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Indonesia fires back at critics

Vancouver Sun - November 26, 1997

Edward Alden – Indonesia has been under fire since the APEC summit opened in Vancouver six days ago – charged with illegally occupying East Timor, torturing opponents and jailing labour activists. Tuesday, Indonesia fired back.

In a scathing denunciation of his country's critics, Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas accused human rights activists of fabricating torture photographs, and charged the media with distorting his country's record.

"We have been facing a barrage, an anti-Indonesian campaign that is characterized by gross misrepresentation and exaggeration," he told a news conference.

The message in the Western media, he said, is that "the Indonesians are so uncivilized they've barely come out of the trees, and therefore they like to kill babies and so on. There is a limit to the ludicrousness of all these accusations."

The photographs released last week by Canadian East Timorese activist Bella Galitos, which purport to show tortured young women in East Timor, are "misrepresentation, distortion and complete fabrication," Alatas said.

"If you were someone or belonged in a group engaged in torture, would you announce it throughout the world by taking photographs?" he asked [see notes - JB].

"Who takes photographs of so-called torture? It is truly ridiculous." Such photos, he added, "are clearly manipulated."

Alatas said torture does happen "occasionally" in Indonesia and "in many countries." But torture is not Indonesian government policy, he said. The problem is more like the police brutality that takes place in the U.S. or Canada, he said.

Indonesia has been the target of much of the anger in Vancouver over human rights atrocities in some Asian countries. Jose Ramos-Horta, an East Timorese exile and long-time critic of Indonesian President Suharto, was the keynote speaker at last week's People's Summit and met with Premier Glen Clark.

According to the U.S. state department, Indonesia in 1996 "continued to commit serious human rights abuses. . . Security forces continued to torture and mistreat detainees, particularly in regions such as Irian Jaya and East Timor."

Those two areas are part of the 17,000 islands that make up the Indonesian archipelago.

Suharto, a former general in the Indonesian military, has kept an extremely low profile on his visit to Vancouver, where he has been ensconced in the Hotel Vancouver under heavy guard.

While he met with Prime Minister Jean Chretien and U.S. President Bill Clinton, he made no public speeches and generally tried to dodge protesters.

But Alatas attacked Indonesia's critics head on. In addition to his comments on East Timor, he said his widely reported threats against Indonesian nationals who take part in demonstrations in Vancouver were also a serious misrepresentation.

He said he told Indonesian journalists that some measures might be taken against demonstrators and "this was blown up and made into screaming headlines." The comment, he said, referred only to violent demonstrators.

Alatas also stuck to Indonesia's position that human rights should not become part of the agenda in the APEC forum.

He said there is clearly a link between human rights and economic development. Successful development, he said, will strengthen human rights, and protection of human rights will improve development.

But Alatas strongly rejected Western threats to reduce economic cooperation if human rights are not respected. "We are not saying human rights are unimportant. It's very important. But so is development. And each has their own forums and should be pursued with equal vigour and not mixed up."


Despite Alitas' statement that "Who takes photographs of so-called torture? It is truly ridiculous", photographs of victims being tortured are in fact routinely taken by the interrogators themselves and then sold. As for torture not being Indonesian government policy, the following item, taken from section 13 of a Udayana (which covers East Timor) regional command manual titled "Established Procedures for the Interrogation of Prisoners. PROTAP/01-B/VII/1982", suggests otherwise. The manual was one of a number of secret documents which provide conclusive evidence that violence and torture are officially sanctioned as a means of obtaining information. When Amnesty international publicised its existence on July 20, 1983, it caused Jakarta considerable embarrassment, responding with denials and accusations that it was a forgery - James Balowski.

The use of violence and threats

Hopefully, interrogation accompanied by the use of violence will not take place except in certain circumstances when the person being interrogated is having difficultly telling the truth (is evasive).

If it proves necessary to use violence, make sure that there are no people around (members of TBO, Hansip, Ratih or other people) to see what is happening, so as not to arouse people's antipathy. The use of violence often results in the person under interrogation being forced to admit guilt because of fear, and therefore he/she will just comply with all of the wishes of the interrogator. Avoid taking photographs showing torture in progress (people being photographed at times when they are being subjected to electric current, when they have been stripped naked, etc). Remember not to have such photographic documentation developed outside, in Den Pasar, which could then be made available to the public by irresponsible elements.