Defense minister, TNI chief’s statements on rights violations condemned

Kompas – December 20, 2008
Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono (riaugreen)
Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono (riaugreen)

Jakarta – Although admitting that they may contains some truth, statements by a number of public officials on human rights violations during the National Human Rights and State Defense Seminar at the Department of Defence on Thursday December 18 are believed to be incomplete have the potential to mislead the public.

On Friday, National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) chairperson Ifdhal Kasim even said that statements by officials, particularly Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono, indicate the strength of the leftover of a culture of denial within state official circles.

“So, 10 years of reformasi appears to have not yet been able to do away with this culture of denial, particularly over how to realise accountability for human rights violations that have occurred in the past”, said Kasim.

According to Kasim, if there is indeed a desire to resolve a problem, the government though the Attorney General’s Office should follow up the results of Komnas HAM’s investigations in to various cases. This is particularly so bearing in mind that Komnas HAM found alleged gross human rights violations in these cases.

“It is the AGO’s job to follow up investigations for the sake of ascertaining [the truth of] our findings. However, this has never been done and there are some that to this day have been refuted based on personal opinions and by not complying with existing legal procedures”, said Kasim.

As reported, Sudarsono stated recently that accusations of gross human rights violations by government institutions, particularly the Indonesian military (TNI), in number of past cases such as Talangsari1 and the abduction of activists2 are only anecdotal accusations.

In a speech written by TNI Commander in Chief General Djoko Santoso meanwhile, he called on all parties not to see these incidents in black-and-white terms. What was done by the military at the time was within the context of state defense and safeguarding national integrity. Furthermore, violence committed by state institutions is indeed the military’s legitimate authority (the monopoly of legitimate violence).

“Certainly it is true that the state has the authority to use violence, but its application must be in accordance with legal, humanitarian and human rights standards. The defenders of the state must still be guided by the rules of a civilised country”, said Kasim.

Kasim criticised Sudarsono’s argument, which in his view gave the impression of trying to monopolise the truth. According to Kasim, if they do indeed want to clarify these issues, the government, including Sudarsono, but be open to the investigation process carried out by his institution (Komnas HAM), particularly in cases of past violations.

Contacted separately, other human rights activists also reacted strongly. Asmara Nababan from the Indonesian civil liberties group Demos asserted that a decision as to whether there was or was not gross human rights committed in the past, such as Talangsari, should be made by an ad hoc human rights court.

“The statements by Sudarsono and [other] government officials are disappointing because they are not illuminating for society. It’s all very well to say that the state has the authority to use violence. But, there are provisions on this matter and that was what was not explained”, he said.

Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) coordinator Usman Hamid said that the military in the past (then known as ABRI) was used as a tool of oppression by the authoritarian regime in various kinds of “clothing”. But even in the context of war or confronting an armed struggle, he continued, the military is still bound by humanitarian law or the Geneva Convention, which was ratified by Indonesia on September 30, 1958.

According to Hamid, the ethics of humanitarian law require the fulfillment of the principles of military necessity, a code of military professionalism and humanitarianism. Meaning, while each party is allowed to use violence against its opponent, this cannot be allowed to be done in a deceitful manner. The principles of humanitarianism also prohibit the use of violence that causes excessive injury.

“Capturing the enemy is more important that wounding them, let alone killing them. Non-combatants must be kept clear of the battle field and the wounded should be treated”, said Hamid. (DWA)


1. The Talangsari incident revolves around a dawn attack by a battalion of army soldiers on the village in Lampung regency on February 7, 1989, which was believed to be home to a group accused of attempting to establish an Indonesian Islamic state. Officials said 27 members of the Warsidi-led Koran recital group were killed in the incident, but rights groups put the death toll as high as 246.

2. Between 1997 and 1998 as many as fourteen pro-democracy activists were abducted by members of the elite Special Forces Kopassus. After extended periods of detention – in many cases the victims were severely tortured – most were released although four remain missing and are presumed dead.

[Translated by James Balowski.]