VIEW ON ASIA briefing
Republic of Indonesia
Head of state: President Megawati Sukarnoputri
and Vice-President Hamzah Haz
Border countries: Singapore, Malaysia, The Philippines,
Papua New Guinea, East Timor, Australia
As Indonesians await the final count in their first popular election
for a President, questions are raised about the future direction
of Australia’s closest neighbour. Indonesia is one of the
world’s most ethnically diverse states with about 300 different
ethnic groups speaking 250 distinct languages and dialects. Although
on record nearly 90 per cent of its population professes to follow
Islam, in reality Indonesia is religiously plural as it is ethnically
diverse with a rich tapestry of Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian
and indigenous animistic faiths. Indonesia’s post-colonial
project to forge a unitary state out this broad diversity has often
been a source of many of its troubles. It has also been a source
of awkwardness and tension for Australia – a rich and largely
homogenous country – in its relations with Indonesia.
While Australia and Indonesia are historically and culturally
distant, we share many common interests. The Bali bombings are a
tragic reminder that the security of both our countries will depend
upon an Indonesia that is stable and prosperous and an Australia
that is seen as an honest neighbour and not as a self-serving regional
“sheriff”. How Jakarta responds to its historical and
contemporary challenges and how Canberra engages Jakarta on these
issues are of vital importance to both its peoples.
This report attempts to offer some background on key security and
human rights challenges for Indonesia today. It then poses questions
for Australia in its relations in this region.
Indonesia as a nation is a problematic concept. Two serious questions
often asked by Indonesians are, how large is Indonesia, and when
did its people become Indonesians? A consideration of these questions
might shed some light on the current challenges facing the Jakarta
Government. Unlike Australia where the nation preceded the state,
in Indonesia the state preceded the nation. A largely Java-centric
project to expand, unify and create a nation out of diverse cultures
and faiths has been progressing from the moment Indonesian independence
Nationalist leader Sukarno first proclaimed independence from Dutch
colonial rule following the withdrawal of Japanese occupation in
1945. A period of armed struggle against the Dutch, factional and
separatist fighting and leftist insurgencies ensued before the Dutch
formally transferred sovereignty to an unwieldy Indonesian federation
in 1949. Vice-President Mohammad Hatta, a Sumatra-born devout Muslim,
wanted to maintain the federation. Java-born Sukarno wanted a centralist
model for the archipelago. Sukarno eventually got his way and began
to consolidate power through force and coercion and by mid-1950
all the federal states were absorbed into his unitary Republic of
Indonesia with Jakarta as its capital.
Throughout his rule, Sukarno’s policy of Indonesia Raya (Greater
Indonesia), which provided for a unitary, secular state with a strong
presidency, conflicted with Muslim and local aspirations. Many saw
Indonesia’s expansion as simply one coloniser replacing another.
No sooner had Sukarno established his Indonesia Raya than numerous
armed rebellions began to erupt throughout the archipelago. In 1950
the central authority suppressed a breakaway regime in Ambon, the
Moluccas, a largely Christian population which had benefited under
Dutch rule. In the same year Sukarno annexed Aceh sparking years
of guerrilla fighting. Military coups occurred on Sumatra and Sulawsi
in 1956 and 1957 respectively, both of which were eventually suppressed.
By 1957, in a bid to salvage the delicate unity of the archipelago,
Sukarno ended Indonesia’s experiment with party democracy
by proclaiming martial law under the euphemism of “Guided
With Sukarno’s authoritarian arrangements in place, he began
to push onwards with his dream in uniting the Indonesian archipelago.
This created further unrest in many regions. Indonesia demanded
the Netherlands surrender West Irian (Irian Jaya, now Papua) and
commenced guerrilla war against Dutch forces until power was transferred
to Sukarno in 1963 under a US-brokered agreement. The post-colonial
turmoil culminated in 1965 when an attempted coup threatened Sukarno’s
hold on power. Following a military show of force which resulted
in the slaughter of an estimated 1 million suspected communists,
General Suharto, then head of the army’s Strategic Command,
eased Sukarno out of presidential power and immediately instituted
his Orde Baru (“New Order”) regime.
