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World Report Indonesia and East Timor 1994
Human Rights Watch
Indonesia's policy of "openness," characterized by broadened press freedoms, greater tolerance of demonstrations, increased visibility of nongovernmental organizations, and open discussion of previously taboo subjects, came to an abrupt end during the year with the closing of three well-known news publications in June. The closures, weeks before the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit was to be held in Jakarta, served to draw international attention back to a pattern of abuse that the policy of "openness" had temporarily obscured.
That pattern was characterized by military intervention in virtually all aspects of Indonesian public life and by the arbitrary exercise of authority by President Soeharto, well into his fifth term as president and looking increasingly likely to stay in office for life. More and more, however, the president and senior army officers were at odds, with Soeharto's championing of the powerful minister of research and technology, B.J. Habibie, a major sore point with the military as Habibie increasingly took on defense procurement functions and worked on turning an organization of Muslim intellectuals into a vehicle to build a political base for the president and himself. (The immediate cause of the press closures was a series of articles in one of the banned magazines about Habibie's controversial decision, without the military's knowledge, to purchase thirty-nine ships from the former East German navy.) Neither the military nor the president was accountable to the Indonesian public for their actions, and therein lay one of the key factors in ongoing human rights abuses.
In addition to restrictions on freedom of expression and curbs on dissent, the abuses included denial of worker rights, especially the ability to form independent trade unions; harassment and intimidation of nongovernmental organizations and professional associations; forcible dispersal of peaceful demonstrations and other legitimate exercises of freedom of assembly; arbitrary detention; and torture. In East Timor, violations of fundamental civil rights were particularly severe.
The issue of worker rights came to a head with a massive workers' rally on April 14 and 15 in Medan, North Sumatra, where workers poured into the streets demanding higher wages and the right to organize, and the subsequent trials of its alleged organizers in October and November. The rally was the culmination of months of wildcat strikes and turned into anti-Chinese violence on the second day, with Chinese-owned shops vandalized and one ethnic Chinese businessman reported as killed; although his death was initially reported as a lynching, an autopsy showed that he died of a stroke after his car was set upon by angry workers. The violence appeared to have been instigated by typed flyers distributed by military-backed thugs.
Hundreds of workers and labor organizers were arrested in connection with both the rally and several subsequent strikes in North Sumatra, and they were tried more quickly than usual, apparently to try to defuse worker grievances before the APEC conference. Most workers accused of damaging property were sentenced to relatively lenient terms of three or four months in prison. Independent labor organizers accused of incitement were treated more harshly. Amosi Telaumbanua, the head of the Medan branch of the independent but officially unrecognized labor union called Serikat Buruh Sejahtera Indonesia (SBSI), was sentenced to fifteen months in prison in late October, and SBSI's national head, Mochtar Pakpahan, was expected to get three years_long enough to keep him out of circulation during the national parliamentary elections in 1997. Several other labor organizers, including two activists from Medan named Janes Hutahean and Parlin Manihuruk, were on trial as of early November. Human Rights Watch/Asia believed all those charged with incitement were arrested in violation of their right to freedom of association.
In an effort to dampen domestic and international criticism of worker rights, especially with the threat of American economic sanctions looming large, the Indonesian government announced a series of labor reforms in January and raised the minimum wage. It also entered into an agreement with the International Labor Organization which many local labor activists saw as merely serving to strengthen the government-recognized union.
Freedom of association was also at stake with the drafting of a presidential decree on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that would tighten government control of their activities and make it possible for them to be dissolved if they were judged to have engaged in actions detrimental to undefined "national interests." The draft decree was circulated by the Ministry of Home Affairs in February, and as of November, it had not yet been promulgated, although many believed the government was waiting until after the APEC conference to do so. The decree appeared to be aimed at many of the most outspoken human rights and environmental organizations including the Legal Aid Institute and WALHI. The latter, an environmental organization, brought a lawsuit against President Soeharto in September in the Jakarta administrative court, alleging that he had allowed Minister Habibie to take a no-interest loan from funds meant for reforestation in order to support the development of Habibie's aircraft manufacturing company.
The travails of Independent Journalists Association (Aliansi Jurnalis Independen, AJI), were also indicative of controls on freedom of association. Most professional organizations in Indonesia are government-backed or run and have no interest in challenging government policies. The officially-recognized journalists organization, Persatuan Wartawan Indonesia (Indonesian Journalists Association, PWI), was no exception. The closure of two magazines, Tempo and Editor, and a tabloid newspaper, DeTik, on June 21, however, led outraged journalists and editors, many of them from the banned publications, to set up AJI on August 8. In what became known as the Sirna Galih Declaration after the place where it was announced, the journalists rejected "all kinds of interference, intimidation, censorship and media bans which deny freedom of speech and open access to information." The Ministry of Information then began to harass AJI members, saying the organization was not recognized, suggesting to their editors that they be fired and stating that access to important meetings like APEC would be restricted to PWI members. On October 31, Andreas Harsono, a prominent AJI member and journalist from the English-language Jakarta Post was fired, on vague charges of misconduct.
