U.S. Seeks Closer Ties With Indonesia Despite Complaints of Religious Violence

As the U.S. trumps Indonesia’s democratic improvements and seeks closer political ties, many human rights groups and members of Congress say the Muslim world’s most populated nation has a long way to go, according to AP.

With recent examples of violence by Islamists and military oppression against the people of West Papua, critics say that too much praise for Indonesia could have a negative effect. They also say, despite the economic and political advantages that might come from closer relations with Indonesia, President Obama should press Indonesia to do more about its human rights abuses.

"It seems now the administration's policy is to be nice to Indonesia for fear it would come under the umbrella of China. ... That's the sense of where we are headed," said Eni Faleomavaega, ranking Democrat on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Asia-Pacific subcommittee. Faleomavaega is a longtime advocate for Papuan rights.

The example of China could be foreboding, however, as China is the U.S’s top trading partner, despite it being ranked one of the most oppressive governments toward religion in the world while constantly being in the news with examples of human rights violations.

Indonesia has recently come under attack by critics for its handling of the violence propagated against the minority Ahmadiyyah Muslim sect, in which a mob attacked members of the sect and beat three men to death, the BBC reported.

The Indonesian government had not investigated the attack and was even partially blamed for it, with critics saying a 2008 law that threatens worshipers with jail if they continue to spread their beliefs had inflamed the hatred.

The sect is Muslim, but considers its founder, not Muhammad, the last prophet.

"This brutal attack on Ahmadiyya followers reflects the continued failure of the Indonesian government to protect religious minorities from harassment and attacks and to hold the perpetrators accountable," said Donna Guest, Asia-Pacific Deputy Director at Amnesty International.

And in West Papua, the Indonesian military launched a violent campaign against the Free Papua Movement, a separatist group in the central highlands of West Papua. According to Survivor International, an organization that works for tribal peoples’ rights, the military operation followed “a familiar pattern of targeting innocent civilian tribespeople, causing thousands to flee their villages and hide in the forests.”

The Asian Human Rights Commission said the Indonesian military committed widespread rape, torture, and murder against West Papuans during the operation. And last year, a video surfaced on Youtube showing three Indonesian military members torturing West Papuans.

What was seen as a bad joke by Indonesia critics, those three men were sentenced to less than ten months in prison.

The sentences "do not reflect the seriousness of the abuses of two Papuan men depicted in 2010 video," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said on Twitter. "Indonesia must hold its armed forces accountable for violations of human rights," he added.

Despite that, the U.S. last year eliminated Defense Department restrictions on military ties and resumed cooperation with the Indonesian military after Jakarta promised to make military reforms, the AP said.

Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, does not believe the promise of reforms will be very effective.

"Across most fronts in the bilateral relationship, Indonesia continues to get what they want regardless of how some actors have behaved,” she said.

President Obama will become the first U.S. president to attend a summit of East Asian leaders later this year when Indonesia hosts the event.

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