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Source: The Guardian (London) Date: October 12


By John Pilger

For the first time, Amnesty International has effectively declared a leading government criminal. This is the sum of a remarkable report, just published, on Suharto's military dictatorship in Indonesia, the world's fourth largest nation. Entitled _Power and Impunity_, its 126 pages document systematic barbarities, perpetrated or condoned by the regime, "on a staggering scale".

"Hundreds of thousands of civilians," says the report, "have been killed, their mutilated corpses sometimes left in public places to rot; prisoners have been routinely tortured, some so severely that they have died or suffered permanent injury: thousands of people have been imprisoned following show trials solely for their peaceful political or religious views; scores have been shot by firing squads, some after more than two decades on death row."

Amnesty confirms that 200,000 East Timorese - a third of the population - have died under Indonesia's Illegal occupation; yet its indictment is not just about East Timor. Thousands of murders by death squads, torture, rape, wrongful imprisonment and terror have occurred "with impunity" throughout Indonesia itself, from the "harmonious" tourist island of Bali to the capital, Jakarta.

Moreover, says Amnesty, "the violations are not isolated occurrences, nor are they the work of a handful of poorly disciplined soldiers, as the government has sometimes claimed. They are the product of a network of institutions, standard operating procedures and ideological assumptions", which have continued unabated since Suharto and his fellow generals took power in the mid-1960s after "one of the worst massacres of the 20th century. In less than one year between 500,000 and one million were killed".

It is a measure of the strength of purpose behind this study that it emphasises the complicity of a "silent" international community, which has notably "spared criticism of an important friend and ally". In return for this appeasement by the West, the regime "has adopted a cynical stand on human rights ... It has hosted human rights seminars, established a National Human Rights Commission and punished a small number of soldiers responsible for human rights violations". At the same time it has branded human rights activists "subversives" and "enemies of the state" and ensured that terror remains "commonplace". Fully aware of this, western governments have supplied the regime with arms and have trained Indonesian troops whose role is "to deal with domestic rather than international threats".

This collusive cynicism is exemplified by the role of the British government, one of Jakarta's staunchest friends. For example, before the massacres of scores of East Timorese in the Santa Cruz cemetery in 1991, Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd urged the European Community to cut aid to countries that violated human rights. Shortly after the massacre, the British government increased its aid to the Suharto regime by a record 250 per cent on the previous year.

Britain is Jakarta's biggest arms supplier. The British arms industry has provided a prop to Jakarta since 1970, when a Labour foreign secretary, David Owen, echoed Indonesian propaganda that the number of East Timorese dead was "exaggerated" and sold the regime eight Hawk ground-attack aircraft. Since then, inspired by Margaret Thatcher's obsession with selling British arms to as much of the world as possible, Britain has sold, or agreed to sell, an estimated 40 Hawks. These are in addition to Wasp helicopters, Sea Wolf and Rapier SAM missiles, Tribal Class frigates, battle field communications systems, sea-bed mine disposal equipment, Saladin, Saracen and Fernet armoured vehicles, a fully equipped Institute of Technology for the Indonesian army and training for its officers in Britain.

The correlation of "aid" and arms deals that is undeclared British policy is vividly illustrated in the relationship with Indonesia. In April last year, Douglas Hurd flew to Jakarta and agreed to give Suharto 65 million in "soft" loans. Six weeks later, Defence Secretary Malcolm Rifkind followed him and tied up the Hawks deal. A week later, Britain pledged 81 million in "aid" to Indonesia. Last year, 57 per cent of all Export Credit Guarantees financed arms sales to Asia, principally the Indonesian Hawks deal.

Does this sound familiar? In November 1988, shortly after the gassing of 5,000 Kurds by Saddam Hussein, Trade Minister Tony Newton flew to Baghdad and gave the Iraqi dictator 340 million in Export Credit Guarantees. The following year, an ECG department memo said that British goods were "destined for Iraq, to be incorporated into a chemical weapons factory."

Central to British policy has been propaganda. Indeed, Foreign Office disinformation on Indonesia provides a valuable model of the way a "civilised" government protects and promotes the interests of a criminal elite while excusing its "excesses" and misrepresenting its true nature. If you write to the Foreign Office about East Timor, you are likely to receive this statement: "Indonesia's human rights record remains imperfect, but progress is being made. The Indonesian government has declared its commitment to human rights."

Set against Amnesty`s evidence of "casual mass murder", this is a breathless claim, though no more so than the deception that British officials are engaged in "quiet diplomacy" to improve human rights in Indonesia. According to secret telexes leaked to the Guardian's Margaret Coles last year, Foreign Office officials lied to the Labour MP, Greg Pope, that the Government was pressing Jakarta to allow access to the imprisoned East Timorese resistance leader, Xanana Gusmao. False assurances given to the MP, said an internal memo from a senior official, "are for stonewalling".

The official briefer currently dealing with East Timor and Indonesia at the FO is Carol Robson, deputy head of the South East Asian Department. Robson says she has studied human rights for years. The enthusiasm with which she defends the Suharto tyranny has greatly impressed those who have attended her briefings. When Indonesian troops brutally attacked religious demonstrators in East Timor in July, this was dismissed by Robson as "squaddie indiscipline". She has worked hard, and unsuccessfully, at trying to discredit East Timorese eye witness accounts of bombing by British Hawks. "It takes 20 years' planespotting," she said, "to identify a Hawk.' Robson's comments
were shown to a former British Aerospace engineer who replied that "the Hawk is a distinctive aircraft, easily recognisable by anyone being attacked by them".

