Indonesia lurched further toward democracy during the year, but serious regional conflicts, a weak legal system, and delicate civil-military relations posed ongoing obstacles to the protection of human rights. While most of the country continued to benefit from increased civil and political liberties, three areas wracked by conflict-Papua, Aceh, and the Moluccas-continued to experience widespread violations. The government failed adequately to protect the hundreds of thousands of people displaced in Aceh and the Moluccas as well as East Timorese refugees in West Timor. Efforts of human rights defenders and some government officials to hold perpetrators of past serious abuses to account produced some results, but huge obstacles remained to bringing senior culpable leaders to justice.
Human Rights Developments
For the first time in more than four decades, Indonesians had both a freely elected parliament and a democratically chosen president. On October 20, 1999, the People’s Consultative Assembly (Majelis Permusyawaratan Rakyat, MPR) chose Abdurrahman Wahid as the country’s fourth president in a cliffhanger vote. Megawati Soekarnoputri, head of the Indonesian Democratic Struggle Party (Partai Demokrasi Indonesia -Perjuangang, PDIP) became vice-president. The jockeying for power among the most influential parties characterized domestic politics for much of the year, with Wahid struggling to outmaneuver the opposition. In August, unhappy parliamentarians forced him to issue Presidential Decree 121, turning over some of his administrative tasks to Megawati, but a cabinet reshuffle later the same month showed he was very much in charge. Throughout the year, Wahid proved strong on the symbolism of human rights and weaker on the implementation of safeguards.
From the outset, although he retained several senior military officers as ministers, Wahid began to assert civilian control over the military. He appointed a civilian as defense minister and, in February 2000, removed General Wiranto from his Cabinet pending the outcome of investigations into Wiranto’s role in the 1999 East Timor violence. On March 11, President Wahid formally disbanded the hated internal security organization, Bakorstanas. In April, commander-in-chief Admiral Widodo endorsed the concept of civilian supremacy and announced that the military no longer claimed a social and political role. In a number of highly publicized cases, generals who had previously enjoyedabsolute impunity were questioned by investigators in connection with past military atrocities. Through its nationwide network of territorial commands, however, the military’s dominant role in local government continued and, in August, the MPR approved a decree allowing the armed forces (Tentara Nasional Indonesia,TNI) to retain a bloc of appointed seats in that body through 2009.
Regional armed conflicts continued to pose a challenge to the democratic transition and undermine human rights. In Aceh, disaffection with the central government showed itself both in the form of a strong civil society-based movement for a referendum on Aceh’s political status and in an armed rebel group, the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, GAM). Indonesian security forces made little distinction between the two. While army, police, and GAM were all responsible for abuses, including extrajudicial executions of civilians, the violations were disproportionately on the government side. A special government-appointed commission of inquiry into past violations in Aceh produced five priority cases for trial, but not one of them from the worst period of abuses, 1989 to 1992. On May 17, 2000, twenty-four soldiers and one civilian were sentenced to between eight and a half and ten years in prison for the 1999 massacre of a Muslim teacher, Teungku Bantaqiah, and fifty-six of his followers, but the commander who gave the orders went into hiding as investigations were underway and was not apprehended.
On May 12, the Wahid government, through the intervention of the Henri Dunant Institute in Geneva, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with GAM, agreeing to a three-month “humanitarian pause” in the conflict. The agreement was controversial inside Indonesia, as some saw it as the first step toward legitimizing the rebels. Abuses diminished with the agreement but did not stop. In September, it was extended until January 2001.
On August 5, one of Aceh’s most prominent human rights defenders, Jafar Siddiq Hamzah, founder and director of the New York-based rights group International Forum for Aceh, vanished while on a visit to Indonesia’s third largest city, Medan. His body, showing signs of torture, was found with four other corpses in an unmarked grave on September 3. Jafar was the third well-known Acehnese activist to have “disappeared” in Medan. On January 24, an Acehnese parliamentarian went missing from his home; his body was found several days later. On June 3, a former student activist and spokesman for GAM, Ismail Syahputra, vanished. No information about his whereabouts had emerged by mid-September. On September 16, Safwan Idris, a prominent university rector in Banda Aceh who had supported a referendum, was shot and killed at his home. While the army was widely blamed in all of the above cases, there was no hard evidence as of October to indicate who was responsible.
A civilian pro-independence movement gathered strength during the year in Papua, formerly Irian Jaya. President Wahid offered the name change on January 1, 2000 to signal a change in policy toward the rebellious province. (The name change had not been approved by parliament by the end of the year.) A month earlier, tens of thousands of Papuans had celebrated the thirty-eighth anniversary of “West Papuan independence” in ceremonies throughout the province, the first time that such coordinated pro-independence demonstrations were permitted. In a compromise with authorities, both the Indonesian and West Papuan flags were raised in the December 1 ceremonies. When demonstrators in Timika, on Papua’s south coast, refused to take down a West Papuan flag flying in a church courtyard the day after the ceremonies, however, security forces fired into an angry crowd, wounding sixteen. Tension and conflict over flag raisings continued throughout 2000. Major clashes between civilians and security forces claimed the lives of three pro-independence youths in Nabire in late February and early March. Three more independence supporters were killed by government forces in Sorong on August 22.
On June 3, in Jayapura, the Papuan capital, a National Congress of leaders from throughout the province declared the desire of the Papuan people to separate from Indonesia. Papuan leaders repeatedly expressed their commitment to pursuing independence through peaceful means, but civilian defense “task forces” (satuan tugas or satgas) grew in size and importance throughout the year. Some such groups received Indonesian military support, leading many to draw parallels with the army-backed militias in East Timor in 1999; other groups were set up by pro-independence Papuans.
