Reader reply: Australia and Kopassus

Associate editor at Australian Policy Online and Researcher with the Monash Global Terrorism Research Centre at Monash University, Andrew Zammit provides comment to my post on Australia’s options with Kopassus.

Comer’s critique of the Leahy amendment highlights many flaws in its implementation, but his suggested modifications don’t really provide a way forward for dealing with Kopassus. His suggestion that Leahy should include a mechanism to re-legitimise units which have cleaned themselves up and purged human rights-abusers is perfectly sensible. But the problem with Kopassus, made clear in the human rights reports mentioned in the Deutsche Welle article you cited, is not only past violations but continuing ones, albeit on a far lesser scale. So a Leahy amendment with Cromer’s modifications would probably continue to restrict aid to many Kopassus units.

A theme underlying Comer’s piece was that efforts to tackle human rights abuses are more likely to be successful when they are consistent. I’d suggest it follows from that that Australia’s position should be closer to that of the US Congress.

US Congressional efforts to hold the Indonesian military accountable have repeatedly been undermined by those who, I’d argue, should have been supporting them. In the mid 1990s the Clinton administration provided high levels of assistance to the Indonesian military that at very least violated the spirit of the Congressional restrictions. The Bush administration criticised the restrictions publicly and repeatedly, which may have signalled to the Indonesian military that the US was not completely serious about human rights reform. As your post pointed out, Obama also undermined Congressional efforts in 2010. In addition to this, throughout these past two decades Australia provided military assistance to Indonesia with fewer restrictions than the US (excluding the period immediately after the East Timor referendum, when both the US and Australia cut off military aid).

These inconsistencies would have greatly weakened the pressure that the Leahy amendment and other restrictions were intended to apply, and may well be more important than the specific flaws in the Leahy amendment described by Comer.

Current Kopassus commander, Major General Lodewijk Paulus, has stated that he hopes America’s position on assistance to the Indonesian military becomes closer to Australia’s; I hope it’s the other way round.

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About Natalie Sambhi

Natalie Sambhi is co-editor of Security Scholar. She is currently a Research Fellow at the Perth USAsia Centre, a think tank based at the University of Western Australia. She was formerly an Analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Managing Editor of The Strategist. She is a Hedley Bull Scholar and graduate of the Australian National University.