TNI intrusion into public life met with wariness
Margareth S. Aritonang
The Jakarta Post
Marking its 70th year of existence on Monday, the Indonesian Military (TNI) has been accused of becoming more unprofessional, with increasing involvement in political, social and economic affairs.
Watchdogs that focus on promoting democracy are concerned that the military's lack of professionalism will drag Indonesia back to the New Order era, when it was heavily used to serve the government's political interests under the command of president Soeharto, himself a military general.
Activists have compiled a list of memorandums of understanding (MoU) that the TNI sealed with non-military institutions during the leadership of former chief Gen. (ret) Moeldoko, which pro-democracy campaigners are worried could open the door for the military to once again meddle deeply in public life.
Besides agreements that allow military deployment to guard public infrastructure such as railway stations, harbors and airports, the list includes a deal with the Law and Human Rights Ministry to recruit former soldiers as prison guards and an agreement with the National Population and Family Planning Board (BKKBN) to involve the military in family planning programs.
'The public does not have the instruments available to evaluate these collaborations. How can the public involve themselves with checking for misuse of power by the military as it carries out its work? Will soldiers be punished for abusing their authority?' Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) coordinator Haris Azhar asked on Sunday, questioning the purpose of military engagement in public life.
Emphasizing the threat to democracy resulting from a lack of civil control over emerging TNI public involvement, Haris described the situation as 'politics as usual'.
Concerns over the professionalism of the military have further mounted after the TNI insisted on maintaining the existing law on military courts, Law No. 31/1997, which stipulates that criminal acts by soldiers must be resolved internally within the military institution.
Human rights watchdogs claim the law prevents members of the military from being held accountable for crimes against civilians, particularly in conflict-prone areas such as the country's easternmost province of Papua.
In Papua, a shooting at Koperapoka in Mimika involving soldiers claimed the lives of two civilians in August, one of several such cases in the province that remain unresolved.
Activists also often cite the infamous attack at Cebongan Penitentiary in Sleman, Yogyakarta, by members of the Army's Special Forces (Kopassus) in 2013 that left four detainees dead. That case was similarly tried before a military rather than civilian court, and is held up as an example of the military's seclusion and lack of accountability.
Until the TNI allows civilian courts to try soldiers accused of crimes, activists say, it will remain vulnerable to charges of lack of professionalism and commitment to justice.
'Thus, a revision of the Military Court Law is urgent,' said Poengky Indarti of the Jakarta-based human rights watchdog Imparsial. 'Revising the law is one way to make sure that the military is professional in carrying out its job.'
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