The conflict that produced the most civilian casualties, however, was not a rebellion against the center but rather a civil war in the Moluccan islands between Christians and Muslims. Exact figures on casualties were difficult to obtain, let alone verify, but estimates put the toll from October 1999 to September 2000 at over 5,000 dead. The conflict had erupted in 1999 in Ambon, the product of elite rivalries, a delicate communal balance upset by in-migration from other islands, and a changing socioeconomic structure. By 2000, the conflict had spread to the North Moluccan islands of Ternate, Tidore, and Halmehera, and continued to engulf Ambon, Ceram, Buru, Saparua and other islands of the central Moluccan archipelago.
In May, thousands of volunteers for “holy war forces,” or laskar jihad, arrived in Ambon from elsewhere in Indonesia, primarily Java, to strengthen the Muslim side, and attacks on Christian villages increased. On June 27, President Wahid ordered a state of civil emergency imposed in the two provinces of Maluku (Ambon and surrounding islands) and Maluku Utara (the North Moluccas). By mid-September, the latter was fairly calm, but there was no end in sight to fighting around Ambon. Civilian and military authorities in Indonesia, sensitive to the loss of East Timor and the nationalist backlash it engendered from a wide range of politically powerful groups, rejected any notion of outside assistance in resolving the conflict. While it appealed for humanitarian aid for the hundreds of thousands of displaced people, it also obstructed delivery of that aid. Groups inside and outside Indonesia also faulted the government for failing to ensure the neutrality of troops sent to stop the fighting and for failing to stop the dispatch of laskar jihad forces, although the police argued that as they were not armed when they boarded passenger ships for Ambon, the government had no legal means of stopping them. Critics also pointed to the ineffective interdiction of weapons bound for Ambon and a failure to protect the rights of the displaced.
Treatment of internally displaced persons (IDPs) was a major issue during the year, with close to 400,000 displaced by the Moluccan conflict alone. The eruption in April of a separate Christian-Muslim conflict in Poso, Central Sulawesi, which had first emerged in a 1998 fight over a local political appointment, left at least 200 dead and an estimated 60,000 people temporarily displaced. In Aceh, the number of persons displaced by the conflict ebbed and flowed, but tens of thousands fled their homes over the course of the year, many in the face of violent police and military “sweeps” for suspected rebels. Thousands of non-Acehnese immigrants fled the province, many after having been threatened by rebels.
More than 170,000 East Timorese returned home from West Timor during the year, but more than 100,000 remained, many having been forcibly expelled during the post-referendum violence in East Timor in September 1999. Many remained under the control of militia leaders whom Indonesian authorities chose not to disarm or in any way challenge. Militia control over the refugee camps of Tuabukan and Noelbaki, outside Kupang, was particularly strong; these camps also housed East Timorese members of the police and army and their families. On August 13, after a series of militia incursions from West Timor into East Timor, the Indonesian government bowed to international pressure andannounced that it would close the camps, offering the East Timorese there a choice between resettlement in Indonesia or return to East Timor. The decision was cautiously welcomed by the international community, but nothing happened. The level of militia intimidation in these and other camps was high, directed not just against refugees wishing to return but also against the staff of agencies such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
From August 22 to 29, UNHCR temporarily closed down operations in West Timor after three of its staff were injured in an attack. Despite renewed promises from the Indonesian military that it would provide protection, three UNHCR workers were killed on September 6 in an attack by a mob that had gathered for the funeral of a notorious pro-Indonesia militia commander, Olivio Mendonca Moruk. International outrage prompted efforts at disarmament. Military and police organized searches in major camps and confiscated a few dozen firearms and hundreds of homemade guns. Even militia leaders acknowledged that they were retaining weapons, however, and, at this writing, there had been no new arrests on weapons charges or any evidence of a serious effort to identify the source of the large quantities of ammunition used by militias making incursions into East Timor.
Efforts to revamp Indonesia’s corrupt and discredited judiciary made slow headway with the selection of sixteen new Supreme Court justices in September, but the administration failed to put forward a plan for systematic overhaul of the courts. Corruption proceedings against former President Soeharto held the spotlight for much of the year until the case was dismissed on September 28 on the grounds that Soeharto was unfit to stand trial. Public demands for justice for past army abuses in Aceh, Papua, Lampung, Tanjung Priok, and East Timor remained strong, but the government dithered in taking the necessary measures for prosecution. To get around the dysfunctional court system, plans were made for new human rights courts to hear cases involving gross abuses, but the enabling legislation was bogged down in parliament for much of the year and had not been passed as of October. In August, the MPR enacted a constitutional amendment, after heavy lobbying by generals, barring “retroactive” laws. As a result, many Indonesian legal scholars concluded that individuals responsible for orchestrating past atrocities could only be charged with ordinary criminal offenses and not with international crimes such as war crimes and crimes against humanity.
On September 1, Indonesian prosecutors formally named nineteen individuals, fifteen of them army and police officers, as suspects in the 1999 East Timor crimes. Although this was a long-overdue first step, advisors to the attorney general said that investigators had not even begun to unearth the kind of evidence needed for chain-of-command convictions. General Wiranto, commander-in-chief of the Indonesian armed forces at the time, was not on the list.
On a morning television show on March 14, President Wahid asked for forgiveness for the 1965-67 massacre of suspected members of the banned Indonesian Communist Party (Partai Komunis Indonesia, PKI), and for the role of his own organization, Nahdlatul Ulama, in the killings. He also called for repeal of a 1966 decree, TAP MPRS No.XXV, that instituted a pattern of discrimination against families of suspected PKI followers down to the third generation. The President’s call, however, was greeted with noisy street protests from some Muslim groups and, in August, the MPR set aside the proposal, leaving the 1966 decree in effect.