INDONESIA: Refuse honour and bring criminal generals to justice

On February 28th, 2024, Indonesian President Joko Widodo awarded the Indonesian Minister of Defense, Mr. Prabowo Subianto the honourary promotion to the rank of General of the Indonesian National Army. A similar title has been given to a number of retired Indonesian National Military officers who once served as Ministers, starting from Mr. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Mr. Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, Mr. Agum Gumelar, Mr. A.M. Hendropriyono as well as Mr. Sarwo Edhie Wibowo. The Ministry of Defense explained that the reason for giving this honour was because of Prabowo Subianto’s dedication and contribution which had been recognised in the military world. The Headquarters of the Indonesian National Military is reportedly the proponent of awarding full Generalship to Prabowo Subianto which is claimed to be in accordance with Law Number 20 of 2009 concerning Service Degrees and Honours.

Due to this decision, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) supports the Indonesia Civil Society Coalition in condemning the granting of the four star honourary rank of General (HOR) to Prabowo Subianto. This is not only inappropriate but also hurts the victims’ feelings and betrays the 1998 Reformation. Giving the title of honourary General to Prabowo Subianto is a wrong step. This title is inappropriate considering that the person concerned has a bad track record in his military career, especially regarding his involvement in past serious human rights violations. Giving this title is more of a political step in electoral transactions from President Joko Widodo who annulled his involvement in past serious human rights violations.

It should be remembered that based on the Decree of the Officers’ Honourary Council Number: KEP/03/VIII/1998/DKP, Prabowo Subianto has been found guilty and proven to have committed several irregularities and mistakes including kidnapping several pro-democracy activists in 1998. Based on the Decree, then, a punishment was imposed on Prabowo Subianto in the form of dismissal from the military service. Giving the honourary rank to someone who has been dishonourably discharged by the Indonesian National Military has actually damaged the values of professionalism and patriotism within the Indonesian National Military. Apart from that, this appreciation in the form of giving the honourary promotion actually contradicts President Joko Widodo’s promise in his Nawacita to resolve various cases of serious human rights violations in Indonesia since the 2014 Election campaign. Moreover, on January 11th, 2023, President Joko Widodo gave a speech of recognition and regret for 12 cases of serious human rights violations, one of which concerned kidnapping and enforced disappearance which was designated by the National Human Rights Commission as a serious human rights violation since 2006. Thus, this must go hand in hand with consistency, commitment and real steps from the Government to thoroughly investigate this case and bring the perpetrators to justice instead of protecting them with a wall of impunity and giving them a special position in the governance structure of this country.

Giving the honourary title to Prabowo Subianto is also a form of betrayal of the 1998 Reform Movement. The freedom that we enjoy today is the result of the struggle of the martyrs of the 1998 Reform Movement. How is it possible that those who were overthrown by the 1998 Reformation today want to be given awards? In fact, Prabowo Subianto has never been tried for the crimes that he committed. So, Prabowo Subianto’s name is still on the blacklist of suspected perpetrators of crimes against humanity because he has never been cleared or cleared through an open court hearing through the ad hoc Human Rights Court which was held to try cases of kidnapping and the disappearance of activists in 1997-1998.

President Joko Widodo’s series of actions, which often provide appreciation and red carpets for suspected perpetrators of human rights crimes in Indonesia, has certainly helped strengthen the shackles of impunity in our motherland. This again shows that the human rights vetting mechanism has never been implemented seriously in the political and Governmental system in Indonesia. In fact, checking the background or track record of personnel who will occupy public positions, or what is also called a vetting mechanism, is a key element of effective security sector reform, but, it has never been implemented in Indonesia since Indonesia transitioned from authoritarian leadership to democracy and civil supremacy in 1998. In fact, the United Nations’ international soft law was in the Updated Set of Principles for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights Through Action to Combat Impunity in February 2005. Principle 36 states: “Public officials and employees who are personally responsible for gross violations of human rights, in particular those involved in the military, security, police, intelligence and judicial sectors, shall not continue to serve in State institutions.” 

More than that, giving Prabowo Subianto the honourary title would clearly damage the good name of the Indonesian National Military institution. How is it possible that people who were dismissed by the Indonesian National Military in the past for being involved or responsible for crimes against humanity will today be given the honourary title? This means that President Joko Widodo has forced the Indonesian National Military institutions to lick their own spit for the political interests of President Joko Widodo’s family. President Joko Widodo has not only politicised the Indonesian National Military, but has undermined the spirit and dignity of the Indonesian National Military which many soldiers have built with blood and tears. We believe that it is appropriate for the Indonesian National Military not to be pulled around and not to be involved in practical politics by appointing a General who violates human rights with the honourary rank. We remind the country’s defense and security forces, such as the Indonesian National Military and the Indonesian National Police, to remain neutral and not to take sides at any political level. Giving the honourary title to Prabowo Subianto will further extend the chain of impunity. By granting this title, crimes committed or involving military soldiers will be considered “normal” because, instead of being prosecuted, the alleged perpetrator will be given the title of the honourary General.

Therefore, the AHRC urges:

  1. The President to cancel the plans to give the honourary rank to Prabowo Subianto who is suspected of being involved in cases of the kidnapping and enforced disappearance of people in 1997-1998;
  2. The Republic of Indonesia’s National Human Rights Commission to seriously investigate cases of serious human rights violations in the past by summoning and examining Prabowo Subianto for his involvement in cases of forced disappearances of people in 1997-1998;
  3. The Attorney General’s Office of the Republic of Indonesia to immediately investigate and prosecute cases of serious human rights violations, in this case, cases of forced disappearances of people in 1997-1998;
  4. The Government, in this case the President and his staff, to implementing the recommendations of the DPR RI in 2009, namely to establish an ad hoc human rights court, search for 13 victims who are still missing, rehabilitate and provide compensation to the families of the missing victims, and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance as a form of commitment and support to end the practice of enforced disappearances in Indonesia;
  5. The Indonesian National Military and the Indonesian National Police to maintain neutrality and not get involved in political activities.