Involvement of the Indonesian Military in Human Rights Violations

The story of Indonesian military (TNI) violence towards civilians is nothing new. During the ‘transfer of power’ from ousted President Sukarno to Suharto’s so-called New Order regime in 1965-66, the military was directly and indirectly responsible for the mass killings of an estimated 500,000 members of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) and other perceived enemies of ascendant military power. 

Throughout the 1970s and into the late 1990s, military violence occurred in all regions of Indonesia. Prominent cases included the 1984 mass killings of members of an Islamic group in Tanjung Priok, Jakarta; the implementation of military operational zones in Aceh province from 1989 to 1999; in East Timor from 1975 to 1999; and in Papua, 1960-1998; involvement in the eviction of settlers living near the Kedung Ombo dam and irrigation project on the Upper Serang river in Central Java in 1989; the shooting of settlers living around the Nipah dam area in Madura, 1993; involvement in the Jenggawah land case in East Java, 1979-1995; violence in the lead up to general elections in 1977, 1982, 1992, and 1997; involvement in the attack on the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) headquarters on 27 July 1996; kidnappings of student activists in 1997; the fatal shooting of four students at Trisakti University in Jakarta, which sparked the mass riots of May 1998 and Suharto’s downfall; followed by the Semanggi I and II tragedies in which 24 protesters against Suharto’s successor were indiscriminately shot by snipers on the streets of central Jakarta.

These abuses are far from the only black spots against the Indonesian military because many incidents go unreported. Many abuses and crimes perpetrated by the TNI occur in remote areas with small numbers of immediate victims.

A corrupt legal system and a lack of political will means human rights abuses involving the Indonesian military have not been properly processed through the country’s legal system. The Law on Human Rights released in 1999 has not functioned as a firm basis for the processing of human rights abuse cases. In effect, the fall of the New Order regime in 1998 has brought no significant advances in dealing with human rights abuse cases.

This paper presents a general overview of the involvement of the TNI in human rights abuses. In doing so, it will look at levels and patterns of TNI involvement.

The Military and the New Order

There was a time when the military was separated from political life, namely from 1945 to 1952. But, in 1952 a military coup against the Sukarno regime failed and the military had obtained strategic access to power by the time Suharto rose to power.

The military’s dominance of Indonesian politics and society came to be all-pervasive under the New Order. The TNI and particularly the Army dominated almost all sections of the national political arena. Besides having permanent representatives in the parliament, active military officers also occupied important positions in public institutions, such as ministries, regional parliaments, governors, chief of sub-districts, and other important official positions.

Although Indonesia was not a military state, there were practices of militarism. Political parties merely camouflaged the fact that the ones in power were really the military – a situation that left little room for the growth of democracy.

Golkar (Golongan Karya or Functional Group) and the military were the two main pillars of the New Order. GOLKAR was a “state-party” which held political power throughout the 1970s to 1998. GOLKAR was originally formed by the military and came to control the state bureaucracy. All TNI-affiliated family members and public servants were obliged to support GOLKAR.

The spread of active and retired military officers in public positions has greatly influenced the decision-making processes. Policies were made without the people’s consent. This anti-democratic culture reflected military culture, in which all decisions are made within the line of command.

This situation gave rise to widespread human rights abuse. Several abuse cases mentioned earlier occurred after the people acted against unpopular political decisions. But, instead of considering the people’s demands, the government used repression and military force.

The military has two basic command structures; one comprising the “tactical units” and the other comprising the “territorial units”. The former consists of two institutions, the Army Strategic Reserves Command (KOSTRAD), which has 27,000 active personnel, and Army Special Forces (Kopassus) with around 5,000 personnel. The tactical units are mainly designed for intelligence and operational warfare.

The second structure comprising the “territorial units” consists of 12 regional military command areas (KODAM), which cover the entire archipelago. The number of soldiers in all territorial units is around 150,000 personnel. Operational divisions and intelligence units also equip each “KODAM”. This territorial structure was the backbone of the military’s “dual function” doctrine, which gave the national army a political as well as a security role during the Suharto period.

