Yudhoyono – come anyway!

6 October 2010

Yudhoyono – come anyway!

by: Harry van Bommel — This week Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono should have been paying an official state visit to the Netherlands. The Netherlands' relations with Indonesia have long been painful, and once again this has turned out to be the case. The bringing of a lawsuit by John Wattilete, President in exile of the Republic of the South Moluccas (RMS), led to the cancellation of the visit. Although it is of course the right of the RMS to bring a complaint on the grounds of the violation of human rights, the President's decision to stay away represents a missed chance for the Netherlands and for the RMS. For that reason I'd like to send a message to President Yudhoyono's address – come anyway!

Harry van Bommel is a Member of Parliament for the SP

President Yudhoyono's visit could have created the impression that as a growing economic power Indonesia is regarded as more important than is Indonesia as a state with enormous deficiencies in its democracy. Unlike the Netherlands, Indonesia is a member of the G-20 and has in any event a formidable economic engine. More than seven hundred EU firms are active there, but competition with other major powers is enormous. In addition to the new partnership agreement between the Netherlands and Indonesia, the EU has also concluded a Framework Agreement. Both accords have as their basis the areas of trade, economics and development.

Unlike the EU, the Netherlands had a colonial relationship with Indonesia and since 1945 has conducted a process of decolonisation which has been extremely difficult. The Netherlands has a lot to make up for, especially in relation to the Indonesian people. An open attitude when it comes to the unfavourable consequences of this history is what's needed. As things stand, the massacre carried out by Dutch soldiers in December 1947 in the Javanese village of Rawagedeh is the distressing focal point of this history, as well as the subject of a court case. The Dutch state fails to acknowledge its complete responsibility for this affair and considers it to be beyond any statute of limitations. The attitude currently taken to the few remaining relatives of those killed at Rawagedeh is highly objectionable. Furthermore, the government prefers to remain silent about every other crime which was committed, at the end of the 1940s, during the violent attempt to restore the colonial era. There must be openness in relation to all of these crimes. A change of policy towards the victims is necessary and complete openness and a modest and respectful attitude in this matter a duty.

The development of Indonesia since the resignation of Suharto in 1998 has seen extremely slow progress towards democracy. The Dutch government is aware of this, as can be seen from its Human Rights Report for 2009. On Indonesia, the government states quite correctly that there are grounds for concern. Human rights in Papua and the Moluccas are under great pressure. Incidents involving violence, torture and political imprisonment are the order of the day. Take for instance the situation in Papua. At the end of July, the body of the journalist Adriansyah Matrai was found in the river. As he had been threatened for the previous six months, his employer, the newspaper Foker LSM, believes that he died through an act of violence,. They have demanded an independent enquiry into his death. Adriansyah was a critical journalist who focused on the corruption of the Indonesian authorities in Papua and the shameless exploitation of natural resources. Six other journalists in Papua have met their ends in suspicious circumstances during the last year. In mid-August President Yudhoyono requested, with an eye to the national day of celebration, the freeing of dozens of political prisoners from Papua, but it didn't happen. In Papua there is a growing demand to resolve longstanding social, economic and political inequalities through dialogue between Jakarta and Papua.

Another example is provided by the Moluccans. In mid-August Moluccan activist Yusuf Sapakoly died in the prison in Ambon where he has been incarcerated since 2007 for aiding and abetting a Moluccan dance troupe. This dance troupe had the courage and temerity to unfurl a flag of the RMS at a cultural festival, during a traditional dance performed in the presence of President Yudhoyono. This not only caused considerable dismay amongst the security personnel, the peaceful dancers and those who helped them were subjected to draconian punishment. They fell into the hands of Densus 88, an antiterrorism unit which did not deal with them gently. Other members of the group, such as leader Johan Teterissa, have suffered from health problems in prison. All of this is symptomatic of the political culture in Indonesia.

All of these matters must be placed on the agenda during a state visit from President Yudhoyono, a visit which I hope will occur soon. It would be inappropriate for the Netherlands to reward Indonesia with a partnership agreement without a penetrating discussion regarding the incarceration, torture and deaths of political opponents of the Jakarta government. This discussion must take as its starting point a demand such as that issued by Amnesty International: the immediate freeing of political prisoners. The Netherlands must itself make a gesture which can be understood as atonement for war crimes committed under our flag. Should none of this occur, then the postponed visit of President Yudhoyono will also go down as a missed opportunity. A healthy and open political understanding is at least as important as economic profit.

This article first appeared in Dutch on 6th October 2010 on Joop.nl

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