Time to drop Suharto’s arms debt

Former Indonesian President’s death must trigger cancellation of illegitimate debts

Jubilee Debt Campaign, Jubilee Scotland and the Anti-Debt Coalition Indonesia are calling on the UK government to cancel £525 million of illegitimate debt owed by Indonesia from loans made to former President Suharto, who died on Sunday 27th January

Much of Indonesia’s debt to the UK was contracted in the 1980s and 1990s to buy British arms, including tanks, water cannon and aircraft. At least 75% of the £705 million Indonesia owes the UK – which is still being repaid – is known to relate to arms sales [1]. Suharto’s use of arms to suppress his own people, such as in East Timor, is notorious.

Ben Young, of Jubilee Scotland, said:

Indonesia is still paying the UK millions in debt every year from arms loans made to Suharto. Rich countries including the UK knowingly lent this dictator billions of dollars, to fund arms sales including Hawk jets and Scorpion tanks. It’s time the Indonesian people stopped paying for their own oppression.”

Yuyun Harmono, of Koalisi Anti Utang (Anti Debt Coalition Indonesia), said:

“The Indonesian media are maintaining that Suharto had no faults; they need reminding that he was a dictator and has committed many crimes. Suharto took out many loans from the multilateral institutions, and from the UK, the US, Australia and Germany. These loans were not taken out by Indonesia, but by a dictator. We’re saying that the Indonesian people will not now pay the loans back.”

Sarah Williams, of Jubilee Debt Campaign, said:

After the fall of Saddam Hussein there was clear international agreement that whatever the reasons for the original loans, the Iraqi people should not have to repay their dictator’s debts. Yet ten years after the fall of Suharto, the Indonesian people are doing exactly that, while more than half the population live below the poverty line.

Suharto’s death is a chance for the UK and other rich countries to take the lead in cleaning up international lending – by cancelling Indonesia’s illegitimate debts.”

  1. Obtained following a Freedom of Information request by Jubilee Scotland, see: https://debttribunal.wordpress.com/2007/04/12/export-credit-debt-owed-to-the-uk/.

The following letter by Ben Young of Jubilee Scotland was published in the Glasgow Herald in response to the Herald’s obituary on Suharto:

Your obituary of General Suharto rightly emphasises the extraordinary brutality of his rule, but overstates the economic development over which he presided. Human development indicators such as life expectancy, child mortality and education improved steadily in the decades after the Second World War; Suharto’s rise to power is not marked by any acceleration in the rate of improvement. This suggests that development was actually initiated by President Sukarno and continued despite, not because of, his successor’s deeply corrupt rule.

Nor should we gloss over the predicament of most Indonesians today, half of whom live under the $2 per day poverty line. The country also has colossal debts, spending three times as much servicing them as it does on health and education combined. Suharto’s estate, meanwhile, contains up to $35bn stolen from the public purse. This is the legacy of the man who styled himself “father of development”.

Ben Young, National Co-ordinator, Jubilee Scotland, 41 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh.

 Also published was a letter by James Picardo of Jubilee Scotland in response to The Independent’s report on Suharto’s death 

The justice we owe the Indonesians

 It is true that the Indonesian people will never have the satisfaction of seeing the dictator Suharto brought to justice (report, 28 January). But there is still a hope for some measure of justice from the international players who were willing to fund his murderous regime – a roll of shame which includes the UK.

The £500m the UK government lent to Suharto was not only used for tanks and planes to shore up his vile reign, but is still being paid off by the Indonesian people, and hobbling their steps towards development and democracy. Civil society groups in Indonesia have long called for the cancellation of this odious debt. To listen to them now – and act on their wishes – would be to make some small amends for our past role.

James Picardo

Jubilee Scotland, Edinburgh


One Response to Time to drop Suharto’s arms debt

  1. jubileescotland says:

    Indoleft sends out this report of attacks on what seems to be a democratic enquiry group in Indonesia. Suppose that this group was part of the the Anti-Debt Coalition. And suppose that they had been successful in getting Indonesia’s debts cancelled. Would they still have been attacked? It seems to me that having successfully championed Indonesia’s national interest might afford a measure of protection.

    I N D O L E F T – News service > >

    Police stand by as anti-communist thugs attack discussion group

    Detik.com – February 6, 2008

    Irwan Nugroho, Jakarta — Apparently on account of being accused of being communists, an activity organised by the Joint School Forum (Sekber) was attacked and a number of participants injured yesterday.

    “Our activities were just training and consolidation. Sharing ideas about nationalism, for example the rising price of basic goods, the New Order regime [of former President Suharto] becoming stronger and the like”, said Sekber committee chairperson Hasan Sofyan when speaking with Detik.com on Wednesday February 5.

    According to Hasan — who is better known as Upik — Sekber was formed in the Central Java city of Yogyakarta on May 25, 2002. The organisation has no relationship with the communist movement in Indonesia.

    “We were born out of the 2000 generation and know absolutely nothing about the issue of the PKI [Indonesian Communist Party]. Whey was [the discussion] broken up? Our activities already had a permit from police and the local sub-district administration”, added Upik.

    Upik said that the attack occurred on Tuesday February 5 at around 2pm. At the time, he and around 150 Sekber members from 19 cities across Indonesia were taking part in training at the Mangunan village in the Dlingo sub-district of Bantul regency.

    All of a sudden, continue Upik, members of the Yogyakarta Indonesian anti-Communist Front (FAKI) entered the building and began attacking participants and broke up the meeting, which had been going on since the day before. “We were beaten and trampled on. Documents were also burnt”, said Upik.

    According to Upik, as a result of the attack, a number of his colleagues suffered injuries and they are currently lying low at a different location. “We will still continue the activities. We will also pursue the case legally”, added Upik.

    Upik said that a number of Indonesian military personnel and police were on guard at the location but that they took no action whatsoever. “They should protect residents. But security personnel just allowed the attack to go ahead,” he added.

    [Translated by James Balowski.]

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