The official function of this structure is to restore and maintain economic, political, and social order. Each “KODAM” is divided into Military Resort Commands (KOREM) with one battalion each. At present, there are 30 KOREM in Indonesia and they each contain Military District Commands (KODIM) located in every regency/ district. The total number of KODIMs is 271 and they each contain Military Sub-district Commands (KORAMIL) at the sub-district or “kecamatan” level. At the village level, the military generally assigns a non-commissioned officer/NCO (Babinsa).

In order to support both tactical and territorial functions, the TNI formed a military intelligence agency (BAIS), which is responsible for obtaining intelligence reports from abroad, and the State Intelligence Coordinating Body (BAKIN, or State Intelligence Body/BIN after 1999), which is responsible for obtaining domestic intelligence reports. Meanwhile, to back the duties of BAKIN, TNI also formed the Coordinating Body for Assisting in the Maintenance of National Stability (BAKORSTANAS and BAKORSTANASDA), which was all-powerful particularly in the regions. In 1999 both the Bakorstanasda and Bakorstanas were abolished. In reality, those institutions rarely functioned as military intelligence on defense issues – instead they were used to collect intelligence on those who opposed the regime.

Under the military intelligence-dominated state, regional military commanders dominated resources from the provincial and district level down to the villages – a situation that provided ample scope for abuse of power. During the New Order, TNI neglected its official duty of defending Indonesian territories and instead focused on ‘national stability’ or supporting GOLKAR and the ruling regime. ‘National stability’ was necessary to implement economic development programs promoted by The New Order but the people’s real needs and aspirations were often ignored.

Indonesian Military: Patterns and Format

Any national military force is part of the state apparatus and is given specific rights according to law regarding the use of force. Unfortunately, the TNI has systematically misused its special rights for political and economic purposes. As the aforementioned “dual function” doctrine grew in influence, the TNI came to be a tool of state repression directed against civil society organizations opposed to the regime and particularly against students, illegal unions, NGOs and the mass media.

The pattern of TNI involvement in human rights abuses can be categorized as follows:

(1) Actions taken on behalf of the state

In this case, the TNI maintained that its actions were based the constitution to protect the state ideology and national unity. The military acts on political decisions made by the government and the parliament. For example, the use of violence against separatist groups in Aceh, West Papua, and formerly in East Timor.

In the field, civilians were the primary victims. There are two basic reasons behind this fact: (1) A lack of military professionalism in analyzing the situation resulted in the misinterpretation of orders; (2) The military’s defense and security doctrine, which stressed guerrilla warfare in which civilians were used as pawns. The distinction between militarized groups (combatants) and civilians (non-combatants) was not preserved and the military suspected communities living around known separatist strongholds of supporting the separatist cause.

(2) Actions taken by the military in the interests of the elite

This category of military abuse of human rights refers to the role of the military in the realm of national politics. In this case, a military response suppressed individuals or groups deemed capable of harming the legitimacy of the New Order. The attack on the PDI headquarters on 27 July 1996 is one example. Later, on the eve of 1997 general election, political intimidation against activists of the United Development Party (PPP) and the PDI were aimed at ensuring the ongoing dominance of the military’s civilian counterpart – GOLKAR.

The elite also abused the basic human rights of civilians who dared challenge their grand development projects and threatened to compromise the regime’s image. The Kedung Ombo dam and Nipah dam projects are just two examples. The forced removal of urban poor may also be categorized as such where the elite were determined to ‘grab’ back land and ‘beautify’ urban areas.

The militaristic regime generally condemned all civilian opponents as ‘extreme left’ or ‘radical religious right’ in order to protect the interests of the power elite.