Assisted by the creation of a strong militaristic political structure
and encouraged by Western powers impressed by his fierce anti-communism,
Suharto continued where Sukarno left off by annexing parts of Timor.
He also expanded a program first instituted by the Dutch and then
Sukarno, called “transmigration”. Designed to address
overpopulation in some areas while at the same time colonising troubled
regions, it involved farmers from the islands of Java and Bali moving
to underpopulated areas such as Kalimantan, Sumatra, and Papua.
At the height of the program an average of one million people participated
each year. Transmigration angered the locals whose lands were taken
Strong economic development and large public projects strengthened
Indonesia’s sense of nationhood under Suharto’s rule.
But by the 1990s there was widespread concern about Government nepotism,
cronyism and grandiose spending. This continued until the Asian
economic crisis of 1997 provided the initial spark for Suharto’s
downfall. Suharto resigned in May 1998 amidst mass student-led demonstrations
and internal rifts between army generals, ending over 40 years of
authoritarian rule in Indonesia.
In the post-Suharto era, two approaches toward Indonesian unity
were again competing for dominance: one was tolerant and compromising
and the other was a return to an order of unity by force. Initially,
there were positive signs that the Suharto approach was being dismantled.
Suharto’s Vice-President and successor B J Habibie, wishing
to distinguish himself from Suharto, conceded to a number of unprecedented
democratic demands, including the lifting of restrictions on the
freedom of association and the press. Habibie also decided as early
as June 1998 that East Timor should be allowed a vote that eventually
led to its independence after nearly 25 years of brutal occupation.
Even as the conflict in East Timor subsided, calls for independence
rose in several provinces, including North Sumatra, Aceh and Papua.
The general elections in 1999 brought in the Indonesian Democratic
Party-Struggle (PDI-P) under the leadership of Megawati Sukarnoputri,
the daughter of Sukarno. However, the PDI-P’s failure to win
a majority in the general election allowed Islamic-influenced parties
to secure the presidency for its nominee, Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus
Dur), with Megawati becoming Vice-President. Wahid had a very different
approach from his predecessors. Instead of a militarist approach
to separatism he attempted to accommodate some of the separatists’
demands in the hope that this would bring them back to the Indonesian
fold. Wahid also stopped the controversial transmigration program
and moved to increase civilian control over the military.
Wahid’s presidency was cut short however, following his impeachment
on accusations of involvement in a multimillion-dollar graft scandal.
Megawati ascended to the presidency in July 2001 and the leader
of the Islamic-influenced United Development Party (PPP), Hamzah
Haz, became Vice-President. Megawati inherited a number of challenges
including economic and social problems, separatist violence in Aceh
and Papua and a corrupt military that seems impenetrable to reform.
As Indonesians wait for the official result of the presidential
elections, it is becoming clear that Megawati had failed to live
up to the people’s expectations. This year’s parliamentary
elections saw Megawati’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle
(PDI-P) nearly halving its 1999 votes.
The 2004 elections
For the first time in Indonesia’s history, its citizens
have gone to the poll to decide who they believe should lead their
country as President for the next 5 years. Five running teams are
contesting the election with the disqualification of the sixth nominated
candidate, Abdurrahman Wahid, by the General Elections Commission
(KPU) on health grounds. Two of the leading candidates will now
be former Suharto generals – ex-military chiefs Wiranto (who
has still not been cleared of prosecution for alleged human rights
violations in East Timor) and the Democratic Party nominee, Susilo
Bambang Yudhoyono (or SBY).
Polls are tipping a victory for Yudhoyono who is far ahead of his
rivals, including Wiranto and incumbent Megawati. If a second round
is required (which is most probable as no candidate is expected
to get more than the 50 per cent of the vote needed to secure an
outright victory) it will be held on 20 September 2004 and the results
will be announced on 5 October 2004.
The presidential election followed the parliamentary election which
took place in April 2004. The parliamentary election saw a return
of the Golkar party (founded by Suharto) winning 22 per cent of
the ballot, followed by Megawati’s PDI-P with just over 18
percent and the National Awakening Party of former president Abdurrahman
Wahid, with over 10 percent of the vote.
