Visiting Kopassus chief to face trial for rights abuses



The Kopassus chief, Commander Major General Sriyanto, invited to Australia to cement a military deal with Canberra, will shortly be tried for human rights abuses in Indonesia.

Sriyanto, who graduated from the Indonesian Military Academy in 1974, and was given the job of head of the TNI's elite special (Kopassus) forces in July 2002, has been accused of abuses dating back 20 years.

Rachland Nashidik, a representative of Indonesian Human Rights Monitor (Imparsial), who visited Australia last week, said that Sriyanto has been indicted to face charges relating to the killing of Muslim protesters at Tanjung Priok in northern Jakarta in 1984. It is still not known how many people died when the TNI opened fire on the protesters. Bodies were exhumed as late as 2000 as part of the Indonesian Human Rights Commission's investigation into the killings.

On August 27, five judges were appointed to preside over an ad hoc tribunal (similar to that dealing with the 1999 carnage in East Timor) to begin hearings into the Tanjung Priok case. Fourteen people will be tried, many of whom were serving officers in the TNI's Greater Jakarta regional command.

The case has suffered lengthy delays since the beginning of this year. This is indicative of the reluctance in the attorney-general's department to punish TNI members. The Indonesian daily Kompas reported on September 4 that Beni Biki, coordinator of the Tanjung Priok Victims' Group, criticised the TNI for its stand that the past "need not be uncovered".

The Timor tribunal, which delivered its final judgment on August 5, has been condemned worldwide for its lenient sentences, and Timorese solidarity organisations are now campaigning for an international tribunal. Despite this, the fact that the government has been forced to hold these ad hoc tribunals indicates the pressure it is under to be seen to be bringing the perpetrators of human rights abuses — the military — to justice.

The 1984 shootings had long been a symbol of Muslim resentment against the former Suharto dictatorship. In April 1985, sentences of one to three years' jail were handed down to 28 people accused of "waging resistance in violence" against the armed forces. Calls for a public inquiry were ignored.

Under President Abdurrahman Wahid, the families of the victims had hoped justice would be done. But a June 2000 Komnas HAM inquiry found that while "human rights violations did occur", it was not a "massacre". The report said that 33 people died, including nine killed by the protesters, and that 36 others were tortured by soldiers. A report by the Al Araf mosque stated that 63 people died and more than 100 people were seriously wounded in the attack.

The Komnas HAM inquiry, which lasted three months, concluded that it had no legal power to conduct a further investigation and recommended that the government apologise and compensate the families of the victims.

Along with Sriyanto, then a captain in the north Jakarta military, former generals "Benny" Murdani and former vice-president General Try Sutrisno were implicated in the Tanjug Priok massacre. In March 2001, Sriyanto and other high-ranking officers signed an agreement with relatives of the massacre victims, in the hope the TNI would not have to face legal action over the incident.

Sriyanto has also been accused of playing a role in the riots in Solo in May 1998 when he was chief of the local military command. A report by Laksamana.Net in 2000 stated that Sriyanto was in charge when officers brutally attacked student protesters there, just before Suharto was forced to step down. Sriyanto then blamed the violence on the left-wing People's Democratic Party.

Kopassus is notorious for its human rights violations throughout Indonesia and East Timor. In the final months of the Suharto regime, a Kopassus team abducted and tortured several pro-democracy activists. Some of the activists have never been found, believed to have been killed by the feared unit.

Kopassus officers are also believed to be responsible for the November 2001 murder of West Papua's pro-independence leader Theys Hiyo Eluay.

Among Sriyanto's fellow graduates were Lieutenant General Prabowo, a former chief of Kopassus and Kostrad. He was dismissed from the military in 1998 for his role in abducting pro-democracy activists. Major General Sjafrie Sjamsuddin, another fellow graduate, has been accused of playing a key role in the formation of East Timor's murderous pro-Indonesia militia groups in 1999.

Human rights and solidarity organisations are urging the Coalition government not to renew ties with the TNI and Kopassus. A sign-on statement, initiated by Action in Solidarity with Asia and the Pacific (ASAP), calls on the Coalition government not "to drag Indonesia back to the past".

It accuses Canberra of "interfering in Indonesian politics on the side of the most militaristic and anti-democratic groups", and charges that renewing military ties with Jakarta would be "helping Jakarta defeat the movements for genuine democracy and social justice, [that] begun with the overthrow of Suharto in 1998".

"Terrorism in Indonesia, and elsewhere, can only really be tackled by reducing the inequalities between the impoverished majority and a tiny elite, and by ending the reliance on the old Suharto methods of violence, repression, and intrigues by the military and intelligence agencies — what Indonesians call the 'security approach'", ASAP chairperson Max Lane said.

He said that Canberra must end its "special relationship" with the Indonesian elite, and instead build one with the democratic forces, including non-government organisations, across Indonesia. "Ending all military ties would send a clear message that Australia does not support this militaristic policy which is unlikely to solve the complex range of issues currently facing the peoples of Indonesia."

[The statement, which was signed by Arthur Chesterfield-Evans MLC of the Australian Democrats, Lisa Macdonald from the Socialist Alliance, Tim O'Conner from AidWatch and Dr Damien Kingsbury from Deakin University among others, can be seen at <>.]

From Green Left Weekly, September 10, 2003.
Visit the Green Left Weekly home page.

If you like our work, become a supporter

Green Left is a vital social-change project and aims to make all content available online, without paywalls. With no corporate sponsors or advertising, we rely on support and donations from readers like you.

For just $5 per month get the Green Left digital edition in your inbox each week. For $10 per month get the above and the print edition delivered to your door. You can also add a donation to your support by choosing the solidarity option of $20 per month.

Freecall now on 1800 634 206 or follow the support link below to make a secure supporter payment or donation online.