Now Obama wants to resume training for Kopassus, despite the presence of many soldiers within its ranks who are guilty of severe human-rights violations. After orchestrating the violence in East Timor, the killing of West Papuan traditional leader Theys Eluay and the kidnapping and disappearances of student democracy activists in 1997 and 1998 without adequately holding those responsible to account, Kopassus should clearly be ineligible for US training. When the Bush administration proposed restarting training of Kopassus in 2008, the State Department’s legal counsel ruled that the 1997 law prohibited re-engagement.
And the crimes of Kopassus continue. A recent report by journalist Allan Nairn alleges that Kopassus members helped coordinate an assassination program, authorized by “higher-ups in Jakarta,” targeting members of a political party in Aceh Province. At least eight activists were killed in an attempt to pressure the party not to discuss independence for the province.
The Obama administration says it only wants to train soldiers who were not members of Kopassus at the time of earlier abuses, but this makes no sense in light of the recent killings in Aceh. Restrictions on military assistance provide important leverage for accountability and reform. That’s why Indonesian rights groups support the ban on assistance alongside international organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
Obama’s family ties and experience living in Indonesia as a boy give him a special connection to Indonesia and its people. Rather than push US training for the military unit that threatened my life, he should support human rights and justice in the nation.
Kristin Sundell served as a UN-accredited observer of East Timor’s vote for independence as part of the International Federation for East Timor Observer Project. She currently lives in Bandung.
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