October 5, 2023
JAKARTA – Indonesia has a lot to lose if its state arms manufacturers are proven to have sold military equipment to Myanmar after the February 2021 coup that plunged the nation into conflict and disarray.
On Monday, rights activists urged the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) to investigate suspected arms sales to the Myanmar junta by state-owned PT Pindad, PT PAL and PT Dirgantara Indonesia (PTDI), allegedly made through a broker firm owned by the son of a minister in the military regime.
All three state-owned enterprises denied the allegations, while state defense holding company DEFEND ID issued a statement “fully supporting” the United Nations General Assembly resolution to stop violence in Myanmar.
On top of voting in favor of the 2021 non-binding resolution, which “calls upon all [UN] member states to prevent the flow of arms into Myanmar”, Indonesia has been at the forefront of peace and reconciliation efforts there for many years – first for the democratic transition and the Rohingya refugee crisis and most recently in response to the putsch.
How much success Jakarta and its ASEAN peers have had will vary greatly depending on who you ask, but Indonesia is among the few nations to have taken a principled stance on the current coup crisis.
Several countries have already been accused of enabling the junta’s iron-fisted rule, including through illegal arms deals. A UN rights expert reported in May that the junta had imported at least US$1 billion in arms and other materiel since the coup, despite heavy sanctions from the international community.
There was little that international organizations could do to stem the flow of weapons into Myanmar when countries like China and Russia were supplying the regime with the goods.
Fellow ASEAN neighbor Singapore has faced a similar controversy in this regard, after a local court gave a mere slap on the wrist to local arms dealers who admitted to circumventing national laws to sell military hardware to Myanmar.
This is why Indonesia’s own involvement, if true, risks compromising its privileged position as a broker of peace between the Myanmar people and the occupying regime.
The most obvious point is that Indonesia would be accused of employing double standards. Jakarta would lose credibility if state-owned companies were shown to have peddled arms to Myanmar while its diplomats championed the immediate cessation of violence in the Five-Point Consensus regional peace plan.
It would also severely undermine Indonesia’s foreign policy principle of respecting the rule of law, a position that the country’s national security officials and foreign service have been trained to consistently espouse in diplomatic negotiations and international treaties.
Furthermore, Indonesia would lose its credibility with the people of Myanmar. Historically, sections of the Myanmar governing class have seen Indonesia as a big brother and role model, owing to the Indonesian military’s “soft landing” as it stepped back from a public role.
However, Indonesia gradually fell down the rungs of reliable international partners after the Myanmar junta usurped power. Jakarta cannot afford to lose more clout, particularly among the people opposed to military rule who may or may not rely on ASEAN’s intervention and aid delivery.
Last but certainly not least, the sale of weapons to a regime that has engaged in a campaign of terror and violence against its own people – at times labeling political opponents terrorists and disregarding women and children as war collateral – is tantamount to enabling human rights violations.
Komnas HAM must openly and transparently investigate the allegations and help the government uphold the rule of law, lest it risk another stain on the Indonesian military institution.