters of the group were rounded up, held incommunicado, and often tortured to obtain information. Asia Watch was able to document six disappearances but the true figure is believed to be far higher. The death toll on both sides since January, according to one army doctor, may be as high as 1,000. A growing number of unidentified corpses found along roads, rivers and plantations in three districts of Aceh led to speculation that the military was executing prisoners and dumping their bodies in areas where they would not be known. No inquests were conducted and international humanitarian organizations were denied permission to provide services in Aceh.
In early June, over 100 people from Irian Jaya, some of them activists with the armed independence organization Organisasi Papua Merdeka, or the Free Papua Movement, fled across the border into Yapsei, Papua New Guinea. Indonesian troops followed them across the border, where at least two noncombatant refugees from Irian Jaya were reported killed at point-blank range.
Human rights abuses in East Timor were committed against peaceful demonstrators, many of them students. On January 17, troops used excessive force to break up a small demonstration in front of the hotel in Dili where US Ambassador John Monjo was staying. On September 4, a demonstration involving an estimated 10,000 people took place to mark the 50th anniversary of the diocese of Dili. A group of students reportedly held up a flag of the armed independence organization Fretilin. While there were no immediate arrests, masked men on motorcycles, some of whom were reportedly police, began appearing on Dili streets after dark in what residents believed was a campaign of intimidation. Several demonstrators were reportedly taken in for questioning and beaten.
A series of arrests took place in East Timor beginning on October 1 after an Indonesian solider was badly beaten by East Timorese youths. On October 8, four pupils at a junior high school in Dili were arrested for jeering at the public prosecutor, an Indonesian official, and the school was occupied by troops for three days. On October 15-16, several students at the Sao Jose Externatao high school in Dili were arrested after anti-Indonesian graffiti appeared on the walls. By the end of October, over 100 arrests, most of them short-term, had taken place, many of them students who were tortured during interrogation with electric shocks, lighted cigarettes and severe beatings.
Human rights violations also continued to stem from actions by the Indonesian military following a coup attempt in 1965 which the army blames on the since-banned Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). On February 16, four former members of President Sukarno's palace guard, sentenced to death for their alleged involvement in the murder of six generals on the night of the coup attempt, were executed by firing squad after almost 25 years in prison. Yohanes Surono, Norbertus Rohayan, Satar Suryanto and Simon Petrus Sulaiman were believed to have had unfair trials, and their appeals process was a travesty.
Increasing limitations were placed on freedom of expression. In October, Bonar Tigor Naipospos, 29, a student, was convicted of subversion and sentenced to eight-and-a-half years in prison for leading a study group which discussed how the Suharto government's policies were not benefiting the poor. He was also accused of circulating books about Marxism and allegedly helping to sell novels by Pramoedya Ananta Toer, a well known writer and former political prisoner.
In November, performances of a play by Riantiarno about presidential sucesssion, called Suksesi, were cancelled in Jakarta. Another play by the same author, The Cockroach Opera, about poverty, was also banned on the grounds that it could give rise to social unrest. (In mid-December, the ban was lifted, but security forces said Riantiarno would be held responsible for any unrest that might occur.)
The publishing permit for a tabloid newspaper called Monitor was withdrawn and the editor arrested in November after the Christian-owned paper published a survey of its readers' views on the world's most influential people, and the Prophet Muhamad placed only eleventh. Shortly thereafter, the publisher of another newspaper owned by the same company withdrew his paper from publication after a letter to the editor was printed about a dream that the writer had had about Muhamad. The letter was accompanied by an artist's rendering of the Prophet, in violation of the Islamic ban on such portrayal. At the end of 1990, the police said they were still hunting for the writer of the letter.
Also in November, the police banned the public reading of two poems by the poet W.S. Rendra, claiming that they could give rise to ethnic or religious tensions. The newsweekly Tempo then printed both poems in full, without repercussion from the military, but a journalist from a paper called Media Indonesia who wrote about the banning was reportedly fired after the editor received a warning from the Ministry of Information.
Steven Erlanger, the Southeast Asia correspondent for the New York Times, was blacklisted on November 24 after an article he wrote on the Suharto family's business interests appeared in the November 12 edition of the International Herald Tribune. The Herald Tribune's distributor in Indonesia "voluntarily" suspended all sales of the newspaper. By December, a Singapore-based agent was reportedly taking on distribution in Indonesia.