Two of the publications closed down in June attempted unsuccessfully to reopen under other names and with a new editorial staff. The editor of DeTik, Eros Djarot, tried to publish a look-alike tabloid called Simponi on October 3, but it was shut down after one day, in part on the grounds that journalists who were not PWI members were involved in its publication. The staff of Tempo loyal to the former editors tried to obtain a new license for a Tempo look-alike called Berita, but as of November, their chances of doing so looked slim.
Academic freedom became a major issue late in the year with the military interrogation and dismissal respectively of two noted activist professors from a small Christian university, Satya Wacana Christian University, in Salatiga, Central Java. Dr. Arief Budiman, a Harvard-trained sociologist and professor of development studies at the University, was fired, effective October 31, ostensibly for "making unauthorized comments that damaged the good name" of the university. Budiman was outspoken on everything from human rights to political succession in Indonesia to the need for democracy on campus. Dr. George Aditjondro, who holds a PhD in education, was intensively interrogated by police in the central Javanese city of Yogyakarta in October. He was suspected of having insulted governmental authorities for humorous remarks he made about the political power structure in Indonesia during a university seminar on August 11. He had also been repeatedly criticized by officials for his work on East Timor, suggesting that the death toll in the 1991 Dili massacre was far higher than acknowledged.
The government made no effort to investigate, let alone stop, torture by both the military and police, who are also part of the armed forces. One prominent case publicized during the year involved members of one faction of a church dispute in North Sumatra who were severely tortured in the district military command of Tarutung, North Tapanuli, after their arrest on May 12. They were arrested, in violation of their right to freedom of assembly, on suspicion of having conducted a secret meeting to discuss church affairs; a month afterwards, two were still hospitalized as a result of the torture they suffered. Torture was also a major issue at the trial of eight civilians and one military officer accused in the May 1993 slaying of a labor organizer named Marsinah, whose murder became one of the most notorious human rights cases of the decade. At the trials in Surabaya and Sidoarjo, East Java, between March and July 1994, all of the civilians alleged that they had been tortured during the nineteen-day period in October 1993 and that they had been held in incommunicado detention by the intelligence unit of the East Java division of the army.
The army also stepped up an anti-crime campaign that appeared to involve the extrajudicial execution of criminal suspects, when it launched a so-called Operation Clean-Up in April. The Jakarta police commander gave the upcoming APEC conference as one reason for the draconian measures. At least thirteen suspected criminals were shot dead in the first month of the operation.
East Timor, the territory invaded by Indonesia in 1975 and unlawfully annexed as its twenty-seventh province in 1976, continued to be the site of major human rights abuses, as the government tried to prevent any expression of pro-independence sentiment or dissatisfaction with Indonesian administration. At the same time, there were some signs of movement on the question of East Timor's political status. A "reconciliation meeting" took place in England from September 27 to September 29 between East Timorese working with the Indonesian government and East Timorese exiles, who for the most part, however, were not supporters of the largest resistance organization, the Maubere National Resistance Council (CNRM). A CNRM leader, Jose Ramos Horta, met with Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas in New York on October 7 for further talks, although Indonesia said the talks did not constitute negotiations.
In East Timor itself, tight controls on the freedoms of expression, association and assembly remained in place, and while disappearances and extrajudicial executions were increasingly rare, there was no progress on accounting for past cases. (The U.N. Human Rights Commission's special rapporteur on summary and arbitrary executions visited East Timor at the invitation of the Indonesian government in July.)
Two demonstrations were forcibly broken up by the military. On April 14, a small group of East Timorese held a pro-independence demonstration in front of the hotel in Dili, the capital of East Timor, where a delegation of foreign journalists was staying. They were briefly detained, then released until after the journalists had departed. In early May, eleven young men were arrested in connection with the demonstration, and six were eventually charged and tried. The heaviest sentence was given to Pedro de Fatima, three years and six months for "spreading hatred toward the government of Indonesia."
On July 14, a march of students from the University of East Timor to the local parliament to protest the behavior of Indonesian soldiers and perceived religious insults had just gotten underway when it was forcibly dispersed by the military. The military blamed the students for initiating the violence by throwing stones at security forces, but this account was contradicted by the university's rector, a Javanese named Bratasudarma, who saw developments unfold and said soldiers had led the attack.
Peaceful supporters of independence continued to be arrested. On May 19, an East Timorese theological student named Jose Antonio Neves was arrested in Malang, East Java, while posting a letter from the East Timorese guerrilla leader Konis Santana to supporters attending a conference in Manila. His trial was ongoing in November. Dozens of East Timorese remained in prison for their nonviolent role in organizing or participating in a funeral procession on November 12, 1991, on which Indonesian troops opened fire.
Indonesian sensitivities over East Timor led to an effort to export controls on freedom of expression and assembly to neighboring countries. In May, the Indonesian government tried to stop a conference on East Timor from being held in Manila; after canceling joint venture contracts with Philippine companies and engaging in other heavy-handed tactics, it succeeded in persuading President Fidel Ramos to ban foreigners from attending the four-day Asia-Pacific Conference on East Timor (APCET). Similar pressure was exerted on Malaysia in June and on Thailand in July to stop meetings or demonstrations in support of East Timor.
