Tue, 22 Jul 2003

Rights body subpoenas generals

Muninggar Sri Saraswati, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) formally filed a request with the Central Jakarta District Court on Monday to force nine active and retired servicemen to answer its summonses for questioning over possible gross human rights violations during the bloody riots of May 1998.

The officers reported were former Indonesian Military (TNI) chief Gen. (ret) Wiranto, former Jakarta Military Commander Maj. Gen. Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin, Bukit Barisan Military Commander Maj. Gen. Tri Tamtomo, Col. Amril Amir, Col. Iskandar Zulkarnaen, Brig. Gen. Mazni Harun as well as police officers Sr. Comr. Imam Haryatna, Sr. Comr. Yudi Sushariyanto and Sr. Comr. Puji Hertanto Iskandar.

They have ignored the summons sent to them on three occasions. The TNI officers' lawyers have already declared that none of the officers would appear.

Salahuddin Wahid, who heads the commission's ad hoc team on the May riots, told reporters that the request was submitted to the court to end the differences in perception between his team and the officers' lawyers over the legality of the summonses.

"They said (the summonses are) not legal while we think they are. Therefore, we will let the court decide as we want to settle the matter through legal means," he told reporters after submitting the request to the court.

According to article 94 (1) of the Human Rights Law No. 39/1999, those who report alleged human rights violations to the commission, victims, witnesses and other parties implicated in the cases must answer the commission's summonses.

Article 95 of the same law stipulates that the commission may ask a district court president to force those refusing to do so to answer the summonses.

Tommy Sihotang, a lawyer representing the military officers, said his side would appeal to a higher court if the Central Jakarta District Court approved the commission's request.

He said the team of lawyers and their clients would discuss the matter on Wednesday "because of its legal and political consequences".

Last year, the Central Jakarta District Court turned down the commission's request to forcibly summon military and police officers implicated in incidents in the Trisakti University and Semanggi areas in Jakarta in 1998, saying the House of Representatives had declared the cases to be common crimes.

Meanwhile, the court's head, Judge M. Saleh, said that he would examine the new request soon.

The commission has concluded that the state violated the public's rights during the May 13 and May 14 riots, which cost more than 1,200 lives across the country, and has declared that it would bring the perpetrators to the human rights court.

During the two-day nightmare -- which followed the shooting of four Trisakti University students who were taking part in a nationwide series of rallies to demand the resignation of authoritarian ruler Soeharto -- hundreds of shops, shopping centers and homes were looted and set ablaze. The commission also confirmed mass rapes targeting women of Chinese ethnic.

No state security officers were around to prevent the crimes, except for those hired by business owners to guard their assets before the rampage even started, the commission's fact-finding team said.

Consequently, many suspect the riots were part of a conspiracy among those in power to quash what appeared to be developing into a popular uprising.

A government-sanctioned fact-finding team led by former commission deputy chairman Marzuki Darusman confirmed that more than 1,200 people died during the riots. The team also discovered that at least 66 women, mostly of Chinese descent, had been raped.

Although the team submitted its findings to the administration of President B.J.Habibie, who succeeded Soeharto, no measures were taken.

The government actually admitted that human rights violations took place during the May riots when Minister of Justice and Human Rights Yusril Ihza Mahendra spoke during the World Conference Against Racism in South Africa two years ago.