Saturday, May 19, 2007

Anger over promotion of alleged '98 rights abusers

Saturday, May 19, 2007
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Activists have expressed doubt the public can expect much from the prosecution of military personnel involved in the 1998 disappearance of activists through military courts.

Commenting on the recent promotions of several members of Team Mawar -- a military team allegedly responsible for the abduction of pro-democracy activists in 1998 -- Usman Hamid, coordinator of the Commission for Disappearances and Victims of Violence (Kontras), said military tribunals had only facilitated impunity for high-ranking officers who were responsible for the abductions, while victimizing lower ranking soldiers.

"This just demonstrates that the military is not interested in human rights enforcement as an agenda for it's accountability. Up until now, the handling of many cases of corruption and human rights violations has been hindered by the military's internal mechanisms," Usman told The Jakarta Post on Friday.

He said the military tribunal held in 1999 was an attempt to avoid public pressure, but when public pressure subsided the military became less transparent in order to avoid accountability.

"By giving them only light punishment and then later promoting them to higher ranks, the military has triggered a repetition of other abduction and torture cases that have occurred in the country. The 2001 murder of Theys Hiyo Eluway, and the murders of several academics and activists during the imposition of martial law in Aceh, as well as the murder of Munir in 2003 are all reminiscent of what happened in 1998," Usman said.

Following the kidnappings of at least 22 activists in 1998, a Jakarta military tribunal sentenced the commander of Team Mawar, Maj. Bambang Kristiono, to 22 years in jail and discharged him from the military. The tribunal also jailed and discharged four of his subordinates, and jailed six others without discharging them from the military.

Six of the 11 people tried appealed to a higher court. The results of the appeals were not disclosed to the public, however, until the mass media discovered that some of the men had been promoted to strategic positions. Among them were Lt. Col. Fausani Multhazar, who is now the Jepara Military District Commander in Central Java, and Lt. Col. Untung Budi Harto, who is now the Ambon Military District Commander in Maluku.

Since the beginning of the tribunal, many human rights organizations, including the National Commission on Human Rights, have tried to pressure the government to solve the case through an ad hoc human rights court, but the military insisted on using its court.

"Neither civil nor military courts acknowledge the term 'command responsibility', which is why those responsible for abducting the activists are able to get away with their crimes," said Usman.

He said the former chief of the military, Gen. Wiranto, should be held responsible for the kidnappings.

Asmara Nababan, former secretary general of the rights commission, said military courts could only try cases related to internal military discipline, but not cases of gross human rights violations.

He said the commission had cast doubt on the tribunal and sent a letter asking for the termination of the court, but it was to no avail.

"In a human rights court, a commander is responsible for the actions of his subordinates, even if he has not given any orders. He is also responsible if he is aware that an act is about to take place, yet fails to prevent it," he told the Post.(02)

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