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Rights groups target Indonesian military on its 75th birthday

Activists renew calls to rein in armed forces after number of recorded abuses increases last year

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Rights groups target Indonesian military on its 75th birthday

Rights groups say the number of abuses committed by the Indonesian military increased sharply last year. (Photo: Unsplash)

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An Indonesian rights group marked the Indonesian military’s 75th anniversary on Oct. 5 by highlighting abuses allegedly committed by soldiers over the past year.

According to the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS), the number of recorded abuses and violence exceeded figures in the previous year.

KontraS recorded 76 violent incidents and human rights abuses from October 2019 to September 2020, up from 58 cases in the previous year, spokesman Rivanlee Anandar told reporters on Oct. 4.

He said the incidents occurred throughout Indonesia and included shootings, torture, clashes with police and sexual violence.

“Most of the 76 cases in which 43 civilians died and 100 were injured involved the army,” Anandar said, adding that several cases also involved naval and air force personnel.

He said changes need to be made as to how soldiers are brought to book as military courts often fail to act against soldiers who commit crimes against civilians.

Usman Hamid, director of Amnesty International Indonesia, called on the government to respond to calls for such changes.

“These cases recorded by KontraS must be settled through effective and impartial investigations,” Hamid told UCA News.

“Injustice exists because perpetrators are often never brought to court. Human rights abusers must not get impunity and must not be given official and important positions [in state institutions].” 

With the Indonesian military turning 75 this year, he expressed hope a new military could be forged that will act to promote social justice and human rights.

Maria Catharina Sumarsih, an activist whose son Bernardus Irawan was shot during a 1998 Indonesian student protest in Jakarta, said the military should be protecting the public and not themselves.

She said the shooting of her son and his friends had been investigated by the National Commission for Human Rights, which indicated the involvement of the Indonesian military.

“But this case remains unresolved as prosecutors have stopped pursuing it. President Joko Widodo has appointed alleged human rights abusers in his government,” she told UCA News. 

She pointed to two formers brigadier generals — Dadang Hendrayudha and Yulius Sevanus — suspected of committing enforced disappearances of activists in 1998 who were recently given jobs in the Defense Ministry.

“We need a military that respects humanity,” she said.  

Emanuel Gobay, director of the Papua Legal Aid Institute, said many of the abuses attributed to the military occurred in Indonesia’s easternmost region. 

“There is injustice whenever the military violates the law. They are never prosecuted, but the civilians are and are subjected to stiff punishments,” he told UCA News.

He pointed to the suspected involvement of the military in the recent shooting of a Protestant pastor and two civilians in Papua's Nduga district. 

“This impunity is maintained and protected by the state,” he said.  

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