Indonesia poses test for US on human rights

  • From: "Muslim News" <editor_@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <submit@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sat, 15 Jun 2002 10:24:19 +0100

Bush wants to give military aid to Jakarta. Critics see terror war
eclipsing democracy. 

WASHINGTON - The outrage was global in the late 1990s when Indonesia's
military and goon-like militias associated with the army ran roughshod
through independence-seeking East Timor. The human rights abuses were so
wanton that the United States cut all cooperation with the Indonesian
armed forces. 

Now just three years later, the Bush administration wants to reestablish
assistance to Indonesia's military – arguing the world's fourth-largest
country and largest majority-Muslim nation is too important to the fight
against international terrorism to hold at arm's length. 

The idea is sounding alarms among human rights activists and some
members of Congress, who fear Indonesia is one more example of how
concern for human rights is suddenly taking a distant back seat to
national security interests. 

"The environment has got much tougher for human rights principles," says
Michael Ignatieff, a human rights expert at the Kennedy School of
Government at Harvard University. Citing a list of countries to which
the US has extended aid or sent military advisers to help fight a
terrorist threat – including Afghanistan, the Philippines, Georgia,
Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan – Mr. Ignatieff adds: "Does the focus on
national security really justify ... supplying arms to anyone who waves
a flag in our face?" 

To these critics, the new era of played-down human rights concerns is
alarmingly reminiscent of the cold war. Just as the cold war caused the
US to place a premium on friendly regimes over governments that
respected democratic rights, the international battle with terror is
shrouding human rights concerns. 

"During the cold war, anyone who said they were anticommunist got our
support, and we often ignored their repressive, corrupt practices, or
their involvement in other illegal activity," says Tim Rieser, an aide
to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont, one of the US Senate's top human
rights watchdogs. 

A similar trend is advancing now, he says. Amnesty International places
a spotlight on the waning of human rights concerns in its 2002
international report, saying the "gains of many years" have been "set
back" by curbs on civil liberties and a resurgence in the power of
militaries. 

Supporters of military assistance in cases like Indonesia's say that in
addition to helping hit terrorism in its cradles, aid also gives the US
leverage – including in demanding improvements in respect for human
rights – where it wouldn't otherwise have it. 

American leverage with both Pakistan and India in their conflict over
Kashmir is as strong as it is because of the military and other ties the
US has with both countries, supporters note. 

Sounding a similar argument on Indonesia, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul
Wolfowitz is aware of the kinds of problems in Indonesia that raise
human rights groups' antennae. "The military's problems are
significant," he says, noting they have been guilty of "abusing their
own people." But Mr. Wolfowitz, a former ambassador to Indonesia, says
the risks are too great to leave the sprawling archipelago country
without close US involvement helping it along the right path. 

"Indonesia's experiment with democracy ... could be a very important
model for the rest of the Islamic world," Wolfowitz told a Washington
audience last week. "But if it degenerates into conflict ... it could
have a severely negative impact on the world." 

The US cut off military cooperation in 1999 over abuses during East
Timor's fight for independence. Groups monitoring human rights in
Indonesia say that not only do military officers involved in past abuses
enjoy impunity, but new abuses are also mounting in several provinces. 

Wolfowitz, however, says that the government of President Megawati
Sukarnoputri is "eager to work with the United States to reform" the
military. Working from that premise, the administration earlier this
year asked Congress to approve $16 million in antiterrorism assistance
to Indonesia: half to create a rapid-reaction force for the remote
provinces, half to train the National Police in counterterrorism. The
administration also wants to allow military officials eligibility for
counterterrorism fellowships. 

Congress approved the funding for the national police, but is so far
balking at renewing ties to the military. At the same time, two
influential senators, Lincoln Chafee (R) of Rhode Island and Russell
Feingold (D) of Wisconsin, are calling for both "robust" assistance to
the newly independent East Timor and maintaining all restrictions on
relations with the Indonesian armed forces. 

The Asia director of Human Rights Watch in Washington, Mike
Jendrzejczyk, says his work on Indonesia suggests that while the
military under President Megawati is "more confident and assertive than
ever," there has been little meaningful reform or pressure from the US.
One problem, he says, is a "split" in the Bush administration over how
much cooperation is warranted, with the State Department less willing
than the Pentagon and some White House advisers to overlook human rights
abuses. 

Others say the issue of assistance to Indonesia will sharpen further as
the general debate over human rights and security intensifies. In the
case of Uzbekistan, for example, the US continues to be criticized for
stepping up military cooperation to a regime that the State Department,
in a report released in March, says violently represses political
dissidents. 

Others question some aspects of the US role in Afghanistan. Harvard
Professor Ignatieff pinpoints the dilemma for the US as being how far to
cooperate with and encourage some of Afghanistan's local warlords. 

"The approach that 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend' is growing,
though it's proven to be a poor guide to foreign policy in the past," he
says. "It's a recurrent temptation that always gets us in trouble." 

Source:  The Christian Science Monitor

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