Distributed July 2001
Copyright ©2001 by Janet Gunter
Op-Ed Editor: Janet Kerlin
About 680 Words

Janet Gunter

A new president for Indonesia, continued abuses for citizens

The ascension of Megawati Sukarnoputri was supported by one of the most brutal and unaccountable militaries in the world. Now, the United States and others must press her to become a force for change, reform and true, sustainable peace.

Indonesia has a new president, and while heads of state including President Bush welcomed the transition as a victory for constitutional procedure and democracy, global leaders ignored the fact that her ascension was supported by one of the most brutal and unaccountable militaries in the world.

The national assembly’s appointment earlier this month of Megawati Sukarnoputri is a cause for rejoicing by the military, which successfully flexed its muscle against standing president Abdurrahman Wahid.

World leaders should remember that the military, known as the TNI, came under extreme scrutiny for its crimes against humanity during East Timor’s push for independence in 1999. The TNI then arrogantly shrugged off calls for trials of past abuses, adopting a public rhetoric of human rights while committing more abuses than ever.

The military, sworn opponents to Wahid during his 21-month tenure, consistently defied his attempts at reform. From East Timor to the separatist province of Aceh, from the Moluccas to independence-seeking Irian Jaya, the TNI operated under the mentality of the Suharto era: maintain national integrity at any cost.

In Aceh, brutal military crackdowns and creation of pro-Indonesia paramilitary groups have driven the death rate to one person killed every four hours. Military activity in the province is overseen by Gen. Adam Damiri, the highest-ranking official named for crimes against humanity in the Indonesian Human Rights Commission's own report on East Timor.

The consequences of the military's insubordination to Wahid equaled catastrophe for activists and minorities. Their methods continue to be torture, kidnapping, murder, fostering sectarian violence and creating unstoppable paramilitary movements.

The mutual love between Megawati and the TNI is a result of her cold, hyper-Nationalist pragmatism. Megawati espouses the uncompromising rhetoric of "territorial integrity," and stood against world opinion that favored East Timorese independence. She is well aware that the military has been the puppeteer behind the shadow-play of Indonesian politics since the country's fight for independence from1945 to 1949, when her father worked with the nascent military against the Dutch.

During the Suharto era, the military became an increasingly financially autonomous institution, providing the means for personal and financial advancement for friends of the dictatorship. It is now estimated that 70 percent of the TNI's budget is generated by its own enterprise, including protection rackets, gambling circuits and resource extraction.

After training the Indonesian military in urban and psychological warfare during the 1970s and 1980s, the United States finally instituted a ban on military aid to Indonesia in 1992, and has maintained it since. Starting in 1999, Congress has restricted all military assistance until the halt of abuses by the TNI and the establishment of accountability for past abuses, and obviously these conditions have not been met.

Millions in the troubled regions of Indonesia and those who suffered abuses by the military under the past regime demand reform of the TNI. The U.S. conditions on military aid must stand, regardless of any honeymoon period with Megawati, for there is no democracy without civilian rule.

Her power is in her Cheshire-cat smile. Inheritor of her father's nationalist legacy, she has won over many average Indonesians with her coy, Javanese-princess pose. Now it is time for Megawati to stick up for those who have continued to suffer under the military. She must harness the goodwill from military and political elites and convince them of the necessity of reform. The United States must demand that Megawati be neither a pathetic servant of the Indonesian military nor a mere representative of wealth and power. She must be pressed to become a force for change, reform and true, sustainable peace.

Janet Gunter does research for the Peace-Maintenance Operations Project at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University. She will travel with the Carter Center to East Timor to observe its first election on Aug. 30.