Indonesian military seeks civil roles

But critics warn of a return to Suharto regime rights abuses
Indonesian military seeks civil roles

Indonesian President Joko Widodo inaugurates Air Force Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto as the country's new military chief at the presidential palace in Jakarta on Dec. 8, 2017. (Photo by Gagah Adhaputra/AFP) 

A plan to appoint serving Indonesian military officers to senior positions in ministries and government agencies has been opposed by rights' activists and victims of past abuses by the armed forces.

This follows the Indonesian military seeking amendments to a 2004 law restricting retired officers to positions in a limited number of ministries and civil institutions.

They include the positions of Defence Minister and the Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs as well as some intelligence and judicial posts.

Military chief Hadi Tjahjanto said a relaxation of the curb was needed to reorganize the armed forces, which have been unable to provide positions to about 500 middle and high-ranking officers.

The plan surfaced in a story carried by the Tempo news outlet quoting Tjahjanto after he met last week in the capital, Jakarta, with President Joko Widodo.

A coalition of Indonesian civil society groups responded that the placing of active military personnel in state institutions would be contrary to an ongoing reform agenda.

The coalition said there was a danger of a return to widespread military rights abuses that occurred during the repressive 1967-1998 rule of President Suharto, an army officer who seized power.

Members of the coalition include the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation, the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence, the rights' watchdog Imparsial, the Human Rights Working Group, Indonesia Corruption Watch, the Alliance of Independent Journalists, the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace and Amnesty International Indonesia.

In a Feb. 12 joint statement these organisations asked that the military continue to be bound by the 2004 law imposing restrictions on its members holding civil positions outside of those specifically designated.

Choirul Anam, from the National Commission of Human Rights, told ucanews.com that allowing the military to take up a broad range of civil posts would inhibit proper law enforcement.

Freedom of expression during Suharto's time was limited and the military was used by the regime as a tool to silence political activists who challenged authoritarian rule.

Many perpetrators of abuses have never been prosecuted, including those involved in a 1965-66 anti-communist purge that by some estimates resulted in the killing of half a million people.

Bedjo Untung, one of the survivors of a 1965 massacre, told ucanews.com that manoeuvring for a wider role for the military was not in keeping with the spirit of reform.

Its members should remain in their barracks to defend the nation, he added.

The military also escaped punishment for alleged involvement in abductions and killings of student activists during 1997-98 riots which led to Suharto's overthrow.

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Bonie Hargens, a Catholic political analyst, said that rather than appointing more officers to civilian posts, the government should increase military funding to improve conditions and equipment.

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