Friday, April 23, 2010

Indonesia: Legal Reform needed to ensure redress for military abuses

Source: Human Rights Watch

The Indonesian parliament should enact a pending bill that would permit civilian authorities to investigate and prosecute soldiers responsible for crimes against civilians, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to a key lawmaker released today. Human Rights Watch said that a recent case in which soldiers allegedly assaulted four children in Depok, near Jakarta, highlighted the armed forces' longstanding failure to prosecute abusive military personnel.

"Indonesia's military courts are opaque and lack independence," said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Reduced charges and lenient sentences mean soldiers committing serious abuses rarely face more than a slap on the wrist, if anything."

Indonesia's military justice system presently has exclusive jurisdiction over military personnel implicated in criminal offenses against civilians. Officers with conflicts of interest can supervise investigations, and senior commanders have the discretion to block cases from going to trial. Past experience in Indonesia demonstrates that this system has failed to investigate and adequately prosecute alleged serious human rights abuses by members of the military.

Human Rights Watch's letter, sent today to Kemal Aziz Stamboel, the chairman of the parliamentary committee that oversees defense, foreign affairs, and information, identified several major short-comings of the Indonesian military justice system. In October 2009, Stamboel led discussions with the minister of defense, Purnomo Yusgiantoro, in which they agreed to make the bill on military jurisdiction a priority during the next legislative term.

The law would give civilian courts the exclusive power to prosecute soldiers accused of rights abuses against civilians. The bill should also permit civilian police and prosecutors to investigate such allegations, Human Rights Watch said. Human Rights Watch urged Stamboel to act quickly to resume deliberation of the bill.

Soldiers have long committed abuses against civilians in Indonesia with impunity. According to media reports, on March 28, 2010, in Depok, at least three soldiers from the Strategic Reserve Command (Komando Cadangan Strategis Angkatan Darat, or Kostrad) assaulted and interrogated four boys, ages 10 to 14. The soldiers, suspecting that the boys had stolen a bicycle from the military housing complex, allegedly seized the children from their homes during the night, took them to the military housing complex, and beat them severely until they promised not to repeat their offense.

A Kostrad spokesman confirmed the incident and said that the soldiers involved were being detained by the military police and that an investigation was ongoing. The military courts may only enforce certain criminal laws against soldiers, so other relevant laws are inapplicable, such as Indonesia's 2002 Law on Child Protection, which imposes heavier penalties for assaulting children than may be imposed under the criminal code.

Human rights abuses allegedly committed by Indonesian military personnel against civilians rarely result in investigations, let alone prosecutions. For example, to Human Rights Watch's knowledge, no soldiers have faced trial for the incidents recounted in the June 2009 Human Rights Watch report, "What Did I do Wrong?" The report documented incidents in which civilians in the town of Merauke, Papua, alleged that they were subjected to arbitrary detention, beatings, and other ill-treatment by members of Indonesia's Special Forces (Komando Paskan Khusus, or Kopassus).

The few military personnel who have been convicted of committing serious crimes against civilians have almost always received extremely light sentences. For example, 13 navy personnel convicted of opening fire on a group of civilians in East Java in May 2007, killing four and wounding several others, received sentences ranging from 18 months to 36 months in prison, on charges that could have brought a penalty of up to 15 years in prison. In July 2007, military personnel convicted of beating to death a civilian in West Java faced the relatively lenient charge of assault and were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 6 weeks to 18 months.

"It is ridiculous that soldiers who beat up children face more lenient charges than do ordinary civilians," Pearson said. "Legislators should act quickly to ensure that the rule of law also applies to soldiers."

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