A. Muh. Ibnu Aqil, Jakarta – The Defense Ministry has played down criticism leveled at Minister Prabowo Subianto over his working visit to the United States following concerns raised by activists against his past alleged human rights violations.
The minister's spokesman Dahnil Azhar Simanjuntak said the ministry respected those who criticized Prabowo's diplomatic visit.
"Prabowo has received various criticisms and allegations during his tenure serving this country [as an Army officer] and a politician. We respect any critic and rejections," he said in a video statement on Thursday.
He said the Gerindra Party chairman had kicked off his first ever working visit to the US from Thursday to Monday by discussing defense cooperation between Indonesia and the US. In the US, Prabowo is scheduled to meet his US counterpart Mark Esper.
"Prabowo is fulfilling the invitation from the US government. [The visit] is aimed at strengthening US-Indonesia defense cooperation," Dahnil further said.
Prabowo's first visit to the US since he was banned from entering the country 20 years ago, and the first in his capacity as defense minister, has garnered criticism from rights groups who highlighted that the change of policy violates human rights principles and even contradicts US laws.
Prabowo was previously banned from entering the US due to a blanket ban on Army's Special Forces (Kopassus) officers who allegedly carried out human rights violations in East Timor when the territory was under Indonesian rule.
As many as 12 civil society organizations voiced their objections in a joint letter to US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo over Prabowo's visit to the US. The group urged the US government to revoke the diplomatic invitation if it included immunity for the crimes Prabowo had allegedly committed.
The groups included Amnesty International Indonesia, the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), the Setara Institute and the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH Jakarta)
Amnesty International USA national director for advocacy and government affairs Joanne Lin said in the letter that allowing Prabowo to enter the US could be a violation of the Leahy Laws.
The Leahy Laws prohibit the US government from using its resources to assist units of foreign security forces that are proven to be involved in committing gross human rights violations.
"We urge you to clarify that the visa issued to Prabowo does not extend any form of immunity to him and to ensure that if he does travel to the US, he is properly and promptly investigated," Lin said.