Prabowo’s appointment sends chilling message on human rights

Ketua Umum Partai Gerindra Prabowo Subianto tiba di komplek Istana Kepresidenan, Jakarta, Senin 21 Oktober 2019. Menjelang pengumuman kabinet, sejumlah tokoh hari ini dipanggil Presiden Joko Widodo atau Jokowi. [TEMPO/Subekti; SB2019102144]

Responding to the announcement of Prabowo Subianto’s appointment as Indonesia’s new defence minister, Usman Hamid, Amnesty International Indonesia’s Executive Director said:

“With this move, President Jokowi has gone against his promises – especially on providing redress for past human rights abuses in the country. The president has just handed control of the country’s defence forces to someone implicated in crimes against humanity, including enforced disappearances, by Indonesia’s own human rights commission.

“Prabowo’s appointment sends a worrying signal that our leaders have forgotten the darkest days and the worst violations committed in the Soeharto era. When Prabowo was at the helm of our special forces, activists disappeared and there were numerous allegations of torture and other ill-treatment. We call on the administration to ensure that cases of past human rights violations are thoroughly investigated, fully resolved and victims given effective redress.

“Instead of putting those suspected of criminal responsibility into positions of power – especially where evidence over past wrong-doings is at risk – the government should scrutinize their human rights record vigorously. If warranted, they should bring them to justice in fair trials.”

Background

On 23 October, Indonesian President Joko Widodo appointed Gen. Prabowo Subianto, a former military general, as defence minister in his new cabinet. Prabowo was the opposition candidate running against President Widodo in the latest elections. He is also a former in-law to President Soeharto, the military-backed ruler who governed the country for 31 years, from 1967 to 1998, and served as commander of the army’s special forces under Soeharto.

Prabowo has been widely accused of being involved in human rights violations, including the abductions of pro-democracy activists in the months leading up to the end of the Soeharto regime.

Official independent investigations mandated to investigate serious human rights violations in May 1998 concluded that Gen. Prabowo was aware of the violations and as the commander of the army’s special forces, was ultimately responsible for the abductions of pro-democracy activists in 1997-8. The allegations against him have never been tried in court.