No one party won a majority in the 550-seat parliament, making
alliances and political horse-trading even more of a focus. The
lack of any dominant party might make the task of governing the
country even more challenging. The result also shows that newer
radical Islamist leaning parties such as the Prosperous Justice
Party (PKS) are on the rise. The swing back to Golkar confirms pre-election
polling that showed widespread public disillusionment with the performance
of successive governments since Suharto’s downfall. The masses
have not seen any real improvements to their lives since democracy.
Many are even looking back on Suharto’s New Order as a “golden
age” in Indonesia’s history.
Governance and judicial reform
Notwithstanding some nostalgia for the certainties under Suharto,
there continue to be welcoming institutional movements toward the
rule of law and respect for human rights. The most important of
these have been the amendments to the seemingly elastic 1945 Constitution,
a document which had formally been the basis for authoritarian rule.
Started in 1999, the constitutional changes have decentralised Indonesia’s
political process and introduced much needed checks and balances
into the justice system.
Indonesia currently has a unicameral parliament known as the People’s
Consultative Assembly (Majelis Permusyawaratan Rakyat – MPR),
consisting of the House of Representatives (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat
– DPR) and indirectly appointed members, including the military
and “special groups” in society. The MPR formerly met
every 5 years to elect the President and Vice-President and to approve
broad outlines of national policy. Under the Second Amendment to
the Constitution, the MPR is now required to meet every year to
hear the Government’s progress report.
Constitutional amendments passed since 2000 have also provided
for the restructuring of parliament. Parliament will become a joint-sitting
bicameral model with the creation of a new Regional Representatives
Council (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat Daerah – DPRD) following
this year’s elections. The DPRD can legislate under the Regional
Autonomy Law no.22/1999 on essentially regional matters. It may
also provide “consultation” on budget, tax, and education
issues. It remains to be seen whether or not the DPRD will become
a “soft second chamber”.
Also under the electoral changes of 2002, the President and Vice-President
will now be elected directly as part of a joint ticket. The MPR
will no longer formulate national policy and neither the military
nor the “special groups” will be represented in the
DPR. However, this does not exclude former military operatives like
retired Generals Wiranto, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Agum Gumelar
from contesting a seat in the new parliament or even the presidency
Another potentially far reaching reform process has been that of
the judiciary, although this has not been pursued with the same
tempo as parliamentary reform. Under new laws and changes to the
Constitution, the judiciary has now been transformed from an institution
under the Ministry of Justice and therefore susceptible to political
interference, to the Supreme Court, the highest judicial authority
Meanwhile, an internal process of review is currently underway
within the Supreme Court, through a comprehensive set of reform
plans known as the Supreme Court Blueprints, issued in October 2003.
Internal reviews are unprecedented in the history of the Indonesian
judiciary as is the Court’s enlistment of an Indonesian legal
reform non-government organisation (NGO) to contribute towards the
review. The final outcome of the Blueprint reflects thinking from
both inside and outside of the Supreme Court. Among other reforms,
the Blueprint aims to establish an internal supervisory arm of the
Despite the reform progress, there is still some way to go. As
with all major reform plans, the Government needs to first approve
the Blueprint which might invite resistance. The Blueprint is an
attempt to dismantle a system that had functioned for decades as
a political arm of an authoritarian regime. The strong culture of
judicial bureaucracies remains entrenched so that comprehensive
reform will be difficult and slow. The full support and participation
of civil society and interested countries like Australia will go
a long way in easing the pain of reform and ensuring that the reform
process retains its course.
