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Wednesday, 4 October, 2000, 15:18 GMT 16:18 UK
Did Suharto get off lightly?
Former Indonesian strongman Suharto has escaped prosecution for corruption after a court accepted that he was too frail to stand trial.
The outcome mirrors the case of former Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet, who earlier this year escaped deportation from Britain to Spain because of his age and deteriorating health.
Both decisions angered those who expected to find answers in the dictators' trials - about human rights abuses in the case of Pinochet and about high-level graft in Suharto's.
Did Suharto get off lightly? Or would it have been inhumane to drag a frail 79 year-old through the courts?
Here are your comments:
To punish the people of Indonesia, or any country, for the actions of members of the ruling class is vindictive at best, besides being absolutely pointless. The international banking institutions that funded his reign of terror should be criminally accountable for the violence that they fed, AND the debt should be cancelled.
If there was any justice in this world, Suharto would be shot. As a result of his strong-arm tactics, he jailed and even murdered those who spoke against him. Student activists were kidnapped and tortured. He stole the country's wealth and gave it to his friends and family. And some of you are saying he should not be punished!
Eddy Lie, Australia
Suharto, his family and close 'friends'
should be forced to repay the Indonesian
people. The IMF, UN and other organisations
should withhold all loans/ aid from Indonesia
for 20-50 years as punishment.
Here we go again with the "too frail" rubbish. Just like Pinochet he committed countless atrocities and should be made to stand trial for them no matter how old or weak he is.
He got off scott-free, which is no big surprise. He has stolen enough money to buy just about anyone in Indonesia.
Forget about the country getting any of it back, it is long gone.
To give him his due, he put the right people in place to see to it that Indonesia rose from the mess of the Sukarno regime to an acceptable level of prominence, but that doesn't excuse his corruption.
At the same time, corruption is institutionalised in Indonesia. I've met few in service of the Government who were not corrupt, and I spent many years working for a foreign contractor in the petroleum industry in Sumatra and Kalimantan.
Former President Suharto could deny nothing about corruption charges against him. But as many of his aides will tell you, he did not break any law even when he issued special decrees to facilitate their business projects. The only reason the former Indonesian president is being charged in court is so that President Abdurrahman Wahid can tell you he is tough on corruption; that humiliating him will send the message that no one is above the law. But is that true? Look around him. Has his government really stopped corruption? Has he put in place the judicial reforms he keeps talking about for which he has yet to show you an agenda? Is life really better?
It seems like Suharto will never be brought to trial, whether he is sick or not. The Indonesian authorities should now concentrate their efforts on finding ways to get his family to return the billions of dollars that they made during his rule.
I lived as a banker there during part of Suharto's reign and I observed corruption from top to bottom. The least punishment should be house arrest until he 'recovers' and then back to court. All his family, cronies, hangers-on etc, should be prosecuted now. The current administration should not forget that most of the funding was foreign aid and those countries should freeze further funds until Suharto is convicted in abstentia.
Yes of course he got off lightly, but ultra-rich dictators who have squeezed their countries dry always do! The best we can hope for is that a few of the hundreds of millions he allegedly embezzled actually get returned to Indonesia. Whether any of those few millions will actually reach the poor in the country is another matter, though.
Face it: corruption is a fact of
political life. Suharto IS too old to
stand trial. Look at all the wonderful
things that he did for Indonesia -
developing agriculture and industry,
fostering unprecedented prosperity
for his country and modernising it.
I was dismayed by David K's comment, on your website, regarding comparisons between Suharto and Pinochet. Like Pinochet, Suharto "saved his country from communism". Like Pinochet (although on a vastly grander scale), he did so by way of oppressing, torturing, and slaughtering large numbers of his own people. Like Pinochet, he did so with Western approval and help. Like Pinochet, he was dumped by his Western backers when post-Cold War realities made him an embarrassing inconvenience.
The painful irony about these despots is that they are almost always able to take advantage of the same rights and privileges which they regarded with utter contempt while in power. Just imagine, for example, the extent to which the English courts were prepared to go in order to ensure that Pinochet was given a fair trial, and compare that with what the monster did to his numerous victims.
Eddy Lie Hua Song, Australia
Why no comments from Indonesians?
Why has Britain armed the brutal Indonesian generals, like Suharto? Over the years Suharto got off lightly from the western media, including the BBC.
