More information on Indonesia

More information on Indonesia

Indonesia's military ("TNI") and the United States government have been compromised by serious human rights abuses committed by Indonesian security forces. This troubled relationship came to a crisis point after raging violence by military and militias in September 1999. After the people of East Timor overwhelming voted for independence from Indonesia in a UN-supervised referendum. Indonesia's retreating military and militias terrorized, killed, and drove people from their villages. Open brutality and systematic devastation of the country's food, water, power and other infrastructure shocked the world and led Congress to cut off direct military/financial support of TNI.

Following the "reformasi" movement and dictator Suharto's forced resignation, the Indonesian government became more democratic and transparent. As detailed below, Aceh and West Papua (formerly Irian Jaya), at opposite ends of Indonesia, not only geographically removed from the federal government, but apparently also removed from the effects of attempted reforms.

Impunity remains a signal feature of Indonesia's security forces: military and police as well as militias. Lower-level people have been charged and sometimes convicted of human rights abuses; but never are TNI general officers or senior police officers held accountable for human rights crimes committed under their commands. A few specific examples are cited below. The Amnesty International Report 2005 states of Indonesia that, "The majority of human rights violations were not investigated, and only a few investigations led to prosecutions. By the end of the year only one person remained convicted for crimes against humanity committed in Timore-Leste in 1999." (That person has yet to be jailed.)


In August 2002 two US school teachers and an Indonesian working in West Papua,were shot to death in an ambush that appears to be connected to Indonesian military forces. Congress responded by maintaining curbs on reporting requirements on foreign financial aid (FMF), requiring the State Department certify that Indonesia had met certain criteria in the investigation of the killings. A flawed investigation of the murders, including by an FBI team whose access was impeded indicates responsibility by one minor player who may have ties to TNI. In February 2005, against the advice and testimony of Amnesty International, other human rights organizations, and the widow of one of the teachers killed, Secretary of State Rice certified that Indonesia had satisfied Congress's requirements. Yet the case "remains open."

The Indonesian government has thus far been unable or unwilling to effectively prosecute upper-level officers in the security forces. A September 8th acquittal in West Papua of two senior Indonesian police officers, accused of allowing the killing of three Papuan students and the torture of over a hundred others is a worrying illustration of Indonesia's security forces again being allowed to escape justice.

The case concerned an incident on December 7, 2000 when police officers, under the command of senior officers Johny Wainal Usman and Daud Sihombing, raided student dormitories in Abepura, in Indonesia's Papua province. One student was shot dead during the raids. Over a hundred other students were detained and tortured, including pregnant women and children as young as seven. Two other students died as a result of the torture and another was left paralysed for life.

During democratic reforms, Indonesia's national police, including "riot control" troops (BRIMOB) were separated from the military. The relationship between police and military sometimes is complicit, and sometimes adversarial. It has not resulted in significant accountability for abuses, especially in the remote provinces.


In August 2005 Indonesia and Aceh separatists (GAM) signed a peace agreement (Memorandum of Understanding) after the tsunami that leaves Aceh still devastated. It remains untested whether the agreement will be fully observed. Only five months after a 2002 truce agreement with GAM, Indonesia simultaneously declared a "military emergency" and sent massive forces into Aceh, while refusing access to journalists, independent observers such as Amnesty International and aid organizations. As things stand, observers on the ground in Aceh have seen that the security situation is still a problem, and immediately after signing the MoU, Indonesian troops engaged in conflicts with GAM members in a area off-limits to the military under provisions of the agreement. A monitoring team from the European Union and Asian countries will be responsible for implementing the agreement; that team has yet to report any findings.


  • Impunity. Since early 2001, repressive legislation has been used with increasing frequency against government critics including labor and political activists, journalists, and activists in Aceh and West Papua. In contrast to the acquittals of the officers mentioned above, a recent example of old-style Indonesian suppression is the extraordinarily harsh sentences imposed on two Papuans who participated in an annual ceremonial flag raising. Filep Karma and Yusek Package were sentenced to 15 years and 10 years respectively, despite the prosecutor's recommendation of 5 years. Amnesty recognizes them as Prisoners of Conscience.
  • Murdered Human Rights activist. Consider also the case of Munir, a prominent human rights activist who last year was poisoned by arsenic while on a flight on the Indonesian airline Garuda. After the Dutch authorities definitely established that he had been poisoned, surveillance tapes from the Jakarta airport mysteriously disappeared, and later a pilot was charged by Indonesia with the murder. The case has not been resolved.
  • Environment and human rights. A US corporation, Freeport McMoran Copper and Gold Inc. owns 90% of the gigantic Grasberg mine in West Papua, which contains the largest gold reserves and the second largest copper reserves in the world. This mine has long been of concern to environmentalists and human rights organizations. In August 2002 two US school teachers and an Indonesian working in the mine's company town were shot to death in an ambush that appeared to be connected to Indonesian military forces. When the FBI sent a team to investigate the murders, their access was hampered.

Learn more: Global Witness Report: Paying for Protection; the Freeport Mine and the Indonesian security forces. »