Current political and human rights challenges in Indonesia
Terrorism and security
On 12 October 2002, two car bombs exploded in a nightclub in the
popular tourist district of Kuta, Bali, killing nearly 200 mostly
foreign tourists. In the aftermath of the bombings, Megawati, under
US pressure, issued two executive decrees in lieu of legislation
to address terrorism, including a decree to allow police to arrest
and detain terrorist suspects without charge. Within weeks, Indonesian
police made their first arrests including the prominent Muslim cleric
Abu Bakar Ba’asyir. Police accused Ba’asyir of heading
the terrorist organisation Jemaah Islamiah (JI) believed to be behind
the Bali bombings and other attacks. Since then, more than 100 people
with suspected JI links have been arrested under the new legislation
on Combating Criminal Acts of Terrorism. Others arrested included
representatives of the Acehian separatist group, the Free Aceh Movement
(Gerakan Aceh Merdeka – GAM). All were found guilty of rebellion
and acts of “terrorism” and sentenced to between 12
and 15 years’ imprisonment. Following allegations of torture
and ill-treatment of detained suspects, Amnesty International has
raised concerns about the lack of protection for suspects arrested
under the anti-terror legislation.
Despite the apparent homegrown threat of terrorism, Indonesians
themselves are not too fazed about the threat. A survey by the International
Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) released just before the
July 2004 presidential election found that less than 1 per cent
of 1,250 respondents nationwide named terrorism as an issue they
wanted candidates to address. The issue of terrorism seems largely
a foreign relations concern for Indonesia and a godsend for the
Government’s campaign against separatism.
Aceh (Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam)
Acehnese aristocrat Hasan Di Tiro and his small band of supporters
proclaimed Acehian independence in 1976. Having created GAM (Free
Aceh Movement), Di Tiro fled to Sweden in 1980 and continued his
work from a suburban apartment in Stockholm. GAM initially engaged
in propaganda but later developed into a violent guerrilla force.
More than 10,000 people have been killed in the ensuing 27 years
of conflict. The military in particular has been responsible for
large numbers of civilian deaths and torture. Security forces systematically
targeted whole villages suspected of harbouring GAM members. The
brutal conduct of the military campaigns in the 1990s caused widespread
public resentment in Aceh. Public opinion had well and truly shifted
towards independence by the time Suharto fell from power in 1998.
In 1999, President Wahid sought to end the conflict in Aceh by
enlisting the cooperation of the Geneva-based Henry Dunant Centre
to help mediate between GAM and the Government. In December 2002
both parties signed the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (COHA),
which was enhanced with the establishment the Joint Security Committee
(JSC) set up to monitor both sides’ compliance with the agreement.
Wahid however, did not remain in power long enough to see his initiatives
On 19 May 2003, the Megawati Government declared martial law in
Aceh and launched a major military operation involving 40,000 troops
and police to crush the 5000-armed members of GAM. The Government
warned all foreigners to leave Aceh and eventually barred all independent
witnesses from monitoring its military campaign. This came in the
wake of collapsed peace talks between the Government and GAM which
ended the COHA.
Although triggered by disagreement on the date for further talks,
the current conflict in Aceh seems almost unavoidable as both sides
showed little interest in making the COHA work. On GAM’s part
they exploited the relative peace following the agreement to build
up their forces. On the other hand, it is alleged that the military
was “almost certainly” behind attempts to derail the
peace talks through a series of civilian attacks on the offices
of the JSC.
The latest military campaign was labelled a “hidden war”
by Human Rights Watch (HRW). HRW outlined how the restrictions have
made it all but impossible to access the majority of Aceh’s
4.2 million people. However, based on testimony from Acehnese refugees
in Malaysia, HRW was able to document widespread human rights violations
since the start of the campaign perpetrated mainly by the military.
As usual, the toll on civilians appears to be grave. Amnesty recently
claimed that it has new testimonies from individuals who have been
tortured by the military during the campaign, include claims of
beatings, burning with cigarettes, having plastic bags placed over
their heads, and electric shocks. Amnesty also said it has received
credible accounts of rape and other forms of sexual violence against
women. “People are terrorised by the numerous killings and
the ever present threat of arrest, torture and ill-treatment”,
the organisation said. “At the same time economic and social
life has been severely disrupted by the intense military operations”.
Following the demise of the Suharto regime, Indonesia’s National
Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) ad hoc team for Aceh conducted
an investigation into human rights abuses. In its final report,
Komnas HAM confirmed gross human rights violations which included
allegations of human rights abuses against civilians and children
such as murder, torture, sexual abuse and rape. “The attacks
were systematic”, the report added. “They [the perpetrators]
had political or ideological goals and used public and private budgets”.
