Australian PM urged to have discussion with Indonesia’s new President about adopting human rights safeguards in military relationship

The election of a new Indonesian President presents the Australian Government with an opportunity to review its relationship with the Indonesian military.

The Human Rights Law Centre’s Director of Communication, Tom Clarke, said Indonesia’s President elect, Joko Widodo, represents the best chance to date for meaningful dialogue about implementing human rights safeguards in military cooperation.

“During the campaign, Jokowi presented himself as a ‘clean skin’, as someone who wants to do things differently. For example, he was the first presidential candidate to ever campaign in Indonesia’s troubled Papuan provinces and he’s made promising comments about lifting the effective ban that prevents international media from visiting,” said Mr Clarke.

Mr Clarke said whilst Australia has a dubious record when it comes to West Papua with successive governments turning a blind eye to the human rights abuses occurring on our doorstep, the election of President Widodo offered a chance for a fresh start.

“This is a chance to have a serious discussion about what isn’t currently working and to look at ways to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. It is simply unacceptable that adequate safeguards aren’t in place to ensure Australia is not in any way complicit with human rights abuses,” said Mr Clarke.

Mr Clarke points to Australia’s support of Indonesia’s counter-terrorism unit, Detachment 88, as an example of particular concern given the unit’s alleged involvement in a number of human rights abuses. He said Australia is seemingly forgetting about its obligations under international law to conduct due diligence to identify the “risks and potential extraterritorial impacts of their laws, policies and practices on the enjoyment of human rights”.

“Tony Abbott promised a ‘more Jakarta less, Geneva’ focused approach to foreign policy, so he’s hopefully feeling a bit of pressure to get some runs on the board on this front. Well, here’s a tangible and contained project that fits with the new President’s expressed appetite for reform,” said Mr Clarke.

The Human Rights Law Centre is currently assessing the USA’s “Leahy Law” which attempts to ensure recipients of military aid are vetted by the US State Department and Department of Defence and is exploring how a similar mechanism might work in Australia.

“There’s not a magic wand solution, but there’s no doubt that Australia could and should do more to implement practical steps to reduce the risk of supporting people or units that commit gross violations of human rights,” said Mr Clarke.


For further information or comments, please contact:
Tom Clarke on 0422 545 763 or

In May the Human Rights Law Centre held two events about the Indonesian Presidential elections, recordings of which can be found here.