Activists outraged at promotion of disgraced Indonesian soldiers
Fabio Scarpello in Denpasar
Revelations this week that the Indonesian military quietly reinstated then promoted officers who had been drummed out of the forces for kidnapping pro-democracy campaigners have angered activists who see it as further evidence of a stalled post-Suharto reform process.
Otto Syamsuddin Ishak, of the human rights group Imparsial, called for an immediate separation of roles between the military and civilian courts.
'What has transpired is ludicrous and offensive for the victims and their families,' he said. 'The military courts should only deal with internal disciplinary actions, and soldiers who commit criminal acts should go to public courts, which are more transparent.'
At present, soldiers are tried in military courts, which treat most crimes as acts of indiscipline.
But the House of Representatives and the Defence Ministry have agreed to alter the Military Tribunal Bill to enable soldiers to be tried in civilian courts for criminal offences. The amendments are scheduled to be implemented within three years.
The latest uproar follows the disclosure in the media that two members of the so-called Team Mawar have been promoted to important military posts.
Team Mawar was an Indonesian armed forces unit (TNI) responsible for kidnapping 22 pro-democracy activists in 1998. The 22 were eventually released.
In 1999, the Jakarta Military High Court sent five of the unit's officers to prison and discharged them from active service. Six others were jailed, but remained in the army.
Among those discharged were Fausani Multhazar and Untung Budi Harto, who have recently emerged as commanders of military districts in Central Java and the Maluku islands respectively.
It has now been disclosed that the officers appealed to the Supreme Court, whose verdict was never made public.
When questioned by reporters, the head of the TNI, Air Chief Marshal Djoko Suyanto, said officers who had served their sentences may resume their careers 'unless they were indeed dismissed from active service'.
Confusing the matter, the TNI's chief spokesman, Sagom Tamboen, has since said that, based on dossiers at the TNI legal department, only a former major, Bambang Kristiono, Team Mawar's commander, was discharged from active service.
Regardless, Haris Azhar, from the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence, said the Team Mawar case was another example of the political establishment's reluctance to settle human rights abuses and pursue meaningful reform of the TNI.
'Both the parliament and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono seem unwilling to want justice for past cases of abuse,' he said. 'Yudhoyono may be reluctant because of his military background and his good relationship with some generals involved in past crimes.'
Various organisations have asked the government to establish a human rights court to solve the case of the kidnapped activists, and other cases, but the military insisted on using its own court.
'Unfortunately, this means that the reform process, and that of the military in particular, is not really working,' Mr Azhar added.
The reform of the TNI, the most powerful institution in Indonesia, was the main objective of the reform movement after the 1998 downfall of Suharto's dictatorship.
Marcus Mietzner, a political analyst living in Jakarta, recently noted that 'Indonesia has made remarkable progress in advancing military reforms', but that 'serious omissions and failures persisted'.
'Most important, policymakers did not proceed with initiatives to reform the territorial command structure,' he said.
He was referring to the system that allows the TNI to maintain units in every area and level, parallel to the civil government structure.
In February, Human Rights Watch said Jakarta's apparent unwillingness to take over the TNI business empire, as laid out in a 2004 law, 'undermines civilian control over the TNI and fuels human rights abuses'.
The TNI is responsible for most of its own funding, which comes from an array of legal and illegal ventures.