The Right to Monitor
Indonesia human rights groups faced routine harassment, and the pending presidential decree on NGOs appeared to be aimed in particular at them. One provision in particular would make it possible for the government to dissolve any nongovernmental organization (NGO) that provided assistance to "foreign parties" in a way that could be considered "damaging to Indonesia's foreign policy." Provision of human rights information to international NGOs might well fall in that category.
Some human rights lawyers were arrested during the year. Maiyasyak Djohan, a lawyer with an organization called the Indonesian Institute for Children's Advocacy (Lembaga Advokasi Anak Indonesia) was arrested in September in connection with the April worker unrest in Medan, apparently because of information given to him during confidential conversations with his clients who had been involved in earlier strikes. He was expected to be tried on charges of incitement in November. A lawyer named Munir from the Legal Aid Institute's Surabaya (East Java) branch was arrested and briefly detained on August 19 in Malang, East Java, for advising workers on how to pursue legal claims for unfair dismissal. He was accused of holding a meeting without a permit. As the summit meeting of the APEC organization approached, human rights activists from the Legal Aid Institute and other organizations found themselves under constant surveillance by military intelligence. On November 12, twenty-nine East Timorese climbed into the American embassy compound in Jakarta, demanding a meeting with President Clinton and the release of resistance leader Xanana Gusmao. Other East Timorese who did not make it into the embassy grounds were arrested; as of mid-November, four were in military custody in Jakarta and the fate of some thirty-six others was unclear.
The Role of the International Community
International concern over worker rights and East Timor was more than matched by the increasing tendencies of developed countries to see Indonesia as an emerging regional power and attractive market. The latter view began to prevail in the United States, after a relatively tough stance on human rights during the Clinton administration's first two years led to increasing pressures from sources ranging from the business community to the Australian government, to take a more "constructive" approach.
The American reversal on labor rights was a case in point. After having given the Indonesian government eight months in July 1993 to improve its labor rights policies or face a cut-off of tariff benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program, the U.S. Trade Representative's office decided in February that the legal reforms announced by the Indonesian government in January were sufficient to warrant a decision to "suspend but not terminate" its review of labor rights practices. The legal reforms in question, however, which included revoking a decree that allowed military intervention in labor disputes; allowing workers to negotiate collective bargaining agreements at the workplace level; restructuring the single government-recognized union; and raising the minimum wage, had little effect in practice on abuses of worker rights. In late August, the USTR's office visited Indonesia to assess worker rights again, and despite the fact that key labor organizers were under arrest in Medan and that military intervention in labor disputes continued to be routine, the Clinton administration showed no signs of reviving the pressure.
Indonesian pressure on the Philippines over the East Timor conference in May provoked especially strong reactions in France, where one of the invitees denied a visa to attend was Danielle Mitterand, wife of the French president. Several delegations of parliamentarians visited East Timor during the year, from Britain, Sweden, New Zealand, and Japan. In November, the Japanese parliamentarians, who had visited in August, urged Prime Minister Murayama to raise the issue of human rights in East Timor during his bilateral meeting with President Soeharto at the APEC conference in Jakarta; they also criticized the use of Japanese development aid to monitor shortwave transmission in East Timor.
Several countries expressed concern about the clashes in July between Indonesian soldiers and East Timorese in Remexio and Dili; on July 18, the European Union issued a declaration calling for respect for human rights, access by international organizations and creation of the conditions that would allow a just, lasting and internationally acceptable solution to the question of East Timor.
The newspaper closures in June generated widespread, but muted, international criticism. Australian Prime Minister Gareth Evans called it "a very disappointing development indeed." The initial American response was to express "regret." A somewhat stronger statement, buried in paragraphs of praise for economic achievements, was included in the U.S. delegation's statement at the annual meeting in July of the Consultative Group on Indonesia (CGI), the countries and international lending institutions that provide Indonesia with development aid.
A debate ensued in both Europe and the United States over arms sales to Indonesia. On June 16, the Senate Foreign Operations Subcommittee, in a report attached to the 1995 foreign aid bill, urged the U.S. government to "carefully consider progress in addressing human rights concerns" prior to approving licenses to sell military equipment. The Clinton administration adopted a new policy on Indonesia in 1994, ceasing both sales and the granting of licenses for export of small arms and other crowd control items. The subcommittee report suggested that certain human rights conditions be met before the sales or licensing was resumed. The administration opposed the proposal, and the Indonesian government said it would rather buy arms elsewhere than accept conditions. But on August 1, Congress went ahead with wording that arms sales and export licensing to Indonesia could take place only if the President could report that the Indonesian government was reducing its military presence in East Timor, complying with the recommendations made by the U.N. Human Rights Commission in a resolution on East Timor in March 1993 and working to advance the U.N. Secretary-General's efforts to resolve the political status of the territory.
As it did in 1993, the American embassy in Jakarta played a useful role in raising concerns over a number of human rights issues that arose during the year, including press freedom, the arrest of labor activists and East Timor.