Robson claimed that the Indonesians lacked the technical skills and equipment to convert the Hawks from trainers to attack aircraft. The engineer pointed out that BAe promotional material made it clear that "Hawks can be modified on site to the five pylon ground-attack standard" and that conversion was "relatively simple". Mark Higson, the former Foreign Office official who gave evidence to the Scott Inquiry on arms sales to Iraq, told me that "everybody at the FO knows that the Hawk can be utilised as an offensive weapon and that so-called assurances from Jakarta are worthless".

Since the 1960s, British policy on Indonesia has been, as the CBI once put it, to exploit the "enormous potential" of the "favourable political climate" that followed the bloodbath of Suharto's coming to power. In British high street shops, the labels on many of the cheapest bags, jeans, trainers, toys and other consumer goods say "Made inIndonesia". They are made on huge sweatshop estates, most of them run by famous-name multinationals, employing some of the cheapest labour in Asia; Indonesian workers, mostly females, earn around 90 pence a day, usually less. The factories are infiltrated by goons of state intelligence; "troublemakers" are kidnapped and "disappeared", and often murdered.

In covering for Indonesia's appalling human rights record, Douglas Hurd has led the way. In a speech at the Indonesian foreign ministry in Jakarta last year, Hurd congratulated the Suharto regime on "recognising human rights as an important element in man's freedom". What the regime had achieved was "proof of its recognition of basic freedoms, such as freedom of unions, freedom to express opinion, and press freedom, as a fundamental right".

But Amnesty's report is full of the searing stones of Indonesians who have tried in vain to claim their "fundamental right".

Trade unions have been a particular target; Marsinah, a factory worker, aged 25, was "disappeared", tortured, raped and murdered in East Java last year because of her work as a labour activist. According to Amnesty, all the evidence points to the regime as her killer. The only independent trade union, SBSI, was banned this year and its leader, Muchtar Pakpahan, put on trial for "inciting worker unrest".

Hurd also praised "the freedom to express opinion". As a novelist himself, he may have heard of Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Indonesia's most distinguished novelist, who was imprisoned for 14 years. All his books are banned and students have been sentenced to long prison terms for possessing them. As for "press freedom", three magazines were banned this gear, and protesting journalists beaten in the streets of Jakarta. "The domestic and international media operate under restrictions," says Amnesty, "which require minimal intervention. Censorship usually takes the form of a telephone call or a visit from Ministry of Information officials or military intelligence ... By denying visas to foreign journalists, the authorities have encouraged self-censorship." The reporting of Jakarta-based correspondents reflects this. It is often anodyne, at worst deferential to the regime. The coverage of the recent visit by five British MPs, led by Patrick Nicholls, a Tory backbencher who is virtually Jakarta's spokesman in Britain, was not untypical. Nicholls was reported as saying that the "human rights situation in East Timor is improving" and he congratulated the regime for guaranteeing press freedom and responding to criticism "in a positive manner", ad nauseam. No reference was made to Nicholls's record of closeness to the regime, to the fact that his absurd statements are used in official propaganda, that his expenses were paid by the regime, that the more visible troops were taken off the streets of Dili, East Timor, during the visit of his "all party" fact-finding mission, which included
not a single Opposition MP.

Next month the Asian Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) will be held in Jakarta. President Clinton and other heads of government are going. The regime is understandably nervous. While the presence of its allies and backers will provide some respectability, the role of some 2,000 expected foreign journalists is less than certain, especially if the popular b resistance - including scores of banned Indonesian journalists -- once again brave the military's truncheons on the streets.

The military commander of Jakarta, Major-General Hendro Priyono, has warned that if anyone protests, "I'll cut them to pieces". His words may well have been reported from Jakarta, but I have yet to see them. Perhaps they were intercepted by the "media centre", which has been set up for the APEC meetings with the aim of "tackling bad news". According to Foreign Minister Ali Alatas, the media centre "will provide immediate and precise responses to issues with a negative tone against Indonesia from abroad on human rights, democratisation, workers' rights," etcetera.

THE general's threat to cut protesters to pieces was, however, reported by one of the many courageous Indonesian journalists who put their Western colleagues to shame. He is Ahmad Taufik, a young writer on the banned weekly, Tempo, who has helped to set up the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI). Taufik was in London last week. He saw Carol Robson at the Foreign Office and she told him that the British government had protested at the press bans. Taufik replied that this was news to him. She said the protest had been delivered "in private". She also told him that the "human rights situation is improving". He told her that this wasn't true. She said the "lighter punishment"
given out to protesting journalists (who were beaten by police) was proof that "conditions have improved". He said she was referring to people whose crime was to have read poetry in public. Such is her dedication.

My own meeting with Ahmad Taufik made me proud to be a journalist. He described the terrible psychological pressure on the banned journalists and their supporters - phone calls through the night, threats, arbitrary interrogation. He is worried about Mulyana Kusuna, who heads the Legal Aid Institute and has been interrogated almost daily. Was he concerned for himself when he returned? "I must speak the truth," he said.

I asked him if British and other Western support for the regime was important. "It is extremely important," he said. "It means that the regime can go on ignoring human rights. At the very least, Britain should not sell them weapons. This reinforces their will to stop the movement towards democracy. Is that what the British want?"


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