Indonesia’s Military in Trouble

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Indonesia’s Military in Trouble

A controversial video showing the torture of two Papuans is an embarrassment for the military and the government.

The Indonesian military has been pushed into a corner after embarrassing the country’s leader over a stalled investigation into the torture of two Papuans, with the National Human Rights Commission saying it can now produce the evidence that senior brass claimed they couldn’t find.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, during her trip to Indonesia last year, had boundless faith in military assurances that justice would be found for the accused pair after a video of the men being horrifically tortured was widely circulated in October of last year.

The footage is divided into two halves. The first shows a group of Papuans being kicked and punched by men in jungle greens. The second part shows one man tied and naked and a burning stick being shoved against his genitals. Another was meanwhile held at knife point.

The incident took place in Puncak District last May during an interrogation about a weapons cache. Jakarta insists the heavy military presence in the province is justified by heavily armed separatists and the protection of economic interests, in particular mining concessions.

But government men have never been that popular in the province. Papua was handed over to Indonesia by the former colonial power the Dutch in 1963. Sovereignty was later formalized through a government-sponsored, some say stage-managed, vote by about 1000 community leaders.
Importantly, the video seemed at odds with Indonesia’s claims of its willingness to uphold human rights and that any previous violations were a thing of the past. This again came into question when senior brass said no witnesses had come forward and that they had no choice but to close the case.

The Australians were dubious, and its ambassador expressed Canberra’s disappointment. Amnesty International led the international chorus of condemnation among NGOs, while National Human Rights Commission launched its own investigations.Some were left wondering whether old allegiances between the military and Yudhoyono would spare soldiers potentially harsh penalties despite government assurances a proper independent inquiry would be held after it confirmed the torturers were indeed, their soldiers.

The commission says it encountered stonewalling tactics by the military and an insistence that no evidence existed. It then located the victims, who are apparently ready to testify, and now wants the case re-opened as a joint investigation—and it intends to provide the evidence.

According to the commission, its own probe had determined the military had committed serious human rights violations and carried out torture, cruel and inhuman treatment that demeans Papuans. Human rights groups argue that torture and intimidation remains widespread as a means of interrogation by the military despite Jakarta ratifying the United Nations Convention against Torture in 1998.

They argue this is partially because the military enjoys a special immunity from prosecution in civilian courts and that it's doubtful that Yudhoyono is going to change anytime soon.