Concern on the Impact of the U.S.-Indonesia Military Cooperation on Human Rights Violations Settlement in Indonesia

The Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence, a human rights non-governmental organization based in Jakarta, Indonesia, would like to convey our concern regarding the military aid given by the U.S. to Indonesia and the closer relation between the two forces.

This growing relation has become our attention since the U.S. commitment to imposing restrictions on the Indonesian military due to allegations of human rights violations. Since 1993, the U.S. has shown its stance on the human rights situation in Indonesia by blocking a transfer of U.S.-made F-5 fighter planes from Jordan to Indonesia due to the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre in East Timor. Another example is when after the East Timor referendum vote in August 1999, the U.S. banned and cut off all aid, including joint military exercises and commercial arms sales. The U.S. also banned Kopassus from contacting the U.S. military over concerns about human rights atrocities. Somehow, there was a change in this restriction in the last decade, and the U.S. started to re-engage again with the Indonesian military and the Kopassus.

In 2010, the U.S. military planned to re-engage with Kopassus. Eight years later, U.S. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis visited Indonesia. This was followed by the State Department’s decision to grant Prabowo Subianto, the Minister of Defence and an alleged human rights violations perpetrator, a visa to enter the U.S. in 2020. Furthermore, in June 2021, Indonesia tapped the U.S. lobby shop for a $125 billion arms spending spree and was continued by the largest joint military drills from August 1 to 14. It is described as the largest ever among the countries. It involved 2,100 soldiers from the Indonesian National Army and 1,500 from the U.S. army, aimed to improve relations between Indonesia and the U.S. and upgrade the skills of both militaries.

The recent cooperation between two militaries implied the degression in the U.S. implementation of Leahy Law. The Leahy Law refers to provisions prohibiting the U.S. Government from using funds for assistance to units of foreign security forces where credible information implicates that unit in the commission of gross violations of human rights. The restriction does not apply if the government has taken steps to remediate, address the violations, and hold those responsible to justice. The assistance should have been given under two exceptions: if the foreign security forces unit has taken all necessary corrective steps and disaster relief operations or other humanitarian or national security emergencies. In cases where a unit is designated to receive assistance, the Department of State vets the unit and the unit’s commander. When an individual security force member is nominated for U.S. assistance, the Department of State shall vet the individual conducting consular, political, security, and human rights checks. In this case, the Department shall first assess whether the information is credible by weighing a source’s credibility and an allegation’s verity.

With the re-engagement in the past few years and the recent drills on the line, we are worried that the vetting process both for the unit and its commander was not executed well enough to acknowledge the gross human rights violations carried out by the Indonesian military. To date, we also did not obtain any information on how far the vetting process has been going. Even though the U.S. military cooperates with a new structure in the military, we cannot deny the fact that after all the violations carried out by the Indonesian Military, mainly Kopassus—the scorched earth campaign in East Timor, the 1997-1998’s enforced disappearances, the murder of the Papuan activist and leader Theys Eluay in 2001, using torture during Aceh’s military operations, carrying out the arbitrary detention in Papua, and mistreating and spying on the Papua’s civilians—the government has done no adequate remedies. In fact, none of the alleged soldiers has gone through a fair judicial process in the human rights court. Only a few of the soldiers were sentenced in the military court, and they had no difficulty undertaking an appeal and remained in the military. Their commanding officers have never faced trial, and the U.S. started to re-engage with one of them, holding an important position as Minister of Defence, Prabowo Subianto.

Given the fact that the mentioned relation might get more potent in a few years with Prabowo’s position in the ministry, not only the U.S. ignored the Indonesian military’s past and present human rights violations but also legitimized the Indonesian government’s lack of political will to resolve past human rights violations. Based on the four pillars of transitional justice to solve past human rights violations—the right to truth, right to justice, right to reparation, and guarantee of non-recurrence or institutional reform—the Indonesian government mainly focused on the right to reparation. In the last few months, the Indonesian government has addressed past gross human rights violations through a non-judicial mechanism. They attempted with a presidential regulation that overrides existing law enforcement and judicial mechanisms that could be used to reveal the truth about past violations. The draft regulation also fails to address the issue of adequate reparations for the victims. Much worse, it negates the other transitional justice’s pillars that should have been done sequentially.

The international community, including the U.S., needs to urge the Indonesian government to conduct impartial, accountable, and thorough investigations to further prosecute and sentence the perpetrators of past human rights violations. However, with the growing relation and re-engagement with the Indonesian military, it is catastrophic for Indonesia’s human rights. Both Prabowo Subianto and the military are no longer categorized as the human rights violations perpetrators, and it will inflict upon the transitional justice in Indonesia. The Indonesian government will put Prabowo as a vital figure recognized by a superpower country. The military drills will be appreciated as an achievement, making it impossible to hold Prabowo and other alleged soldiers accountable for the past human rights violations. Consequently, the victims’ families will still be far from getting justice, let alone witnessing Prabowo and other alleged soldiers prosecuted in human rights court.

Thus, we recommend the U.S. to:

  1. Effectively urge the Department of State to ban Prabowo Subianto and other alleged soldiers from entering the U.S., even if they do travel to the U.S., promptly and adequately investigate them before granting the visa;
  2. Evaluate any connection between the U.S. military with the Indonesian military, given that not many improvements have been made and the impunity remains;
  3. Fully support the enforcement of human rights values in Indonesia, including the impunity abolishment and protecting the past human rights violations victims’ rights.

Jakarta, August 16, 2021


Fatia Maulidiyanti

Executive Coordinator

For further information, please contact Auliya Rayyan, International Advocacy Staff,  at