United States Set to Host Seminar on Democratization

Article excerpt

The United States, in an seminar attended by officials from five former military dictatorships today, plans to show guests from Indonesia options for dealing with human rights abusers under the regime of former President Suharto.

The objective, U.S. officials said, is to show visiting Indonesian officials how other governments managed to transform into democracies and successfully confront the past without sparking a backlash from the military.

The conference, jointly sponsored by the State Department and the U.S. Institute of Peace, comes at a time when Indonesia's government of newly elected President Abdurrahman Wahid finds itself buffeted by persistent rumors of an imminent military coup.

Officials from South Africa, El Salvador, Argentina, Chile and South Korea are to meet with the Indonesians at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP), where they will be addressed by Attorney General Janet Reno and State Department Director of Policy Planning Morton Halperin.

South Africa used a truth commission, El Salvador granted a broad amnesty for both sides in its civil war, and the other countries found other ways to reconcile victims of violence with those who once abused power.

In all cases, the delicate emergence of democracy was threatened by the need to bring to justice those who had killed and tortured people during authoritarian rule.

A State Department official said that without some way to address its past violence, Indonesia risked being torn apart by ethnic and religious violence.

"Justice and reconciliation are the prerequisites for Indonesian integrity and democratic reform," said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

However, the idea of the United States telling the Indonesians how to deal with their still out-of-control military has sparked intense criticism in Indonesia, said Patrick Clawson of the USIP.

"Critical ministers wanted to come but can't afford to be seen as taking advice from the Americans," he said in an interview. …