(3) Protecting economic interests

The TNI has never received enough money from the state to fulfill its operational needs. The military’s limited budget is the primary justification for the TNI’s involvement in business endeavors. The TNI runs a wide range of business undertakings – legal and illegal – and invests in a number of state-owned enterprises through numerous cooperatives and foundations. Naturally, the interests of the TNI and business have come to coincide in many areas.

The TNI has obviously sided with business and capitalists in conflicts between companies and laborers and between companies and local communities opposed to its activities on numerous occasions. One example is the killing of labor activist, Marsinah, in 1986.

The military has also exploited civil unrest to obtain ‘protection money’ from companies operating in war zones and is notorious for its links to illegal sectors of the economy, from drugs and prostitution to illegal logging. One scholar described soldier-businessmen as “comprador capitalists” who restrict competition and promote corrupt and collusive practices.

While the repression of civil society did bring massive development throughout the New Order, ordinary Indonesians felt the injustice and exploitation of elite domination.

Various types of military violence were conducted in the aforementioned interests, from intimidation and political stigmatization to kidnappings and murders. Violence was perpetrated through the following three general modus operandi.

(1) Institution
The military as an institution was directly involved in abuse of human rights where there was a threat to the state and the sanction of the government and parliament. However, these perceived threats were determined by the interests of the political and military elite. Ironically, the implementation of repressive political decisions depended to a large extent on officers in charge or commanders of military units. One interesting case was the imprisonment of 30 marine officers who objected to orders to shoot local people during the Tanjung Priok incident.

(2) Individuals
Individual officers sometimes used violence to further their economic or political interests. With official salaries insufficient to meet their needs, officers became entrepreneurs and used their military muscle to forge ahead in business. Civil unrest – and its suppression – was also a means to further political careers in many instances. Senior officers tended to involve their colleagues or lower-ranking officers.

(3) Civilian Agents
The military also became expert at using civilians in carrying out violence against civil society. This supported their political and economic interests and justified further military repression where unrest grew. This was evident in resource-rich West Papua, for example, where the military has massive political influence and major holdings in many industries.

Clear evidence of this practice is the growing numbers of civilian militia groups, such as in Papua and East Timor. There is much evidence to support the view that the military backed those groups with training and funding and the militias were under the control of special military units and/or certain military officers. Ethnic or religious identity was often the disguise of these militia groups but their hierarchical connections of the military were ever-present. .

Current Situation

Since the fall of Suharto in 1998, several important steps to repair the Human Rights situation in Indonesia have occurred. (1) The Government of Indonesia released Law No. 39/1999 on Human Rights. (2) The Government of Indonesia paid particular attention to Human Rights issues by establishing the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights.

For the first time, civilians have been appointed as Defense and Security Minister. The numbers of military seats in parliament has also been reduced from 75 to 38 with plans to eliminate all by 2004.

Even so, this does not automatically put an end to military violence against civilians, particularly in troubled regions such as West Papua and Aceh. The political role of the military has actually grown during Megawati Sukarnoputri’s presidency. Several ‘military hardliner’ groups have been placed in strategic posts despite their tendency to use violence. In early 2002, the government also strengthened military power in Aceh by reviving the Iskandar Muda Military Command as well as in Maluku with the revival of the Pattimura Military Command.

At present, most cases of military violence remain untouched. Only low-ranking officers have been prosecuted through trials at ad-hoc courts, but their commanders managed to escape prosecution.

Military violence against civil society remains a serious problem for two reasons: (1) The military’s political influence remains strong. Their influence has spread in legislative and judicative bodies as politicians compete for military backing. Public desire to open investigations into the military’s involvement in human rights abuses has been ignored by parliament members; (2) The weakness of the judicial system, which is primarily due to the lack of professionalism of law enforcers. Rampant corruption, collusion, and cronyism has contaminated all judicial institutions in Indonesia. No human rights group in Indonesia has been satisfied with any of the decisions relating to military involvement in human rights abuses right up to the present. ********

Peneliti The Interseksi Foundation