12-17-2010By David Danzig
Senior Advisor to Human Rights First
Among the handful of bombshells one can find in the cables that went back and forth between the U.S. State Department and embassy staff in Jakarta is this: the U.S. is apparently aware of evidence linking a high level Indonesian security official to the assassination of Munir Said Thalib, one of Indonesia’s most outspoken human rights activists.
Munir was poisoned in 2004 as he flew from Jakarta to Amsterdam. While a handful of people thought to be responsible for the murder have been charged in his death, the “masterminds” – as the cables refer to them – of the assassination are not in prison.
According to reports about the cables, recently released by Wikileaks, Indonesian police have a witness who claims that, “former [Indonesian Intelligence] chief Hendropriyono chaired two meetings at which Munir’s assassination was planned.” A witness at those meetings told Indonesian police that “only the time and method of the murder changed from the plans he heard discussed; original plans were to kill Munir in his office.”
But as the cables make clear, the witness – like others with first-hand knowledge of the killing – is unwilling to testify in the case because he fears for his safety.
”A breakthrough on who ordered the murder would presumably require someone with inside information to take an extraordinary risk in testifying, and would require protection,” the cables say. “Nonetheless, the police seem to have been given orders to show progress on the case, likely due to international attention.”
Separate cables also detail the backroom discussions that led to the recent resumption of U.S. military assistance to Kopassus, the Indonesian special forces who are alleged to have committed serious human rights violations in Aceh, Papua, East Timor, Jakarta and elsewhere.
The cables lay out an argument for re-engaging with the special ops community despite their rights record, by suggesting that closer military ties would encourage further reform of Indonesia’s military. The cables also report that Indonesian officials threatened to derail President Obama’s November, 2010 visit to Indonesia if the ties to Kopassus were not renewed. (Indonesian officials vehemently deny that this threat was ever made.)
But taken as a complete body of work, the cables make clear that Washington is keen to make more friends than enemies in Jakarta. State Department officials devote the majority of their key strokes to considerations such as: “U.S. economic interests” in a country that has grown the largest economy in Southeast Asia; “counter-terrorism cooperation” in a country where Islamic extremists have found refuge and carried out attacks; and the relationship between Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and the Chinese, who are also investing heavily in their ties to Indonesia.
All this suggests that activists who want to see accountability for Munir’s death are going to have to continue to pressure officials in Jakarta and Washington for further action on the case. Now that there is public evidence that the Indonesians (and the Americans) are aware of evidence against Hendropriyono, it has become even harder for officials to close the books on this tragic killing.
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