As a follow-up, the Government established an ad hoc tribunal to
hear the cases but it failed to reveal the root cause and the court
only sentenced low rank military personnel.
Although not as extensive when compared to the actions of the military,
GAM also perpetrated human rights violations during the conflict.
This is consistent with its past behaviours. Aceh’s former
martial law administrator Major General Endang Suwarya claimed that
GAM was holding 260 civilian hostages. GAM has since released 22
hostages in a deal brokered by the International Committee of the
Red Cross. The military also reported the presence of armed teenagers
within GAM although there is no independent verification of this
claim while Aceh continues to be locked down. The Stockholm-based
GAM leadership have denied using child soldiers and had invited
independent observers to carry out investigations pending the Government’s
The Government on 19 May 2004 downgraded the martial law governing
the province to a “civil emergency” and appointed a
civil administrator. Although civil rule has returned, troop numbers
in the province will not be reduced. It is estimated that as many
as 2000 people have been killed with thousands more alleged rebels
captured or surrendered since the military operation began. Despite
the great number of arrests, the military has only confiscated about
1000 weapons from the rebels, feeding speculation that many of the
people killed or captured were civilians. So far, the Government’s
highest-ranking captives are GAM’s spokespeople and various
mid-level political commanders. The military’s failure to
capture any of GAM’s senior military commanders raises serious
questions about its one-year military campaign. Renewed violence,
GAM’s continued ability to abduct civilians and journalists
and the high civilian casualties, suggest that the operation has
been far less effective than the military had claimed.
On 25 April 2004, violence again erupted in Ambon, Moluccas, threatening
to undermine a February 2002 peace pact brokered by the Government
after three years of violence that left 5,000 dead. The latest conflict
was sparked when a small independence party, the Moluccas Sovereignty
Front (FKM/RMS), hoisted banned flags in celebration of the anniversary
of the short-lived breakaway Moluccas republic in 1950.
Some Muslims see the RMS as an arm of the Christian community,
seeking independence from Indonesia. Churches have denied any involvement
with the FKM, but their denials have gone unnoticed. The ensuing
violence has left dozens dead and wounded, hundreds of homes burned
and at least several churches and a UN building destroyed.
The Government was quick to dismiss the recent violence as political
and called for the eradication of the FKM/RMS. “All forms
of separatism must be wiped out because they threaten the Undivided
Republic of Indonesia,” Megawati said during her visit to
Ambon on 22 May 2004. While there are always those keen to portray
the violence as a conflict between independence supporters and defenders
of national unity, the situation also reflects police incompetency
and the Government’s lack of preparedness in such a crisis.
On 25 May 2004 a bomb exploded in a busy Ambon market, killing
one man and injuring a dozen others. The blast followed another
recent explosion in the mainly Christian village of Halong Baru
which injured five people, and yet another in a Muslim area of the
city the same day. The fact that many were killed by snipers, and
now by bombs, has led to a widespread belief that the recent violence
was provoked. Although there is no evidence linking the mysterious
snipers and bombers with FKM/RMS, the Government has been solidly
focused on cracking down on separatism in Ambon. The International
Crisis Group warned that this approach might “divert all resources
into rounding up and arresting FKM members rather than into a thorough
investigation of the killings.”
These are worrying developments for a Government trying to clamp
down on separatist movements, attempting to be serious about fighting
international terrorism and quelling sectarian violence. Ambon may
be the place where these concerns combine. Old sectarian hostility
and a government’s fixation with territorial unity might be
playing into the hands of external extremists trying to incite terrorism
Papua was decolonised under a US-brokered agreement between the
Netherlands and Indonesia. Control of Papua was transferred to the
United Nations Temporary Executive Authority (UNTEA) and then ceded
to Indonesia in 1963, with the provision that an “Act of Free
Choice” be held in 1969 to determine whether the people of
Papua would join Indonesia or become independent. However, instead
of a popular referendum on independence in 1969, Indonesia selected
just over a thousand tribal representatives who delivered the central
authorities a unanimous vote for integration. The vote has been
the legal basis of Indonesia’s claim over Papua and a point
of contestation for Papuan independence activists ever since.
