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Indonesia: US speaks out, Canberra silent

Sydney Morning Herald - February 1, 1997

Jennifer Hewett, Washington – The United States has accused the Indonesian Government of committing "serious human rights abuses", in contrast to Australia's muted stance on the issue.

In its annual report on human rights in 193 countries, the US State Department criticised Indonesia's record, citing many abuses and what it called "pervasive corruption".

"Despite a surface adherence to democratic reforms," the report says, "the Indonesian political system remains strongly authoritarian. There continued to be numerous credible reports of human rights abuses by the military and the police."

In even harsher language than in previous reports, the State Department says rising pressure for change in Indonesia has triggered tough Government action that further infringe fundamental rights. "In practice, legal protections against torture are inadequate and security forces continued to torture and mistreat detainees, particularly in regions such as Irian Jaya and East Timor."

The report's uncompromising judgments and detailed examination of human rights complaints will irritate the Indonesian Government and make it much harder for the White House to get Congressional approval for the proposed sale of F-16 warplanes to Indonesia this year.

This week, Indonesia's Foreign Minister, Mr Ali Alatas, attacked what he called the West's "double standards" on human rights, referring in particular to US criticism over East Timor.

Mr Alatas presented as an example the criticisms raised by a US Congressman, Mr Patrick Kennedy, who recently wrote to the Indonesian Government seeking information about the fate of East Timorese arrested after anti-Government riots on Christmas Eve.

"In my reply to him, I said it was very strange for him to be so persistent in his questions about those detained but not express any concerns about the one who died and the many who were injured," Mr Alatas said.

The letter highlighted the West's "continuing hypocrisy" and "double standards", he said, adding that it was common in many countries for demonstrators to be arrested after a protest turned violent.

The White House - under pressure about campaign donations from Indonesia's wealthy Riady family - is unlikely to soften the rhetoric towards Indonesia even it does not alter its policies significantly.

The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to a Timorese activist and the region's Catholic bishop last year has sharpened the US focus on the plight of the East Timorese.

The US approach is increasingly at odds with Australia's. Both Liberal and Labor governments have refused to offer anything but mild and general public comments about what is happening in Indonesia.

The US report cited human rights abuses of other Asian countries, in particular the military regime in Burma, abuses in the Indian judicial system and the repressive political regime in North Korea.

Saudi Arabia, which last year beheaded 66 people, was among several Middle Eastern countries criticised for systematically denying their citizens' human rights. Both Israeli and Palestinian authorities were blamed for abuse and torture of political prisoners.

The State Department, while generally approving Australia's human rights record, says Aborigines continue to suffer "significantly higher rates of imprisonment, inferior access to medical and educational infrastructure, greatly reduced life expectancy rates, elevated levels of unemployment, and general discrimination which contribute to an overwhelming feeling of disenfranchisement".

[The US State Department report cited above was sent to ASIET branches on February 3. If branches have not seen/recived the report, please let me know and I'll send it again - JB]