The appointment of Lieutenant General Sjafrie Sjamsuddin as Indonesia's Deputy Minister of Defense undermines human rights accountability and civilian control of the military, said the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN).
"This is Suharto redux, leaving the military in charge of itself" said John M. Miller, National Coordinator of ETAN. "Sjamsuddin appointment clearly demonstrates that the 'reformer' President Yudhoyono would rather reward former military colleagues than hold them accountable. This sets back the limited efforts to bring the Indonesian military under civilian control."
"Sjafrie is a poster boy for the argument that U.S. military training does not instill respect for human rights in Indonesian officers, especially those belonging to Kopassus," said Miller. The Obama administration is currently considering resuming training of Kopassus.
Human rights groups in Indonesia have protested Sjamsuddin appointment citing his human rights record. They also point out that the appointment violates Indonesian law, which prohibits the promotion of active duty soldiers to political posts.
"Sjamsuddin not only defends the military's system of territorial command, he has little understanding of the need for civilian supremacy over the military," said Miller.
Sjamsuddin was refused a visa to accompany President Yudhoyono on his visit the United States in October 2009.
Sjamsuddin (also spelled Sjamsoeddin) played a key role in the counter-insurgency campaign in Aceh throughout 1999, arriving in East Timor just three days before the UN-organized referendum on independence. General Sjamsuddin and other senior TNI officers reportedly met to discuss "plans to destroy vital infrastructure, and to kill key pro-independence leaders, in the event that the ballot result favored independence," according to a report commissioned by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner For Human Rights (OHCHR). An eyewitness identified Sjamsuddin, dressed in civilian clothes, as directing the attack on Bishop Belo's official residence on September 6, 1999. The OHCHR report identifies Sjamsuddin as belonging to a group of senior officials "known or alleged to have been involved in planning and coordinating the militias and the violence more generally. A strong case can be made that these officers and officials bear individual criminal responsibility by virtue of their participation in a 'common criminal purpose' that led to the crimes against humanity committed in 1999.
Sjamsuddin participated in the invasion of East Timor in 1975 and served a number of tours there. According to Inside Indonesia, "He has also taken at least five specialist military courses in the U.S., including one on Terrorism and Low Intensity Conflict which, according to Sjafrie, involved training by US Special Forces flown in from Peru on 'how to create terror'. Sjafrie topped his class." He commanded the Kopassus SGI (Intelligence Task Force) in East Timor in the early 1990s. Gen. (retired) Theo Sjafei accused Sjamsuddin of masterminding the November 1991 Santa Cruz massacre.
In a 2008 interview with the Jakarta Post Sjamsuddin defended the Indonesian military's (TNI) territorial role. Ending the TNI's territorial function, which stations troops down to the village level throughout Indonesia, is crucial to finally ending military influence.
"It's not appropriate today to talk about civilian supremacy.... Differentiating between civilians and the military will only lead to a dichotomy, which is narrow-minded..." he said in the same interview. "TNI territorial commands are in the form of military deployment as a defense force. Therefore, if the function is scrapped, TNI will lose its strength."
ETAN was formed in 1991 to advocate for self-determination for occupied East Timor. The U.S.-based organization continues to advocate for democracy, justice and human rights for Timor-Leste and Indonesia. ETAN recently won the 2009 John Rumbiak Human Rights Defenders Award. For more information, see ETAN's web site: http://www.etan.org.