Recent declassified US documents now show that the US in 1969 had
dismissed the vote as a “farce” and a “ritual”.
“The Act of Free Choice [in Papua] is unfolding like a Greek
tragedy, the conclusion is preordained,” the then US Ambassador
to Indonesia, Marshall Green, wrote in one of his telegrams to the
US. In another document, a US State Department official reported
after a consular trip to Papua that, “Indonesia could not
win an open election.” “[Papuan] separatists will not
accept permanent union [with Indonesia] without a struggle”,
the document said.
The Papuan Presidium Council (PDP), one of Papua’s leading
pro-independence organisation, welcomed the US documents and reiterated
its desire to negotiate with the Indonesian government. Jakarta
has so far been unwilling to engage in dialogue.
Special autonomy law is the central government’s answer to
the calls for Papuan independence. The Special Autonomy for Papua
Province law (Otonomi Khusus or Otsus), provides for the change
of the provincial name to Papua from Irian Jaya, returns a large
share of the natural resource revenues to the province, improves
the political participation of Papuans, and establishes a truth
and reconciliation commission to address past human rights abuses.
However, instead of a full and effective implementation of the Special
Autonomy law, Megawati issued a controversial Presidential decree
in January 2003 to divide Papua into three smaller provinces, a
move intended to weaken the separatist Free Papua Movement (Organisasi
Papua Merdeka, OPM). The decree attempted to reinstall the provincial
governments for West Irian Jaya and Central Irian Jaya with the
existing provincial government in Jayapura administering a province
called Irian Jaya.
Widespread local clashes between rival groups supporting and opposing
the division ensued. Following fierce protests in August 2003, the
Government announced that it would not proceed with further division
of the province, although this would not affect the newly established
province of West Irian Jaya. The situation remains problematic.
“The discrepancies between the special autonomy law on Papua
and the formation of two new provinces in Papua has created nothing
but local conflict and uncertainty” The Jakarta Post reported.
They have also caused much administrative confusion in Papua.
Freedom of expression
After the fall of Suharto’s regime, many Indonesians and
outside observers hoped that human rights such as freedom of expression
would be respected in a new era of political liberalisation. Indeed,
since the end of the New Order there has been rapid reform in these
areas. To the credit of former presidents, Habibie and Wahid, Indonesia
opened up the media and issued a series of amnesties for prisoners
of conscience convicted under Suharto. The non-government sector
and the media developed rapidly in the new political environment.
Civil society also blossomed as a result.
To a large extent there remains a great deal of critical reporting
in Indonesia as well as freedom to publicly express dissent. However,
Amnesty’s latest Annual Report documented nearly 30 cases
of prisoners of conscience, including labour and political activists
and peaceful supporters of independence in Aceh and Papua. Journalists
were also put on trial, according to the report. Most of these prisoners
have been charged under the Government of Megawati. While media
law remains one of the most liberal in the East Asian region, the
Government has shown a willingness to invoke colonial-era criminal
codes that forbid “insulting” the president or “hostility”
toward the Government.
In another recent development, Sidney Jones, a prominent US political
analyst for the International Crisis Group, has had her Indonesian
working visa revoked, along with that of her researcher. The Government
has also announced that it has placed 20 international and local
human rights organisations and individuals on a “watch list”
as threats to the country’s security. There is evidence that
the Jones’ expulsion is directly related to her recent criticisms
about the military’s campaigns in Aceh and Papua. The Government’s
move has been largely interpreted as an attempt to “crackdown
on critical observers ahead of the July 5 presidential election”.
Attempts to silence local and overseas critics of Government policies
raise concerns of the military’s renewed influence and the
danger of “a return to the New Order”.
Indonesia’s broad diversity and strong religious identities
have often been the root cause of many of its troubles. Since the
breakdown of the Suharto regime and Indonesia’s transition
towards the rule of law, there have been growing demands for self-determination
among several provinces, including Aceh and Papua following years
of maltreatment from the central government. Separatist movements
have been encouraged by East Timor’s successful break away
in 1999. The Megawati Government and military have responded to
some of these trends with heavy-handed force.
