David L. Chaplin II
Impunity Watch; Asia
JAKARTA, Indonesia – Sentenced to less than a year by a military tribunal, were three Indonesian soldiers, whom being caught on videotape, tortured two men in the country’s restless Papua Province, a remote site of sporadic fighting between separatist rebels and Jakarta. This was a grave disappointment for angry human rights activists who have denounced the legal proceedings as a farce for soldiers tried for human rights violations.
Presiding judge, Lt. Col. Adil Karo-Karo found the three soldiers guilty on charges of insubordination for failing to inform their superiors that they had detained and tortured the two Papuan civilians, Tunaliwor Kiwo and Telangga Gire, on May 27 last year.
The release of the video outraged activists and residents in the province and prompted an uncharacteristic admission of wrongdoing by the military, which has long been accused of brutality in Papua.
The 10-minutes of torture caught on video, taken on a cellphone, incited international horror when it was displayed on YouTube in October.
The video captured Tunaliwor being burned on the genitals with a smoldering stick, soldiers at a military post kicking and suffocating Mr. Kiwo, and soldiers holding a knife to the face of Mr. Gire. Mr. Kiwo said he was further tortured over a period of three days.
The harshest sentence, 10 months in jail, was received by the commander of a military checkpoint near Gurage village in Puncak Jaya district, where the torture took place, Sgt. Irwan Rizkiyanto.
“Although this court-martial has concluded, there is hope for a torture charge given the need to try these soldiers at an independent human rights tribunal,” Poengky told the Jakarta Globe.
The government ratified the United Nations Convention Against Torture in 1999, but activists say this has remained a paper measure. “The government and the House of Representatives must amend the law on military tribunals, which has been a major obstacle in prosecuting military officials under civilian law.”
The Military Criminal Code and its Code of Conduct so far also do not recognize torture as one of the punishable crimes within military tribunal.
Elaine Pearson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, highlighted irregularities in the court-martial.
“There were six men depicted in the video but only three were brought to trial,” she told the Globe.
The pursuit of insubordination charges, rather than those of torture, in the second trial and the focus on a small number of low-level perpetrators appears to be aimed at denying the existence of widespread abuses in Papua, Ms. Pearson said.
“If they had been prosecuted for torture, then that requires complete evidence,” Colonel Priyatna said. “If we couldn’t come up with the evidence at the hearings, then our worry is they could have been freed.”
Local and international rights groups have long accused the Indonesian police and military of human rights violations in Papua despite Indonesia’s overall transition to democracy after the 1998 ouster of the dictator Suharto. Since then, Indonesia has become a democracy.
For more information, please see:
Jakarta Global – Anger at Light Sentence for Papua Torture – 25 January 2011
New York Times – Indonesian Military Trial Angers Activists – 24 January 2011
Voice of America News – Indonesian Soldiers Charged With Torture Sentences to Prison – 24 January 2011