Soon President Obama will leave for his first trip to Indonesia as U.S. President. Letters to the editor are often the most widely-read section of newspapers, especially by decision-makers. Try to keep your letter to about 200 -250 words and be sure to include your full name, address, and telephone number when submitting the letter to the newspaper. If possible, include a local angle or directly respond to an article or opinion published in the paper. The more timely your response, the more likely it is to be published. Contact John M. Miller, firstname.lastname@example.org or 718-596-7668, if you would like some help with your letter. Please send us copies of your letters, published and unpublished.
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To the Editor
The Obama administration is currently negotiating a "comprehensive partnership" with Indonesia that the President plans to sign on his upcoming trip. The partnership claims to strengthen Indonesia's democratic reforms, but increased military assistance will do the opposite.
When Indonesia was a dictatorship, the U.S. was the Indonesian military's chief supplier. Military assistance was only cut off in 1999, during the Indonesian military's rampage in East Timor after it voted for independence.
Nearly all types of assistance have been restored since then, even though those responsible for human rights crimes in East Timor and elsewhere in the region have yet to face justice. Instead, reform efforts have stalled and many officers responsible for past crimes have been promoted to prominent positions. The Indonesian military continues to threaten the rule of law.
Of special concern is a proposal to resume training Indonesia's Kopassus special forces. Training such notorious human rights violators will undermine the "Leahy law," which prohibits assisting units with unresolved human rights violations. The law is meant to prevent future abuses, as well as encourage the resolution of past violations, which has not happened.
President Obama may eloquently promote democracy and civilian rule in Indonesia, but by providing military assistance now, he will be endorsing business as usual.
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President Obama will soon return to Indonesia, his former childhood home. In his memoir, The Audacity of Hope, he wrote about the negative influence that the U.S. had on "the fate" of Indonesia, with policies that included "the tolerance and occasional encouragement of tyranny, corruption, and environmental degradation when it served our interests."
President Obama will certainly praise Indonesia's democratic progress since the overthrow of Suharto, the Indonesian dictator who ruled the country when Obama lived there. If he truly wants to promote further democratic change, he must publicly acknowledge the U.S. role in supporting Suharto's tyranny. During that time, the U.S. was Indonesia's major weapons supplier and gave its approval to the annexations of East Timor and West Papua. This might make some of his domestic critics and Indonesian hosts -- many of whom loyally served President Suharto -- uncomfortable. But a blunt acknowledgement of this history will resonate with Suharto's many victims.
President Obama must not offer military assistance, especially to Indonesia's Kopassus special forces. These shock troops of Suharto's repression have not been held accountable for their notorious abuses in Indonesia, East Timor, West Papua and elsewhere. The Indonesian military remains largely unaccountable for its past and current human rights violations, and efforts at reform have back-tracked in recent years. U.S. law requires that the U.S. not train military units with bad human rights records until there have been real efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice. Training Kopassus violates the law.
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To the Editor
More than a decade ago, on August 30, 1999, the East Timorese people voted overwhelmingly to end the Indonesian rule in their country. The Indonesian military -- trained and armed by U.S. -- and its paramilitary allies exacted brutal vengeance in a bloody exit to a 24-year invasion and occupation that took up to 180,000 lives.
When President Obama goes to Indonesia, he should acknowledge the U.S. responsibility in this sordid history and press Indonesia to cooperate with credible trials of those who ordered the rapes, torture and killings. He should also withhold military assistance until Indonesia has done so.
Past efforts to hold these generals accountable have gone nowhere. Many of them remain powerful in government or retirement. The East Timor government, fearing retaliation, is unwilling to stand up to up to its much larger neighbor.
During the 10th anniversary of the 1999 independence referendum, Indonesia pressured East Timor government to release a recently-arrested former militia leader Martenus Bere, "without charge, trial, or proper court authorization," according to the U.S. State Department's recent human rights report. UN-backed prosecutors had indicted him for his role in a massacre at a church. 30 civilians, including three priests, died
U.N. investigators and others have proposed a UN international tribunal to try those who organized and carried these brutal crimes. While in Indonesia, President Obama should announce his support for a tribunal and work with the Security Council to bring these perpetrators to justice.
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