Wed, 29 Mar 2000

Perspective: Civil-military ties revisited

By Todung Mulya Lubis

This is the second of two articles based on a presentation at a symposium to honor the contribution of scholar Daniel S. Lev to the Southeast Asian Studies and Societies, University of Washington. The function was held on March 13 at the university campus in Seattle.

SEATTLE, Washington: The general election in June 1999 produced a new political mapping in which Golkar and the military were no longer in control. They suffered a substantial loss as predicted.

The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan), led by Megawati Soekarnoputri, emerged as a winner followed by Golkar, PPP, the National Awakening Party (PKB) and the National Mandate Party (PAN).

The military, after hard bargaining, was forced to accept only 38 seats in the House of Representatives. Interestingly, PDI Perjuangan did not gain sufficient bloc votes both in the legislative body and in the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR).

Therefore, no one single party could run the country without having to gain the support of other political parties.

The popular and controversial clergyman, Abdurrahman Wahid from PKB, won the presidency through his skill and connections with Islamic parties, Golkar and the military.

Many were not pleased with the outcome of the presidential election. First, Abdurrahman's election seemed to disregard the popular vote for Megawati.

Second, his health led to reservations as to his ability to deal with complex problems such as ethnic and religious tensions, corruption, collusion and nepotism and military resentment.

The concern was quite legitimate due to the economic crisis apart from the fragile and unstable political situation, characterized by political fighting among parties.

After three months in office, Abdurrahman's government has managed to strengthen its power while weakening the military.

The reshuffle that resulted in a navy officer, Adm. Widodo AS as the new military commander, has given the President a leverage against the Army.

Moreover, the appointment of the new Army and police chiefs have changed allegiance within the military, and the friction between younger and senior officers has come out into the open.

All such changes have forced the military to unwillingly accept the civilian government.

Perhaps it is still too early to draw such a conclusion. However, the new consciousness within the civilian political community, the media, the NGOs as well as the student movement have led to the tacit agreement that the military must acknowledge civilian supremacy.

The brutal and widespread rights abuses by the militias aided by the military and police prior to the referendum in East Timor resulted in an international outcry, protests and condemnation.

Although no genocide occurred, the magnitude of rights abuses -- massacres, widespread torture, forced disappearances, violence against women and children, forced evacuations, the scorched earth policy and destruction of evidence -- were so widespread that it prompted the international community to demand a thorough investigation followed by trials for those taking part directly or indirectly in those atrocities.

On Sept. 22, 1999, the government established the Commission of Inquiry into Human Rights Violations (KPP HAM) in East Timor.

It comprised eight members, four representing the National Commission on Human Rights and another four from human rights groups.

The commission's mandate was to gather facts, data and information concerning rights violations in East Timor prior to and after the referendum, or from the announcement of the two options made by then president Habibie on Jan. 27, 1999.

KPP HAM was not the first commission established in the human rights field but it attracted a lot of attention, particularly given the many negative reports on East Timor in the aftermath of the referendum.

The United Nations Human Rights Commission, for instance, has used the term "collusion" to describe the close cooperation between the militias, the military and the police.

From the outset, it was indeed very hard to deny that systematic and gross violation of human rights occurred in East Timor. The question was, therefore, to what extent was the government serious in bringing the perpetrators to court?

Keep in mind that the military is the most organized group in society, which has enjoyed a great deal of impunity in the past 40 years. Does the commission actually have enough courage to go after the military?

In the beginning, many people believed that KPP HAM, being a government-sanctioned body, would produce a whitewashed report. Much skepticism was raised, particularly due to experiences with similar independent inquiry commissions. After all, the military with the state administration under its control would not let KPP HAM weaken its strength.

Interestingly, the commission produced a credible report confirming most allegations about systematic and gross human rights violations, as mentioned above. KPP HAM also recommended that a criminal investigation be conducted against former TNI commander Gen. Wiranto, together with a group of military and police officers, governors, regents and militias.

Furthermore, it requested the government to establish a human rights court, investigate past human rights abuses and urge the military to begin redefining and renewing its public role.

The military reacted angrily against the commission's recommendations, considering the result as prejudice toward the military and violating the presumption of innocence.

The commission was accused of being an extension of foreign interests. But public opinion inside and outside the country applauded its recommendations. It was a milestone in the country's human rights history.

In general, the military has not understood the dynamics taking place in many parts of the world. The military fails to understand the power of civil society that has emerged from 30 years of repression.

Global support toward a civil society has never been so organized and apparent, and it has eventually isolated the military from a dynamic transitional process.

In the words of Dick Hartoko, an editor of a literary journal, the military failed to grasp what he called tanda-tanda jaman (the signs of change).

On the other hand, KPP HAM received nationwide support although it was not openly expressed in public. The culture of silence is still a part of our legacy.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the investigation of KPP HAM has greatly changed the political equation in the sense of civilians taking over political leadership.

The fact that President Abdurrahman finally discharged Gen. Wiranto from his powerful position as coordinating minister for political affairs and security proved that the military was no longer in a position to dictate the government.

Although there must be a combination of forces to weaken the military, it is the national human rights movement which has played a significant role in rebuilding a civil society through its persistent efforts to uphold democracy, human rights, transparency and accountability.

All elements of civil society, such as students, workers, intellectuals, the media and NGOs, have in their own way tirelessly campaigned and fought an authoritarian leadership.

In the end, despite some disagreements over methods of KPP HAM, it is fair to underline that it has contributed a great deal to a new start in civil military ties, in which the role of the military is seen as a force that guards democracy.

Now, more steps must be made to ensure human rights, democracy and rule of law. There are several major steps that need to be prioritized. First, the amendment of the l945 Constitution to ensure a check and balance, a clear division of power between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary.

In addition, enrichment of human rights provisions is needed. The amendment is still in the early stages but it must continue.

Second, the laws regulating political parties, societal organizations, NGOs, elections and the presidency must be revoked or amended in line with the principles of democracy.

They must be assured of a self-governing authority, and a limit of power. Third, the law that legalized the military participating in sociopolitical affairs must be revoked.

The military must return to its original function of guarding the state and society from any security threats.

Fourth, ratification of international human rights instruments is urgent. It would open more avenues in seeking redress from all rights abuses on a national and international level.

A strong, united and committed civil society must be able to realize its nearly lost dream: democracy, human rights and rule of law.

The writer is a lawyer and human rights activist, and writer of In search of human rights: Legal and political dilemma of Indonesia's New Order (Gramedia, 1993).