In Aceh, 6 years of democracy since the fall of Suharto has failed
to address the socio-economic, governance, and historical or justice-related
grievances underpinning the fighting. The latest military campaign
in Aceh has led to enormous casualties and widespread human rights
abuses with little hope for peace in the troubled province. Likewise,
in Ambon the Government’s obsession with cracking down on
largely impotent separatist parties means that the real issues of
sectarian grievances and external provocation might not be properly
One acute problem is that although Suharto has lost power, many
of the institutions he created and personalities he nurtured remain.
Dismantling the entrenched legacy of militarism will take time.
As the Indonesian delegation at this year’s UN Commission
on Human Rights session noted, “that strengthening the protection
system is not an overnight job. There is no such thing as an instant
panacea to human rights abuses in any country or any part of the
world. It requires ongoing and concerted actions ...” Unfortunately,
under Megawati there have not been enough efforts made to avoid
the mistakes of the past. Dismantling Suharto’s apparatuses
and culture will require committed political leadership. Militarism,
divide and rule strategies and clamping down on dissent threaten
to wind back years of reform.
Former Canadian diplomat Peter Dale Scott’s observation after
the fall of Suharto remains relevant, namely that there are two
Indonesias, one that is among the most tolerant Muslim cultures
in the world; the other, a country with a long history of ruthless
repression by the Government and military. The difference is between
an Indonesian tradition that favours human rights and regional self-determination
as a basis for unity, and a tradition that resorts to enforcing
national unity through coercion and state terror. Indonesia has
not yet resolved these two competing tendencies.
Two approaches for Australia
Democratisation and the development of a human rights culture
are processes that require perseverance and the right support. The
Joint Standing Committee (“the Committee”) inquiry into
Australia’s relationship with Indonesia notes in its report
Near Neighbours – Good Neighbours tabled in May 2004, “Australia,
as one of the oldest successful democracies can, does and should
support its neighbour Indonesia … through this period of transition”.
Supporting Indonesia’s reform process often means supporting
practical initiatives like linkage programs and electoral training
and monitoring. That much is relatively uncontroversial and the
Committee recommended many such programs. Issues arise however,
when Australia starts advocating for human rights in Indonesia as
part of its broader insistence that Jakarta keeps its course on
reform. Not that Canberra does a lot of advocating for the victims
of Indonesian human rights violations anyway.
Canberra continues to maintain unequivocal support for “Indonesian
unity and territorial integrity” without matching such support
with unequivocal insistence that the human rights of people living
within Indonesian borders be protected. Even if Canberra took a
balanced approach to territorial integrity and human rights, it
would often be hollow in the face of an unruly military committing
human rights abuse and a civilian government that is unwilling or
unable to restrain it. Indonesia’s fixation with maintaining
“territorial integrity” has repeatedly been translated
into military heavy-handedness or rampant human rights abuses.
Human rights advocacy in this region is not an easy task. “It
is very hard for Australia to please everyone, and nearly impossible
to please the leaders of Asian countries,” former diplomat
Alison Broinowski warned. Australia opens itself to accusations
from the highly sensitive Indonesian Government of interference
or playing “deputy sheriff”.
It is instructive to note the reaction from a number of members
of the Indonesian parliament and from Amien Rais, Chairman of the
Consultative Assembly (MPR) against Prime Minister John Howard’s
2002 visit to Indonesia. Rais and his colleagues had boycotted Howard’s
visit citing among other things “rumours” of Australia’s
support for Papuan independence. Howard immediately replied in his
press release: “The Australian Government unequivocally supports
the territorial integrity of Indonesia. It is categorically untrue
that we are supporting the independence of Papua.”