Limits were also placed on freedom of association. In August, the local military in North Sumatra banned a community development organization, KSPPM, which had assisted villagers affected by the operations of a large pulp and rayon factory to use legal channels to protest land expropriation and destruction by the factory. The ban was issued on the grounds that KSPPM had not registered under the "Social Organizations Law" when in fact it was not covered by that law because it had no mass membership. The real reason for the ban was believed to be military unhappiness with the organization's legal aid activities. After domestic and international pressure, the ban was lifted at the end of October.
In mid-November, the human rights lawyer H.J.C. Princen announced the formation of a new independent labor federation, Solidarity, and scheduled its first meeting for December 17. The coordinating minister for politics and security immediately declared the union illegal. Its establishment drew attention to the complete absence of worker rights in Indonesia, including the right to form independent unions.
An article in the Far Eastern Economic Review in April began, "Indonesia has seldom been, and is not today, a country which is foremost on the minds of Washington officials and politicians, or of the general American public." The Bush administration did nothing to disprove that observation in 1990.
The administration in Washington generally refrained from public condemnation of Indonesia's human rights record, and with great fanfare sent top-ranking officials to the opening of the Festival of Indonesia, a two-year series of cultural performances and exhibits stretching over some 200 US cities.
Ambassador Monjo, by contrast, played a constructive role. In January, following the demonstration in East Timor, he publicly expressed regret that the nonviolent assembly had been broken up, urging Indonesian officials not to arrest anyone, and visiting the injured participants in the hospital.
Despite urging from Asia Watch and other human rights organizations, the US failed to protest the executions of the four long-term prisoners in February, on the grounds that protest would be inappropriate because the US itself retains the death penalty. The administration ignored arguments that more than capital punishment was at issue, eschewing the fair trial and humanitarian questions at stake.
In April 1990, US Trade Representative Carla Hills rejected a petition filed in 1989 by the AFL-CIO seeking to revoke trade benefits granted Indonesia under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) because of violations of the right to freedom of association and the absence of collective bargaining in Indonesia. Indonesian officials lobbied intensively against the petition. The AFL-CIO received a 49-page document justifying the decision, which went through a point-by-point refutation of the AFL-CIO's claims. The cause of labor rights in Indonesia would have been better served if the administration had engaged in such a dialogue with the AFL-CIO in public.
Concern about human rights violations was more apparent in Congress than in the executive branch. In May, Rep. Ted Weiss called for an inquiry by the House Select Committee on Intelligence after allegations by investigative journalist Kathy Kadane that US embassy officials and CIA staff had compiled lists of PKI members to give to the Indonesian army following the 1965 coup attempt, when the army was systematically hunting down such people for arrest or execution. By the end of 1990, preliminary investigations were stalled because of the Persian Gulf crisis. In December, a letter from over 200 members of Congress protesting human rights abuses in East Timor was circulated.
The Work of Asia Watch
Asia Watch published two major reports on Indonesia during the year, Injustice, Persecution, Eviction in March, covering arrests and trials of nonviolent government critics, violations of freedom of expression, deaths in custody, and civil rights violations during land disputes; and Prison Conditions in Indonesia in August. Both reports were based on a mission in December 1989. An article in the Economist about the prison report led Indonesian journalists to undertake their own investigation of prison conditions in more remote areas of the country, resulting in an article in the leading newsweekly.
Following the executions in February, Asia Watch sent telexes to nine heads of state, including the leaders of the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain and Japan, urging them to condemn the killings publicly. Asia Watch also sent a letter to Ambassador Monjo explaining the unfairness of the men's trials and appeal process, and issued a press release noting that the men had been imprisoned almost as long as Nelson Mandela.
In May, Asia Watch called on Secretary of State James Baker to investigate the Kadane allegations. In August, Asia Watch presented a statement on human rights violations in East Timor to the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization. Both statements were noted in the Indonesian press.
In September, Asia Watch representatives met with Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas in New York to discuss a wide range of human rights issues. The Minister said that Asia Watch would be allowed access officially only when it stopped "taunting" the Indonesian government.
Asia Watch also issued news bulletins during 1990 criticizing the "screening" process used to root out former leftists from the civil service and the banning of KSPPM in Sumatra. A newsletter on human rights abuses in Aceh was issued in December, following an investigative mission to Indonesia the previous month.