Indonesia’s newly elected President Joko Widodo has come under fire for appointing a controversial former army chief of staff Ryamizard Ryacudu as the country’s new defense minister.
Ryacudu was notably criticized for praising a group of soldiers who had been jailed for killing a Papuan pro-independence leader as “heroes” in 2003.
According to human rights activists, mistreatment was commonplace during his leadership of military operations to quash separatist groups in Aceh, on western Sumatra Island, and in the eastern region of Papua. Activists have called the appointment a backward move for human rights.
Meanwhile, ally US has downplayed concerns surrounding the new defense minister.
“We are certainly aware of the allegations of human rights violations committed by the Indonesian army while the general served as army chief of staff,” said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki. “We are not, however, aware of any allegation that ties the defence minister explicitly to a specific human rights violation.”
She also noted that the military, which used to play a central role under the regime of dictator Suharto, had transformed “in significant ways” since the country became a democracy in 1998.