Urge linking of human rights, Indonesian aid

Issue 

By Max Lane

Governments of 18 industrialised countries, including Australia, have agreed to provide Indonesia with further loans totalling US$4.8 billion. The biggest lenders are the World Bank and Japan, followed by the other big Western powers.

Representatives of the 18 met on July 17 in Paris met to conduct their annual vetting of the Indonesian economy. The group is now known as the Consultative Group on Indonesia (CGI) and is chaired by the World Bank.

Previously the lending governments met as the Inter-Governmental Group on Indonesia (IGGI), chaired by the Netherlands. However, Indonesia has refused to collaborate further with the IGGI while the Netherlands chaired the group because of the Netherlands' attempt to link aid and human rights.

The Netherlands suspended aid to Indonesia in the wake of the Dili Massacre on November 12.

To balance its budget, the Suharto government depends on huge inputs of foreign aid, mostly in the form of loans. Despite being a major exporter of oil and the world's biggest exporter of liquid natural gas as well as a major exporter of tropical timber, the government has now run up a debt of over US$100 billion.

According to Indonesian government figures, approximately 50% of all government expenditure on development comes from foreign aid. "Revenue" from loans is included on the income side of Indonesia's national budget, which means that it is nearly always "balanced".

The US ambassador in Jakarta made very strongly critical statements of the Suharto regime prior to the CGI meeting. He was not, however, critical of the level of political repression or poverty but the extent of corruption and red tape that bedevils foreign investors. US investment has been dropping off over recent years.

Some of the European countries, led by Portugal, did express some concern over human rights violations in Indonesia and East Timor. But the CGI as a whole seemed to believe that such issues should not be linked to aid.

Human Rights organisations, including New York-based Asia Watch, TAPOL (the British Campaign for Human Rights in Indonesia), several of the Netherlands-based Indonesian pro-democracy groups and Aksi (Indonesia Solidarity Action) in Australia, have urged governments to make such a link. Asia Watch sent a memo to the CGI arguing for the linking of democratisation and development assistance. Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans has made it clear several times that the Australian government will not link human rights and aid. When the US House of Representatives blocked US$2 million of military aid to Indonesia, Evans condemned the Congress as being too punitive.

Australia provided $106 million in 1990-91 and an estimated $113 million in 1991-92 in economic assistance, mostly to projects involving Australian companies. Australia also conducts a development cooperation program with the Indonesian military, including joint exercises, training and other exchanges.

Aksi groups in Sydney and Canberra have decided to launch a petition campaign demanding the Australian government link economic assistance to improvements in Indonesia.

In particular, Aksi is calling for the Australian government to raise: the release of all political prisoners; the repeal of laws restricting political and social organisations, especially the law enforcing a single ideology and banning new parties; the end of restrictions on trade unions; the end of violent repression of people calling for self-determination in West Papua, Aceh and East Timor; and the start of peace talks with the East Timorese.

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