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June 22, 2005

Human Rights First Calls on Indonesian Government to Step Up Efforts to Solve Activist's Murder

House Committee's omission of restrictions on U.S.-Indonesian military ties a setback for accountability

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NEW YORK -- President Yudhoyono of Indonesia should create a new body to succeed the existing fact-finding team in the investigation into the death of human rights lawyer Munir, Human Rights First said today. Past experience shows that if such a mechanism is not created, the authorities may never identify or prosecute those responsible for ordering the murder.

Munir, one of Indonesia's leading human rights defenders, died early on September 7, 2004, while flying to Amsterdam to continue his studies. An autopsy later revealed a massive dose of arsenic in his system, most likely served in his in-flight meal. President Yudhoyono authorized a fact-finding team to work in conjunction with the official police investigation. The team has helped identify suspects and their apparent links to the State Intelligence Agency, known by its Indonesian acronym BIN.

The mandate of the fact-finding team ends on June 23, and a final report will be given to President Yudhoyono the next day. While the president has met with the team on several occasions, he has not clearly said whether he will create a new body to carry the investigation forward.

"The fact-finding team has made all the difference, despite a campaign of obstruction, libel suits, and mockery by former intelligence officials," said Neil Hicks, Director of International Programs. "If he is serious about solving this murder, President Yudhoyono must create a new team with a more robust mandate."

On Tuesday, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee approved a version of the 2006 foreign operations spending bill that omitted current restrictions on the transfer of arms to the Indonesian military. These restrictions are linked to conditions that include accountability for human rights violations in East Timor and greater financial transparency. (The Indonesian military gets most of its budget from a vast network of legal and illegal businesses.)

Munir's death has not been linked to active members of the military. However, many of the intelligence officials accused of obstructing the investigation are retired generals. In addition, Munir's life work was the struggle for accountability for human rights violations by the military. He founded the Commission for Disappearances and Victims of Violence (Kontras) in response to the disappearance of pro-democracy activists in 1998. To this day, military officials refuse to appear before the National Human Rights Commission to provide information about more than a dozen young activists who are still missing.

Munir also sat on a commission of inquiry that investigated crimes against humanity in East Timor and called for the prosecution of a number of leading military figures. Only some of these were prosecuted, and all were acquitted. Now the Indonesian government is proposing a bilateral "Truth and Friendship Commission" with East Timor that promises to be yet another mechanism for impunity. With a United Nations report on accountability for East Timor to be released soon, this is an especially poor time to reduce pressure on the military to end impunity.

"Congress is sending the wrong message at the wrong time," said Hicks. "If restrictions are not included in the final legislation, prospects for reform of an unaccountable military will only dim further."