24 April 2013

Indonesia: Civilian Courts Should Try Abusive Soldiers, Says HRW

The Indonesian government should urgently amend its laws so that military personnel accused of human rights abuses are tried in civilian courts, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday. Problems with military prosecutions have been evident in the handling of the case against members of the elite special forces for the execution-style murder of four detainees at a Java prison on March 23, 2013.

The military justice system in Indonesia lacks transparency, independence, and impartiality, and has failed to properly investigate and prosecute alleged serious human rights abuses by members of the military, Human Rights Watch said.

“The Indonesian government should ensure that justice is done in human rights cases by prosecuting military suspects in civilian courts,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director. “For too long Indonesia’s military courts have helped foster a culture of impunity by letting abusive soldiers off with a wrist-slap – or no punishment at all.”

Eleven members of the Komando Pasukan Khusus (Special Forces Command or Kopassus) were arrested on April 2 for allegedly breaking into the Cebongan prison in Yogyakarta, central Java on March 23 and murdering four detainees in their cell: Hendrik Angel Sahetapi, Yohanes Juan Manbait, Gameliel Yermianto Rohi Riwu, and Adrianus Candra Galaja.

Military investigators say that the Kopassus suspects, disguised with ski masks and carrying AK-47 assault rifles, forced their way into the prison, beat two prison guards who subsequently required hospitalization, and executed the four detainees. When leaving after the 15-minute attack, the assailants seized the prison’s closed circuit television recordings, according to prison guards and military investigators. Investigators said the motive for the murders was revenge for the killing three days earlier of their Kopassus colleague First Sgt. Heru Santoso, for which the four detainees had been arrested. Santoso and the 11 suspects all served with Kopassus Group II in Kartasura, about a two-hour drive from Yogyakarta.

On March 24, the Central Java military commander, Maj. Gen. Hardiono Saroso, whose authority extends to Kopassus Group II, rejected allegations that Kopassus personnel had perpetrated the prison murders. Nine days later, on April 2, army commander Gen. Pramono Edhie Wibowo indicated that Kopassus members had been involved in the prison attack. On April 4, an army investigating team revealed that nine Kopassus soldiers had perpetrated the attack and two other Kopassus personnel had attempted to prevent it. On April 6, the armed forces announced that Saroso had been dismissed from his post in connection with the prison murders.

Despite military confirmation of Kopassus’ culpability in the prison murders, senior military and government officials have publicly defended the suspects and downplayed the severity of the crime, Human Rights Watch said.

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