The East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) and the West Papua Advocacy Team (WPAT) today condemned the U.S. government’s decision to approve the sale of deadly Apache attack helicopters to Indonesia. The sale demonstrates that U.S. concern for greater respect for human rights and justice in Indonesia are nothing more than hollow rhetoric.
The sale, announced during the visit of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to Jakarta, ignores the appalling record of human rights violations by the Indonesian military (TNI), which will operate this deadly weapons system.
The helicopters are offensive weapons often used in counter-insurgency campaigns.
The TNI continues to conduct military campaigns in West Papua. The military’s “sweeps” and other military operations purportedly target the few remaining lightly-armed pro-independence guerrillas. In reality, the operations are aimed at repressing and intimidating Papuans. The sweep operations, involve assaults on remote villages in West Papua, destroying civilian homes, churches and public buildings and forcing civilians from their homes. These attacks drive civilians into surrounding mountains and jungles where many have died due to a lack of food, shelter or medical assistance.
The new Apache attack helicopters will greatly augment the capacity of the TNI to pursue “sweeping” operations, extending TNI capacity to stage operations after dark and in ever more remote areas.
The statement by Indonesia’s Minister of Defense that the sale does not include any conditions on the use of these weapons is especially concerning. The TNI use of these weapons platforms will be largely unconstrained. TNI personnel are not accountable to the civilian judicial system nor is the TNI as an institution subordinated to civilian government policy or operational control. For decades, the TNI has drawn funding from a vast network of legal and illegal businesses enabling it to evade even civilian government budgetary controls. Legislation to restrain the TNI has been weak or only partially implemented.
On Monday August 26, Secretary of Defense Hagel announced that the U.S. had closed a deal for Indonesia to buy eight AH-64E Apache attack helicopters for a half a billion dollars. The U.S. did not attach conditions restricting their use.
The sale represents the latest step in the Pentagon’s increased engagement with the TNI. In 1999, restrictions on U.S. engagement with the Indonesia military were tightened as the TNI and its militia allies were destroying East Timor (now Timor-Leste) following the UN-conducted referendum on independence. Through the 2000s, restrictions on engagement with the Indonesian military were gradually lifted, even though it remained unaccountable for its past crimes in Timor-Leste and throughout the archipelago and rights violations continue in West Papua and elsewhere.
Last year, ETAN and WPAT coordinated a letter signed by more than 90 organizations urging the U.S. not to sell the deadly attack helicopters to Indonesia. The groups warned that the helicopters will escalate conflicts in Indonesia, especially in the rebellious region of West Papua: “Providing these helicopters would pose a direct threat to Papuan civilians.”
ETAN, formed in 1991 and advocates for democracy, justice and human rights for Timor-Leste and Indonesia. Since its founding, ETAN has worked to condition U.S. military assistance to Indonesia on respect for human rights and genuine reform. See ETAN’s web site: http://www.etan.org WPAT publishes the monthly West Papua Report.
John M. Miller, National Coordinator
East Timor & Indonesia Action Network (ETAN)
Phone: +1-718-596-7668 Mobile phone: +1-917-690-4391
Email: email@example.com Skype: john.m.miller Twitter: @etan009
Note – photo of water tower: On July 6, 1998, hundreds of peaceful demonstrators gathered on a prominent hill in the town of Biak were deliberately attacked by members of the Indonesian military and police. The Papuans in Biak were asserting their right to self-determination after more than three decades of Indonesian military occupation of West Papua. The slaughter began with a dawn raid on a peaceful encampment by the town’s water tower as many of the protesters slept or prayed. After the shooting stopped, the dead, dying, and wounded were loaded onto trucks and driven to the nearby naval base. Surviving Papuans were tortured and then loaded aboard Indonesian naval vessels and dumped into the ocean. Women were raped aboard the ships. Many of the victims had their hands bound or were stabbed before being thrown into the sea. Bodies of the victims washed up on Biak’s shores during the following weeks.
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