APSN Banner

Indonesia's military honour for Prabowo 'vulgar', disrespects human rights victims: critics

South China Morning Post - February 28, 2024

Resty Woro Yuniar – Indonesia's President Joko Widodo on Wednesday awarded the country's defence minister and presumptive president-elect, Prabowo Subianto, the honorary rank of four-star general, a move critics blasted as "vulgar political manoeuvring" and a betrayal of the victims of human rights abuses.

The outgoing leader said during the ceremony at the National Armed Forces' headquarters in Jakarta that he was bestowing the honour as "a form of appreciation as well as confirmation of [Prabowo's] complete devotion to the people, nation and state".

Prabowo is only the seventh person to receive the honorary title since the late dictator Suharto, Prabowo's former father-in-law, resigned in 1998. He told reporters the award was a "heavy" responsibility to bear.

The Civil Society Coalition, which represents 22 pro-democracy, human rights and justice advocacy groups, condemned the move as a "wrong step" and accused Widodo of helping to cover up his defence minister's alleged human rights violations to strengthen their political alliance.

"This is not only inappropriate but also hurts the victims... and betrays the 1998 Reformation movement," it said, referring to the movement that led to Suharto's fall and helped usher in democracy.

Prabowo was dismissed from the military in 1998 after the Honorary Council of Officers determined he was involved in the kidnapping of at least 23 pro-democracy activists. Of those seized, one was found dead, nine were freed, and 13 remain missing to this day. The case was one of several allegations of human rights abuses Prabowo faced during his 28 years of service.

Analysts said the new rank showed Prabowo had gained not just the presumptive presidency from his alliance with Widodo – which was formed in 2019 when he joined the leader's second-term cabinet – but exculpation from his past rights abuses.

Prabowo's decades-long ban from entering Australia and the United States – due to his alleged involvement in military crimes that took place during Indonesia's occupation of East Timor – was lifted after he became Widodo's defence minister.

Paian Siahaan, father of Ucok Munandar, one of the missing activists, on Wednesday said he was "disappointed" in Widodo for awarding the rank to Prabowo.

"How is it that people who have been fired from the [armed forces] are given promotions without any rehabilitation? Can people suspected of being perpetrators of crimes against humanity, or human rights violators be given promotions?" he said, as quoted by local news website Tempo.

"My response is that Jokowi is out of his mind. This country has been damaged by Jokowi," Paian added, referring to Widodo by his popular nickname.

Nicky Fahrizal, a political researcher at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies Indonesia, said the award underlined Widodo's "vulgar political manoeuvring".

"We know for sure that Prabowo had problems during his military career. What happened today is Jokowi sending a message that he wants to resolve this issue by giving Prabowo the title of a four-star general," Fahrizal said. "This is a bad precedent for the future, because Jokowi signals to the public that a president can do anything, even if it is beyond reason."

For Prabowo, the rank promotion would "restore his dignity", but it likely came with the expectation that he would have to continue Widodo's programmes during his presidency, Fahrizal said.

Widodo dismissed claims by critics that Prabowo's new title was a political gift.

"If this is a political transaction, we would give it before the election. [I awarded the title] after the election so that there won't be assumptions like that," Widodo said on Wednesday, adding that it was Indonesia's armed forces commander General Agus Subiyanto who suggested Prabowo be given the promotion.

Tubagus Hasanudin, a lawmaker from Widodo's own ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, called Prabowo's honorary title "unlawful".

"Active duty soldiers can be given honorary ranks. For example, a major who does well in combat can be awarded and promoted to lieutenant colonel, and an active colonel who performs well can be promoted to brigadier general, but if you retire there is no promotion. You can only be given service stars," Hasanudin, an army veteran, told This Week in Asia.

"The president does have prerogative rights, but please make decisions in accordance with the laws. If it is true that Prabowo has contributed to the country, don't promote his rank, just give him a service star," he said. "That is more honourable and in accordance with existing law."

Source: https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/politics/article/3253565/indonesias-military-honour-prabowo-vulgar-disrespects-human-rights-victims-critic