Throughout his 18 years in office, Feingold remained a stalwart and effective advocate for a just U.S. foreign policy. He maintained restrictions on arms sales and military training for Indonesia.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
When Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold lost his re-election bid Nov. 2, it didn’t only sadden U.S. progressives. The people of East Timor and Indonesia lost a strong ally in their struggle for democracy.
In late 1992, as Feingold was campaigning to join the U.S. Senate, East Timor suffered perhaps its most infamous massacre. The occupying Indonesian military fired on a peaceful pro-independence protest, killing more than 270 people. While the massacre received international attention -- thanks to the presence of Western journalists, including Amy Goodman and Allan Nairn -- East Timor remained an obscure issue in the United States.
But, half a world away, Feingold took notice.
In his first year in the Senate, Feingold, a Democrat, authored an amendment to place human rights conditions on arms sales to Indonesia. The amendment unanimously passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. This shocked Indonesian officials, who had for decades been able to count on the U.S. government eagerly providing military equipment while turning a blind eye to its brutal use against Timorese and Indonesian civilians.
Throughout his 18 years in office, Feingold remained a stalwart and effective advocate for a just U.S. foreign policy. He maintained restrictions on arms sales and military training for Indonesia. After a broad-based pro-democracy movement ousted Indonesian dictator Suharto in 1998, Feingold pushed the Clinton administration and Congress to ensure that political prisoners were freed, the military was reformed and civic institutions were fostered. Feingold supported East Timor’s referendum for independence in 1999, and repeatedly called for the Indonesian government and military officials responsible for serious crimes there to be held responsible. He has also raised concerns about continuing military abuses in Papua, a region with an independence movement and a history similar to East Timor.
More recently, Feingold cautioned both the Bush and Obama administrations on their rush to engage Indonesia in the “war on terror.” As the world’s most populous Muslim nation, and one where moderate forms of Islam predominate, Indonesia took on new importance for the United States following the 9/11 attacks. The United States’ relationship with Indonesia must be “aimed at fighting terrorism while supporting that country’s recent democratization,” Feingold wrote after visiting Indonesia in 2006.
You might think that President Obama, who visited Indonesia the week after the U.S. midterm elections, would agree. After all, Obama spent part of his childhood there and lamented, in his memoir “The Audacity of Hope,” that the U.S. negatively affected Indonesia by encouraging “tyranny, corruption and environmental degradation when it served our interests.”
Sadly, the U.S. hasn’t followed Feingold’s advice. Last summer, the Obama administration announced that the United States would work with Kopassus, the Indonesian military’s notorious special forces. Kopassus troops routinely engaged in torture, rape and murder in East Timor, “disappeared” Indonesian student activists, and killed a prominent Papuan leader, among other atrocities. Providing U.S. training to Kopassus “would undermine the goal of creating a professional military … that upholds human rights norms,” warned Feingold when the Bush administration considered engaging Kopassus.
For all his leadership on Southeast Asia issues, Feingold didn’t become a media darling, fill his campaign coffers or otherwise win broad acclaim. He helped the people of East Timor and Indonesia simply because it was the right thing to do. That’s what makes him a remarkable public servant and a wonderful human being.
We in the U.S. -- and our sisters and brothers around the world -- will sorely miss him.
Diane Farsetta is the coordinator of the Madison chapter of the East Timor Action Network. She is a former Field Organizer for national ETAN.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Allan Nairn, ETAN on Democracy Now!
President Obama arrived in Indonesia today on the second stop of a 10-day trip to Asia. It’s Obama’s first state visit to Indonesia after having lived there for four years as a child. Democracy Now! speaks with Jakarta-based investigative journalist and activist Allan Nairn, who has just released secret documents from Kopassus—the feared Indonesian special forces—which has been responsible for human rights abuses since the 1950s. Earlier this year, the Obama administration lifted a 12-year ban on funding the training of Kopassus. While Obama talks about human rights, the documents indicate that Kopassus targets churches and civilians and includes a Kopassus enemies list topped by a local Baptist minister in West Papua. We also speak with John Miller, the National Coordinator of East Timor and Indonesia Action Network
Also from Allan Nairn's blog: Secret Files Show Kopassus, Indonesia's Special Forces, Targets Papuan Churches, Civilians. Documents Leak from Notorious US-Backed Unit as Obama Lands in Indonesia
Monday, November 8, 2010
Ed McWilliams quoted by Agence France Presse (AFP)
Former US diplomat turned Papuan rights activist Edmund McWilliams, of the West Papua Advocacy Team, said the military had murdered "tens of thousands" of Papuan civilians in four decades of Indonesian rule.
The ethnic Melanesian-majority western half of New Guinea island was incorporated into Indonesia after a 1960s vote by a select group of tribal leaders which is seen by many as a sham.
"What we have seen over decades in west Papua are killings that would approach the scale of what we saw in East Timor. Certainly tens of thousands have been killed," he said.
He said Friday's military tribunal [of soldiers accused of beating Papuan villagers] was "bogus" and accused Indonesia of "misleading the international community".
"It was a classic bait and switch," he said, adding that there was a "degree of US complicity" in the Indonesian military's human rights abuses.
|Soldiers exit a military courtroom in Jayapura, Papua, on Friday. JP/Nethy Dharma Somba|