Yes, Suharto got off lightly. So did the country that did not have to pay for all the lawyers. I think that media sees only one part of the medal (as usual, that is). Suharto deserves trial, but since he is 'unfit' to stand normal one, the trial should be as short as possible, without lengthy speeches and usual legal mambo-jumbo. Also, the people of the Indonesia should have their fair say as well. Hmmm, since we have Pinochet and Suharto, why not make one trial for both. Those who still remember Nuremberg would help with this one.
Julian Hayward, UK
Yes I think he should go to jail, or at least he must return the money that he took from the country during his rule. It is so pathetic that he wants a fair trial and justice now.
Indonesia was a gangster state and still is a gangster state. The gangsters are the Suhartos, the army and their 1.5 million militiamen, the people running the army businesses from protection rackets to drugs, the crooked businessmen and bankers, the street toughs....Thousands have been murdered recently in army inspired violence in Aceh, Sulawesi and Maluku. There should be no more World Bank or IMF money for Indonesia. There should be no more arms sales. Suharto got off lightly but we can only hope that the students and people rise up and burn down the army barracks. There are 200 million Indonesians and only about 400,000 soldiers (plus their militias).
One gets the feeling that even the mild strokes are fabricated. While billions of allegedly siphoned $s accrue interest for the family enabling them to further pay off whoever, millions of Indonesians work, sleep, exist on the streets in poverty and uneducated. The sad fact about Indonesia is that corruption is so deep-rooted that it is actually an accepted way of daily life. It will take years, decades to sort this country out if at all, by which time So-hard-to get rid of will be paying his karmic dues. He will get off lightly in this world but .....
Lets not forget the role of the US in the reign of Suharto. It was the CIA who backed him to annex East Timor, just as they supported the right-wing coup led by Pinochet in Chile.
If Mr Suharto is to face justice it won't be without the consent of the real powers-that-be, in Washington!
Pinochet looked pretty spry when he got off of the plane. I would not be surprised if Suharto also had an amazing recovery. We let people like this cause untold harms to millions of their own people and then when it comes time to pay the price we let them off because they are "too old and infirm to face the penalty. It is my contention that no one is ever "too old and infirm" to pay the price for their crimes.
With the defence industry worth billions each year, and the public so powerful in setting moral agendas these days, you have to ask - "who really got off lightly."
Of course Suharto got off easily. His reign of terror lasted for decades. He was responsible for the executions of hundreds of thousands, the repression of millions, and the embezzlement of billions.
Certainly seems to be a trend. When did he become unfit to stand trial, when he sat in the wheelchair at the hospital? Seems the only way to a debt-free life and true happiness nowadays is to either be a Dictator, a CEO or a corrupt politician. Well I think I'll quit my menial job to enjoy more prosperous times free of legal prosecution, see you at the top.
It is a shame Suharto has got off lightly. It has become fashionable for politicians of all hues to amass illegal wealth, feign illness while facing a probe for having been corrupt during their rule, have real health problems at the time of appearances in court and escape prosecution.
Those accused of corruption, young or old, healthy or sick, ought to be tried in a court of law and punished according to the law of the land. If this is not done, it will give birth to more Suhartos and Pinochets.
Maybe Suharto was too old, frail and ill to go to Jail, but there should at least be a full public enquiry into what he did and some method of redress sought if wrong is found to have been done. Justice doesn't have to have punishment as its be-all and end-all, it should focus on the discovery of truth.
Why link Pinochet with Suharto? The former saved his country from communism, the latter was simply a corrupt politician.
Mira Jackson, UK
I think he should be made to give up his ill-gotten wealth. The man and his family would never get a fair trial, no matter what anybody says. Let him see how it is to suffer financial hardship like he exposed so many of his countrymen too.
Martin Snape, Canada
Suharto is a vicious, brutal man. He was so for 30 years while all this country did about it was sell him arms.
This would have only been a show trial. How can justice possibly be served for such crimes? The international community needs the ability to punish or influence dictators when they are dictating, not as old people.
It is always the same, people who do the most wrong are
let off and the innocent always suffer.
IF proof exist of guilt all monies and property should be returned to the state.
Sebastian Kuzhikannil, India
I don't think he should have to go to jail, but I do think that Suharto, his family (all guilty parties) and friends should return the money to the Government and in addition pay a significant fine as penalty for stealing from the country.
28 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Judges dismiss Suharto case
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