Monday, February 10, 1997

Mixed Initial Reaction to US Report on Indonesia

The Nation

JAKARTA, 10 February 1997 -- Indonesians have given varied responses to a critical report published by the US State Department citing corruption, serious human rights abuses and excessive use of force in the country's crackdown on dissidents.

Some Muslim activists attacked the report, saying that the US government was hypocritical and should not intervene in Indonesia's internal affairs. "The report clearly indicates the tendency in America to meddle in Indonesia's domestic affairs," one activist said.

More sober intellectuals, however, said that Indonesian officials do not need to overreact to the report, saying the government should admit the allegations are true and solve them.

The report was published on Jan 30 and is usually used as a standard reference among US executive and legislative bodies to draft its foreign policy. It said rising pressure for change in Indonesia has triggered tough government action that further infringed on fundamental rights.

"Legal protection against torture is inadequate and security forces continue to torture and mistreat detainees, particularly in Irian Jaya and East Timor," the report said.

"Despite a surface adherence to democratic reform, the Indonesian political system remains strongly authoritarian. There continues to be numerous credible reports of human rights abuses by the military and the police," it continued.

The State Department's annual survey of 194 countries and territories, however, also said that there were "encouraging signs along with substantial grounds for continuing concern".

It explained the primary mission of the 450,000-member Indonesian Armed Forces is the maintenance of internal unity and stability. Military spending is about 1.4 per cent of the gross national product, but the armed forces retained substantial non- military powers under a "dual function" concept that accords it a political and social role in developing the nation.

No progress was made in accounting for those still missing in the 1991 and 1995 crackdowns in the former Portuguese colony of East Timor, the report said, where the number of troops used were "unjustifiably high".

Authorities also maintained their tight grip on the political process and denied "citizens the ability to change their government democratically".

Foreign Minister Ali Alatas said on Feb 5: "There are many aspects in the report not based on fact and which we believe have been exaggerated. We will give a response to the report."

Independent observers said the report was well researched, full of details, quite moderate and did not differ much from those by some Indonesian non-governmental rights organisations.

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