One approach Australia could take would be to downplay issues of
human rights lest it offend Indonesian sensitivities in a post-East
Timor crisis period. Former Indonesian ambassador Richard Woolcott
suggested that Australia “eschew megaphone diplomacy”
and opt for less lecturing and more consulting. However the value
of Australia communicating its concerns in public is that it guarantees
that representations are made. A softly spoken approach to raising
human rights issues with Jakarta would have done little to prevent
or dampen the East Timor crisis, the Bali bombings and the current
military campaign in Aceh.
Yet Australia is still accused of insensitivity and interference.
Why? It is not what Australia says, but what Australia does that
matters. The problem is not what principles Australia stands for,
but how it stands up for those principles.
A better approach would involve being more self-reflective, honest
and consistent in our engagement on human rights issues. Questions
should first be raised about our own domestic human rights record,
particularly the application of new anti-terror laws and our approach
to deterring asylum seekers from arriving on our shores. Such policies
could potentially diminish our standing and moral authority in the
region. The Indonesian Embassy’s submission to the Committee
Inquiry confirmed that both the Tampa crisis and “the recent
excessive raids conducted against some Indonesia’s citizens
by the ASIO and AFP” were dark periods in its bilateral relations
Another question requiring attention is Canberra’s attempt
to resume ties with Indonesia’s notorious special forces unit
Kopassus in its fight against international terrorism. The problem
is that apart from its role in arming and training militia groups
in East Timor and its possible responsibility for the murder of
the Papuan independence leader, Theys Eluay, Kopassus has been recently
linked to an extreme Islamist group called Laskar Jihad. This goes
against the very rationale for Australia’s need to cooperate
with the Indonesian military in the first place.
Easing human rights pressure now while Indonesia is attempting
to transform itself into a liberal democracy could lead the Jakarta
authorities generally, and the military particularly, into the false
belief that Australia has approved their approach to security and
human rights issues to date. Ordinary Indonesians might even construe
this proposal as a further example of Australia’s flexibility
with human rights, when it suits. It might even reinforce the belief
that our involvement in East Timor was purely for self-interested
Finally, the eagerness with which Australia has volunteered to
participate in the US-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, its invitation
to US to build new hi-tech joint training facilities in Queensland
and more importantly, the Northern Territory, and its decision to
join the controversial US missile defence program can only encourage
further mistrust and anger in the region as Australia is increasingly
seen as a threat and not a friend. It looks particularly dubious
when the Australian Government does not even have a credible rationale
for a missile shield.
“We don’t have any threat against us from ballistic
missiles at this time,” the Defence Minister Robert Hill admitted
to reporters on 7 July 2004 at the UN headquarters in New York.
He argued that a defence shield is necessary to protect Australia
against hypothetical threats from rogue states. Hill’s arguments
did not impress the Indonesians. “I know that Australian defence
policy is to protect Australia from attack by northern countries”,
Djoko Susilo, a member of the Indonesian parliament’s commission
for security, defence and foreign affairs said. “But which
country is near northern Australia? It’s obviously Indonesia.”
If serious about being a good regional neighbour in supporting
Indonesia in its period of reform, an established democracy like
Australia has a greater responsibility to conduct itself with the
same honesty, integrity and mindfulness that it expects from an
aspiring democratic neighbour like Indonesia.
Amnesty International, 2004 Report, http://www.amnesty.org
BBC, Country Profile: Indonesia, http://news.bbc.co.uk
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook: Indonesia,
Commonwealth of Australia, Near Neighbours – Good Neighbours:
An Inquiry into Australia’s Relationship with Indonesia, Joint
Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade, Canberra,
May 2004, http://www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/jfadt/indonesia
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia, Indonesia
Country Brief, September 2003, http://www.dfat.gov.au/geo/indonesia/indonesia_brief.html
Republic of Indonesia, Australian Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia,
International Crisis Group, http://www.crisisweb.org
Jakarta Post, http://www.thejakartapost.com
Wikipedia, Wikipedia Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org
View on Asia is a publication of the Uniya Jesuit Social
Justice Centre, a research centre based in Sydney’s Kings
Cross, Australia. The views expressed in this report are those of
the author. Thanks to Jay Toonay, Budi Hernawan, Hari Suparwito,
and Jesuit ministries staff for their helpful comments. Please email
comments and corrections to:
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