Konradus Epa, Jakarta – The appointment of a new military commander for Jakarta has sparked a row in Indonesia after rights groups accused him of taking part in abuses committed during civil unrest more than 20 years ago.
Indonesia's military chief General Andika Perkasa appointed Major General Untung Budiharto as the Jakarta military commander on Jan. 6.
On Jan. 9, rights groups condemned the appointment, saying Budiharto was a member of a special unit commanded by the current defense minister, Prabowo Subianto, that kidnapped at least 22 pro-democracy activists during civil unrest in 1997 and 1998 before the fall of Suharto's regime.
Of those kidnapped, 13 activists are still missing.
"We wholeheartedly condemn this appointment of a military officer deeply involved in a human rights violation case to such an important position in the military," Usman Hamid, executive director of Amnesty International Indonesia, said in a statement.
"The appointment clearly shows there is no accountability within the Indonesian military, which has also shown it is insensitive to the suffering of the victims' families," he told UCA News.
This appointment is extremely hurtful to the victims' families. It shows that the state would rather roll out a red carpet to a human rights violator in Indonesia
Hamid pointed to Budiharto having been among several members of the unit, called the Rose Team, who faced a military court over the kidnappings.
They were found guilty but the sentences were kept secret, which left rights groups assuming the punishments were light – even non-existent – and to call the proceedings a sham.
Fatia Maulidiyanti, from the Commission for Disappeared Persons and Victims of Violence (KontraS), questioned the government's commitment to upholding human rights following the appointment.
"From regime to regime, there is no commitment to human rights cases," Maulidiyanti told UCA News on Jan 8.
"This appointment is extremely hurtful to the victims' families. It shows that the state would rather roll out a red carpet to a human rights violator in Indonesia."
Paian Siahaan, the father of Ucok Siahaan, one of the missing activists, expressed dismay.
"President Joko Widodo has broken his promise to give justice to victims' families when we met him twice at the Presidential Palace where he said he would resolve the case," he said.