Cabinet may put security, law reforms in limbo

The appointment of figures with dark human rights records and political affiliations to security, defense and legal ministerial posts has left the country’s legal and security reforms hanging in the balance.

Yuliasri Perdani and Margareth S. Aritonang, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Headlines | Mon, October 27 2014, 9:05 AM

The appointment of figures with dark human rights records and political affiliations to security, defense and legal ministerial posts has left the country’s legal and security reforms hanging in the balance.

National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) and rights campaigners have decried the decision of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to install 64-year-old former Army chief Gen. (ret) Ryamizard Ryacudu as defense minister, due to the latter’s alleged role in gross human rights violations that took place during the military operation in Aceh.

“As then army chief of staff, he [Ryamizard] was responsible for all operations in Aceh. His appointment thus will protect the culture of impunity within the military,” Komnas HAM Commissioner Otto Syamsuddin Ishak said on Sunday.

Komnas HAM had declared the military operation in Aceh, which lasted from 1989 until a peace deal was signed in 2005, a gross violation of human rights in August last year, based on an investigation that focused on five particular cases.

Among them are the 2001 Bumi Flora massacre in eastern Aceh; the finding of the remains of victims of the conflict in a mass grave in Bener Meriah regency in 2002; and the 2003 massacre in Jambo Keupok village in southern Aceh.

Ryamizard led the Army between 2002 and 2004 under the administration of then president Megawati Soekarnoputri, now the Indonesia Democratic Party of Struggle’s (PDI-P) chairwoman.

Al Araf, the program director of human rights watchdog Imparsial, suggested that Ryamizard’s appointment was a setback as it broke from the tradition of civilian rule within the Defense Ministry.

“Compared to Jokowi, former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono did better in his first term by appointing Juwono Sudarsono, a committed academician with strong defense knowledge, to the post,” he said.

Al Araf raised doubts that with Ryamizard in power, the ministry would support the much-awaited amendment to the 1997 Military Tribunal Law to allow civilian courts try soldiers involved in non-military offenses.

Iis Gindarsah from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said that Ryamizard’s appointment demonstrated “a new dynamic” in civil-military relations.

“On his institutional responsibility, minister Ryamizard will retain his predecessor’s policy on military modernization and rebuilding indigenous strategic industries through a combination of key weapons procurements and offset programs,” he said.

Jokowi has also faced criticism over his decision to appoint PDI-P politician Yasonna Laoly to take the helm of the Law and Human Rights Ministry.

Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW) researcher Ade Irawan said that the appointment of a politician as the law minister would be prone to conflicts of interest as many corruption cases involved political parties.

“[The appointment] is quite disappointing. Ministerial posts involved with the country’s corruption fight should not be filled with figures from political parties,” Ade said.

Concurring with Ade, former Supreme Court justice and legal expert Asep Iwan Iriawan said that the last administration had provided evidence that showed a politician assuming the ministerial post faced challenges in giving fair treatment to graft convicts who came from the same political party.

“In the past, we saw that the public questioned a law minister’s decision in granting remission to those with political ties. A minister who had a professional background would not face this dilemma,” Asep said.

Meanwhile, Jokowi has been applauded for installing former Navy chief Adm. (ret) Tedjo Edhy Purdijatno to take the reins of the coordinating political, legal and security affairs ministry.

“Edhy’s appointment breaks away from the domination of the Army in ministerial posts,” Al Araf said, adding that Edhy had a clean human rights record.

Edhy, who led the Navy from 2008 until 2009, is the defense division head of the NasDem Party, a member of Jokowi’s Great Indonesia Coalition. (idb)