Wiranto, 69, has been picked by Indonesian president Joko Widodo Jokowi, whose advent to the presidency in 2014 raised hopes for an improvement in the West Papua conflict. In 2015, a slight opening up in West Papua was announced, but that course was not confirmed later on, and mass arrests of pro-independence Papuans went on.
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Asian Human Rights Commission rejected outright Wiranto's appointment in the face of alleged past crimes. Amnesty quotes an enquiry launched in 1999 by the National Commission of Human Rights in Indonesia (Komnas HAM) whereby Wiranto was aware of human rights violations against the East Timorese population committed by unionist paramilitary groups before and after the independence referendum. The report concluded that Wiranto was ultimately responsible for not having prevented a bloodshed that killed more than 1,000 people.
A UN court in East Timor's capital Dili indicted Wiranto in 2003 for those same crimes. But the Indonesian authorities never handed Wiranto to the United Nations, nor processed him within the Indonesian judicial system.
Acoording to Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, Jokowi's decision "is a slap in the face to Indonesians seeking accountability for past atrocities in Indonesia." "Wiranto’s alleged complicity in murder, arson, and mass forced expulsions in East Timor in 1999 entitles him to a fair criminal trial, not a seat in the cabinet," Kine says.
The Biak island case, 1998
Events in East Timor are not the only dark blot on Wiranto's record. The West Papuan independence movement blames him -as Defense minister at the time- of being ultimately responsible for an alleged massacre on the island of Biak in 1998, where hundreds had gathered at a West Papua flag ceremony. According to pro-independence activists, the Indonesian army and police reached the spot and fired on people gathered there, resulting in more than 100 civilians killed.
The Indonesian government denies any massacre actually took place, and argues that corpses found there might have been the victims of a tsunami.