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Dismay at Honour Council procedure

Tapol - August 4, 1998

Several leading human rights activists have expressed their dismay with the decision of the armed forces commander in chief, General Wiranto, to set up a military Honour Council, DKP, to investigate Lieutenant-General Prabowo and two other top-ranking officers, all connected with the army's elite force, Kopassus, in connection with the abduction of activists.

Their concerns are reported in Suara Pembaruan on 4 August. The common thread is their dissatisfaction that such a procedure will not reveal the political motivation behind the abductions. All army officers suspected in connection with the abductions should be tried before a military court, they stress.

Munir, director of Kontras, Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence, said that the DKP would be taking over the role of the courts which are the only mechanism to get to the bottom of the abduction affair. Handing the matter over to the DKP was discriminatory in that it allowed top-ranking officers suspected of crimes to be heard in more 'congenial' circumstances.

Asmara Nababan, member of the National Human Rights Commission, said that although he disagreed with the formation of a DKP to hear these officers, he hoped that this would be the first step towards investigating the officers' involvement before taking them to a military court. He also hoped that these investigations would be the opening shot in an investigation of the Jakarta riots in May. He was of the opinion that the abductions were part of a series of activities undertaken by those who organised the riots.

Unlike Nababan, Munir as well as Hendardi, director of PBHI, the Institute for Legal Aid and Human Rights, reject the DKP procedure altogether for a number of reasons, not least because the hearings will not be held in public.

Hendardi said that what the President should do is set up a fact-finding commission including representatives of the armed forces, NGOs and the United Nations. Wiranto's announcement setting up the DKP suggested that only Kopassus was involved whereas investigations by human rights NGOs pointed to the involvement of other units.

Munir said that the DKP investigations lessen the chances of investigating officers from other units. From its own investigations, Kontras had come to the conclusion that officers from the Jakarta military command and the armed forces intelligence agency, BIA, were also involved.

Professor of Law, Dr JE Sahepaty was concerned that by leaving the matter to the Honour Council, top-ranking officers would be absolved from having to confront the law. 'Frankly speaking, I don't agree with this Council because the armed forces have been responsible for many abuses in East Timor, Aceh and irian Jaya,' he said.

He was also worried that a number of lower-ranking Kopassus officers would be brought to court before the whereabouts of the fourteen missing persons had been established. He said that as things now stood, the men would only face charges of abduction. But things would be quite different if it was later discovered that some of the missing men were dead. In such a case, would it be possible to take the same men to court on charges of murder? There is a clear difference in law between abduction and murder.

Retired officer Bambang Triatoro expressed the view that the Council would fulfil its task even though the chairman, General Subagyo, chief of staff of the army, was known to have been a close associate of Prabowo. He suggested that people should not be sceptical of the outcome because of this.

[By raising this, Bambang is in fact drawing attention to a basic flaw in the Council. Indeed, up until the last minute, there were doubts about Subagyo's position, amid rumours that he might be replaced because he is known to be a Prabowo man. With a close associate as chair, many observers feel, Prabowo can expect to make a soft landing - Tapol.]