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Jakarta Post

Why Wiranto's appointment as minister is controversial

  • Nicholas Koumjian
    Nicholas Koumjian

    Chief prosecutor for the Serious Crimes Unit in Timor Leste from 2003-2005

Phnom Penh   /   Fri, August 5, 2016   /  07:19 am
Why Wiranto's appointment as minister is controversial Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Wiranto (left) is talking with National Police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian prior to the handover ceremony at the Coordinating Ministry's office in Central Jakarta on July 28. Wiranto officially leads the ministry replacing Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan who was appointed as the Coordinating Maritime Affairs Minister. (Antara/Wahyu Putro)

The Jakarta Post reported last Friday that Gen. (ret.) Wiranto, the newly appointed coordinating political, legal and security affairs minister, had denied accusations of his involvement in past human rights abuses.

He also said of the controversy over his appointment: “I want them to clearly point out when and where exactly my involvement was. Only then will I explain, one by one.” 

As a former deputy general prosecutor for serious crimes in East Timor, I am happy to point out to Wiranto why we sought his arrest for crimes against humanity. 

(Read also: Don't worry about Wiranto)

Under the well-established international law doctrine of superior responsibility, a commander who has reason to know that crimes are about to occur, or have occurred, is obligated to take all reasonable measures to prevent the crimes from occurring and/or to punish those who perpetrated the crimes. Commanders who fail to take such measures are criminally responsible for the crimes. 

Wiranto was indicted for crimes against humanity committed in East Timor in 1999. His indictment and the brief I filed in support of the arrest warrant are public documents. These outline in detail the evidence showing Wiranto’s clear criminal responsibility or failure to fulfill his obligation to prevent these crimes and to punish those responsible despite reports in the media and from international organizations, including the United Nations, and personal appeals to Wiranto to stop the violence.        

Wiranto was commander of the then Indonesian Armed Forces (ABRI) and defense minister in 1999 when the East Timorese voted for independence. Under Indonesia’s agreement with the UN, ABRI, now the Indonesian Military (TNI), was responsible for providing security throughout the referendum process and had almost 18,000 troops stationed in the territory. 

Yet over 1,400 persons were killed, 70 percent of the country’s buildings destroyed and hundreds of thousands forced to flee their homes in the period before and immediately after the vote.  

A judge at the Special Panels for Serious Crimes in East Timor, an institution created and staffed by the UN, issued an arrest warrant for Wiranto in 2004, charging him with the crimes against humanity of murder, forcible transfer and persecution (including illegal detention, assaults and arson). 

The indictment and arrest warrant alleged that these crimes were committed by forces under Wiranto’s effective control — pro-Indonesia Timorese militias armed and organized by the Indonesian armed forces — or by the Indonesian forces themselves, and that Wiranto is criminally responsible because he was aware of the crimes but failed to take measures to prevent the carnage or to investigate and punish those responsible.

A similar conclusion has been reached by Indonesia’s National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), which found on the basis of its investigations that Wiranto was aware of widespread and organized crimes at the time of the independence referendum but failed in his duty to ensure security. 

Does Wiranto now deny that the violence occurred, deny he was commander of the armed forces at the time, deny that he knew what was going on in a territory whose security he was responsible for, or deny that he did nothing to stop the violence or punish the perpetrators? Over the last 17 years, Wiranto has failed to answer any of these points, and undoubtedly will fail to do so now, hoping that what happened almost two decades ago will simply be forgotten. 

It is difficult to understand why, when Indonesia has so many talented and courageous legal and security experts, the President chose to appoint to the position of coordinating political, legal and security affairs minister a man with a notorious record of sanctioning serious human rights abuses. 

The principle victims of this selection are the people of Indonesia, who deserve to live in a secure environment where the rule of law protects and provides justice for all of its citizens. 

Moreover, the term “crimes against humanity” recognizes that mass crimes inflicted on innocent peoples must be the concern of all of people and governments, not just those from the jurisdiction involved. 

Efforts to combat terrorism, narcotics and human trafficking require sharing intelligence and coordinating enforcement efforts across borders. A successful strategy requires that these battles are fought under the rule of law, respecting individual freedoms and holding police and military forces accountable for any abuse of their positions. 

Wiranto’s selection sends the message that military forces are above the law and will not be held to account for past or future crimes. This casts doubt on the sincerity of this government’s commitment to law and human rights. 

Future international cooperation with Indonesia has been jeopardized. Regrettably, Wiranto’s appointment damages the country’s efforts to achieve the very security and justice that his position is meant to promote.  


The writer was chief prosecutor for the Serious Crimes Unit in Timor Leste from 2003-2005 and has handled war crime cases in the former Yugoslavia, Sierra Leone, Darfur and Cambodia. The views expressed are his own.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.