Wed, 04 Jun 2003

RI should check fine print before pursuing demands for Sweden, UN

Kornelius Purba, Staff Writer, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta,

The Swedish Embassy in Jakarta slapped the Indonesian Cabinet in the face on Monday with its decision to close its doors indefinitely, while the Cabinet was still busy threatening the Swedish government for its reluctance to take legal action, including extradition to Indonesia, against Free Aceh Movement (GAM) leaders there. The leaders, including GAM's supreme leader Hasan Tiro, came to Stockholm in 1979 as political refugees and are now Swedish citizens.

In the meantime, the Cabinet also disclosed that it was considering asking the United Nations to include GAM on its list of terrorist groups. Can we convince the UN that GAM should be put on the same list as al-Qaeda?

Citing threats against Swedish citizens and Swedish interests, the Swedish Embassy in Jakarta announced on its webpage that "the embassy will remain closed until further notice".

A Swedish Foreign Ministry spokesman told the Agence France Presse, "We have no information on what kind of threat (was received by the embassy)."

On the same day as the embassy closure, Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs Hassan Wirayuda announced that the government would give Stockholm another chance to meet Jakarta's demand for legal action against the GAM leaders. He said Jakarta would send former minister of foreign affairs Ali Alatas to Stockholm to provide the Swedish government with evidence of crimes committed by the GAM leaders.

The government delayed its own May 31 deadline for Stockholm, a clear sign that the Cabinet was not fully united in the decision.

In a conversation with The Jakarta Post on Thursday, Swedish envoy to Indonesia Harald Sandberg reiterated that there was not yet proof that the GAM leaders had violated the laws of his country.

Indonesia has the right to maintain the unitary state of Indonesia, and there is no question about its authority to take legal action against anyone who commits crimes that could endanger that unity.

After declaring war against GAM on May 29, the government is stepping up the campaign to punish Hasan Tiro and other GAM leaders. Many officials here have warned that Sweden will face severe consequences if it fails to act against the rebels.

However, it is difficult to understand why Minister Wirayuda has never mentioned, at least in public, that it is futile to press demands that Sweden take action because Indonesia has never formally charged Hasan Tiro and the other leaders with any crime.

It is not enough to claim that we have evidence against the GAM leaders without bringing them to court or at least charging them. Even Soeharto, during his iron-fisted rule, brought his enemies to court, although many verdicts were allegedly fabricated to please him.

This attitude actually humiliates the government itself, because it demonstrates the government's distrust of Indonesia's own judicial system. The government apparently hopes that the Swedish government will accept its arguments like a creed.

Minister Wirayuda also realizes that Indonesia does not have an extradition treaty with Sweden.

Article 33:1 of the July 28, 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees rules that no contracting state shall expel or return ("refouler") a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories while his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinions.

Stockholm can reject Jakarta's demands based on this convention, because the initial status of the rebels leaders was that of political refugees.

To counter this argument, Indonesia can cite Article 33:1, which states that "the benefit of the present provision may not, however, be claimed by a refugee whom there are reasonable grounds for regarding as a danger to the security of the country in which he is, or who, having been convicted by a final judgment of a particularly serious crime, constitutes a danger to the community of that country". This, however, only works after bringing the rebels to court.

There is a highly nationalistic emotion running through Indonesian society. People's Consultative Assembly Speaker Amien Rais boasted that he was ready to abandon his official Swedish Volvo limousine. Other ministers may follow him for different reasons, for example they are ready to trade in their cars for something new. And don't forget that U.S. Ford Motor bought Volvo in 1999.

For the Swedish government, the closure of its small embassy will not have an immediate impact, as Ambassador Sanberg himself will soon leave Jakarta after serving in his post for about five years. His replacement is unlikely to arrive here immediately, because the House of Representatives will surely prolong the process of approving the new ambassador.

And what about the plan to put GAM on UN's terrorist list? Whether we realize it or not, it is the government itself which is in the process of "internationalizing" the Aceh issue. The rest of the world seems unconvinced that GAM should be internationally blacklisted while, for instance, the group's leaders have not been officially charged with any crimes here. If the tactic to have the UN place GAM on its terrorist list fails, that means the government itself has promoted GAM to the highest international level, the UN.