TNI immunity a step backward: Experts
20 March 2006
A government plan to prevent soldiers from being tried for crimes in civilian courts was a step backward and would further weaken the checks and balances against the powerful military, a panel of experts said.
The 2004 Law on the Military reformed the military courts system, allowing soldiers to be tried in civilian courts for crimes against civilians and other violations committed outside the line of duty.
Previously, all crimes committed by soldiers were tried by the military courts, which were criticized for a lack of transparency and for seldom punishing offenders.
While the 2004 has been passed it has not yet been implemented into policy, meaning military courts still try soldiers for most crimes.
However, new amendments to the 2004 law drafted by the government would restore the old system, speakers at a forum on military and police accountability said.
"The jurisdiction of the courts must be based upon the crimes committed," Indonesian Legal Aid Institute head Munarman said at the discussion.
Munarman said military courts should only have the authority to handle disciplinary violations committed by soldiers. All other crimes should be under the jurisdiction of civilian courts, he said.
Speakers at the forum, which convened to discuss the problems of accountability in the armed services and police, said the military courts had failed to bring soldiers committing crimes against civilians to justice.
"There is no equality before the law because the military still considers itself to be in a class of its own, where it cannot be touched by civilian laws," Munarman said.
"The military's professionalism will progress hand in hand with its intention to reform and open up," he said.
Munarman said the old system where military courts ruled supreme was a hangover from the Dutch colonial system. However, for most of their rule, the Dutch had never considered their soldiers immune from civilian laws, he said.
The separation only came in times of conflict with their Indonesian subjects, he said.
"Any violation committed by military personnel when the country is not in a state of alert or in wartime should always be handled by the state courts," Munarman said.
The military's push for the reinstatement of the old system was mostly due to entrenched attitudes in the forces, panelists were told.
Military top brass had argued that police and civilian prosecutors lacked the willingness to investigate soldiers because of a real fear of reprisals if military officials were found guilty.
The failure of ad hoc human rights tribunals to convict military generals for a series of rights violations, including human rights abuses in the former East Timor, were cases in point, they said.
"The problem is sociological, not psychological," a panelist, House Commission III member Andreas Hugo Pareira, said.
"It will take a lot of time to change the mentality of the military," Pareira said.
However, it was vital the legal system continued to be reformed so that civilians were protected and security forces were brought under government control.
"I fear the reappearance of a soft-authoritarian power if the court system is not thoroughly watched," he said.