President Joko Widodo

President Joko Widodo has now made it clear that eradicating impunity and strengthening human rights protections will not be a priority for his government. Photo by the Kremlin.


The Indonesian Military (TNI) recently promoted four officials to the rank of brigadier general, at the same time as they were granted senior positions in the Ministry of Defence, the State Intelligence Agency (BIN) and the National Counter-Terrorism Agency (BNPT). On the surface the promotions might seem pretty routine – the 2004 Law on the Military allows active officers to serve in a variety of civilian posts related to security matters. But these were no ordinary promotions.


In 1999, the Military High Court convicted the same four officers for the abduction and disappearance of pro-democracy activists during the turbulent period surrounding the fall of Soeharto in 1998. Members of the notorious Mawar (Rose) Team, Fausani Syahrial Multhazar, Nugroho Sulistyo Budi, Yulius Selvanus and Dadang Hendra Yuda received sentences ranging from 16 to 20 months in prison. The court also ordered that three of the four officers were to be discharged from the TNI. But the three officers appealed their dismissals and continued to serve. The appeals process was opaque, and the final verdict was never made public.


Army spokesman Mohamad Sabrar Fadhilah said last week that the four officers had served their sentences. But he did not go into detail about what punishments, exactly, they had received. His response did little to reassure the public about the accountability of the armed forces.


Perhaps the most pressing concern is, however, that the promotion of the four officers is a blatant and direct abandonment of President Joko Widodo’s commitment to end impunity during his presidency. During the 2014 election campaign, the president made it clear that ending impunity for past violations of human rights would be one of his top priorities.

Jokowi, in fact, explicitly promised that his administration would commit to resolving past violations of human rights, including the May 1998 Riots, the Trisakti and Semanggi I and II shootings, forced disappearances, the Talang Sari massacre, the Tanjung Priok massacre and the 1965-1966 anti-communist violence. He also specifically pledged that revising the 1997 Law on the Military Court would be a priority for ending impunity, as it had contributed to violations of human rights.


Ending impunity is not only about ensuring perpetrators face justice. Eradicating impunity also involves effectively investigating human rights violations, providing remedies to victims, and preventing the recurrence of such violations. How can the government prevent the recurrence of human rights violations if, at the same time, it promotes convicted human rights abusers to top positions in public office?


Beyond the issue of impunity, the promotions signal that any hope of Jokowi strengthening human rights protections (if any hope was remaining) is well and truly gone. The fact that the newly promoted officers were installed in strategic positions in security agencies such as BIN and BNPT shows what the Jokowi administration really thinks about human rights. There are many military officials who are intelligent and, at the same time, have good human rights records – I have worked with some of them. If Jokowi cared about human rights, why would he sully his reputation by choosing members of the “old guard”, with already tainted records, to serve in the security agencies?


It is certainly not the first time Jokowi has ignored the human rights pledges he made during the 2014 campaign. The most obvious example came in July, when he appointed former General Wiranto as coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, the top security post in the country.


Having helped Jokowi into the presidency two years ago, Hanura Party chief Wiranto finally made it into the cabinet, despite his chequered human rights record. He was indicted by the now-defunct UN Serious Crimes Unit for his command responsibility for the crimes against humanity committed by TNI-backed militias in East Timor in 1999. He was also in charge of the armed forces in 1998, at a time when systematic human rights abuses occurred in many major cities across the country. Wiranto’s appointment is sure to put an end to attempts to come to terms with, and further investigate, the 1965-1966 mass killings, a process that was slowly gathering steam under his predecessor, Luhut Pandjaitan.


The promotion of army officers responsible for abducting civilians to strategic posts at the BNPT and the BIN is a new low. At the time of the 2014 Presidential Election, many activists recognised that Jokowi had serious flaws. But they voted for him because he was not part of the old generation, like his rival, former General Prabowo Subianto. Despite Jokowi’s serious problems, an important reason why the people voted for him is that Prabowo, when serving as head of Kopassus, was widely considered to have given the orders to the Mawar Team. Few of Jokowi’s passionate campaigners would have ever imagined that two years after the election his administration would promote the very officers involved in abducting pro-democracy activists.


Jokowi attempted to set himself apart from the previous generation of Indonesian leaders. He promised that he would set a new standard, distinct from them. But rather than forging a new trajectory, he appears to be duplicating the old generation’s path.


Jokowi must not forget that human rights protection is not a mere election promise, it is a mandate imposed on him by the Constitution. He has an obligation to put human rights protection back on the agenda. But given his clear lack of interest in human rights so far, the culture of impunity that has long plagued Indonesia looks like it is set to become even more entrenched.



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