APSN Banner

Rights watchdog lashes out at court martial

Agence France Presse - December 26, 1998

Jakarta – A leading Indonesian human rights watchdog Saturday lashed out at the court martial of 11 soldiers on charges of abducting activists as "simplistic," and demanded that their commanding officers also be dragged to court.

The Jakarta Military High Court on Wednesday opened the court martial of the soldiers with the prosecutor saying the defendants had acted on their own initiative in the abduction and torture of activists in the last months of the Suharto era.

"That the abductions were conducted by the defendants because of their 'calls of conscience' to safeguard the national interest, is not only illogical ... but also directly closes the road for the legal process against their superiors," the Indonesian Association for Legal Aid and Human Rights said in a statement.

The association said the soldiers would not have dared to act on their own in holding activists for lengthy periods at their units' facilities. "The 'call of conscience' argument appears not only simplistic but also foolish and far-fetched," it added.

The prosecutor has said that the defendants, eight of them junior officers, were all members of the Kopassus elite corps and had formed a "Rose Team" that abducted at least nine activists in February and March. Kopassus was under the command of a son-in-law of former president Suharto, now-retired general Prabowo Subianto, at the time of the kidnappings.

The elite troops were believed to be involved in the kidnapping and torture of at least 23 activists in the months preceding the resignation of Suharto in May. But the charges only relate to the nine activists who have since surfaced with tales of torture and incarceration. One other activist has been found dead and 13 are still missing.

Military prosecutor Colonel Harom Wijaya said the Rose Team was set up by one of the defendants to arrest individuals deemed "radical" because "his conscience called for safeguarding the national interest." If found guilty the 11 defendants, who have been in detention since July 14, face up to seven years' imprisonment.

The association said that the charges were meant to block further legal moves against the defendants' superiors, adding that a "just" trial should also investigate the commanding officers.

"This means the legal process should be extended to cover not only retired lieutenant general Prabowo Subianto but also the heads of the Jakarta police and military, the chief of the national police and the army, the armed forces commander," it said. Suharto, as the then commander in chief of the armed forces, should also be investigated over the case, it added.

Munir, the head of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), had earlier described the court martial as a "comedy." He said after the trial opened that it was designed "to minimalize the faults of ABRI (the Indonesian armed forces) as an institution and turn it into a procedural mistake by a number of Kopassus members." Munir also questioned why the charges did not mention the torture that the victims have said they were subjected to.

Three senior Kopassus officers, including Prabowo, have been disciplined by the armed forces. Prabowo was honorably discharged from the armed forces and is now in Jordan. The two others were barred from holding an operational command posting within the armed forces. The court martial is to resume on December 31.