Monday 23 Jul 2018 | 00:41 | SYDNEY
Monday 23 Jul 2018 | 00:41 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: Indonesian human rights

24 November 2010 11:52

Greta Nabbs-Keller, a PhD student at Griffith Asia Institute and regular guest blogger on The Interpreter, writes:

Natalie Sambhi has touched on an important issue in her 17 November piece on the Australia-Indonesia relationship and the need to reconcile engagement with Indonesia's military (TNI) against a foreign policy which supports the protection of human rights. It is in fact a challenge for all liberal democracies, including Indonesia. How does the state achieve a balance between pragmatism and principle in foreign policy objectives'

There are a number of problems in Natalie's piece, however, which render her overall argument problematic. First, the Kopassus-centric nature of her argument, where she critiques Australia's engagement with Indonesia's Army Special Forces (Kopasssus), but uses recent examples of human rights violations committed not by Indonesia's Army Special Forces unit, but by territorial TNI elements. Ongoing abuses by Indonesian police personnel not just in Papua, but throughout Indonesia, for some reason completely escape her attention.

Second, there are problems in looking to the US as an exemplar of human rights protection in its foreign policy, specifically when it comes to Indonesia. Leaving aside America's role in Indonesia's post-1965 bloodletting, the Leahy Amendment is a worthy example of where the legislature has successfully proscribed security cooperation based on human rights principles. The implications of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and significance of Indonesia in Southeast Asia's terrorist network, however, meant that the US military purportedly developed a number of creative ways of circumventing congressional policy restrictions.

Third, Natalie's call for some kind of codification or legislative prescription of what Australia expects from Indonesia in human rights terms is most problematic, and would surely represent a highly counter-productive approach to foreign policy for a middle power such as Australia. There's no doubt Indonesia has ongoing challenges and there are still elements of the security forces abusing their authority. But what seems to have escaped the author's attention is that Indonesia is a now a liberal democracy, albeit one that is still 'consolidating' its democratic reforms.

As flawed as Indonesia's justice system may be, it is Indonesia which must deal with its human rights issues. What Australia needs is not a Leahy-type amendment, but a new paradigm for dealing with an emerging regional power. Outdated and paternalistic policy approaches toward Indonesia will not serve Australia's strategic interests.