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INDONESIA: Rehabilitation and Redress for Massacre Victims Essential for True Commemoration

Asian Human Rights Commission

(Ed. note: This statement was circulated by the Asian Human Rights Commission [AHRC] on Oct. 6, 2005.)

A skull unearthed in a mass grave is believed to be one of the victims of Indonesia's 1965-1966 massacre that claimed the lives of an estimated 500,000 to three million people. (Photo: AHRC)
Forty years have passed since the occurrence of one of the largest and least known crimes against humanity of the 20th century: the 19651966 massacre of some half a million to a million unarmed civilians in Indonesia who were alleged to be Communists. In addition to those killed, hundreds of thousands more were tortured and imprisoned, including political opponents of the ruling regime. The families of those killed or imprisoned were also victimised through a programme of institutional ostracism that denied them the opportunity to engage in normal economic and social life.
To this day, Sept. 30 is officially commemorated in Indonesia by mourning the six generals killed during the purported leftist coup attempt that Gen. Suharto used as the means to seize state power in 1965. By contrast, nothing is officially said of the millions murdered afterwards. In fact, the survivors and family members of those targeted during the massacre continue to be discriminated against in every aspect of their lives. They have been imprisoned, dismissed from their jobs, denied access to education and faced social ostracism by having ex-Tapol (ex-political prisoner) put on their identification documents. This is the case seven years after the downfall of Suharto and his New Order regime, which were responsible for the atrocity. Indonesia is presently being governed by its first elected president. There can be no legitimacy to a government that ignores the massacre of a million of its citizens, however. Elected representatives have a responsibility to the people. By ignoring evidence painstakingly compiled by victims' families and concerned groups, eyewitness reports and the uncovering of mass graves, the Indonesian government is blatantly shirking this responsibility. By continuing the institutional ostracism of the survivors through legal and social regulations that prevent them from enjoying their fundamental human rights, the present government is perpetuating the atrocities committed by its predecessors rather than upholding its reported commitment to human rights and democracy.

This year a week of activities was initiated by numerous groups to commemorate the massacre and inform the public of a truth that is still not officially being told. The activities included public discussions, the viewing of documentary films, the launching of books of victims' testimonies and a demonstration to the president's residence demanding that the victims be compensated and rehabilitated with dignity and honour. The focus of these activities continues to remain the same: the truth be told, enabling the victims to shed the stigma they have lived with for four decades.

This truth must begin with the revision of school textbooks. Indonesian students are learning the same lessons of history as they did under the New Order regime. They learn that the country was threatened by communism and saved by quick army intervention. They learn a mythological account of the events surrounding Sept. 30. They learn nothing of the millions murdered in the bloodbath that followed. Although these textbooks were earlier exchanged for ones that made no mention of the coup attempt and subsequent atrocities, they are in use again after the new ones were removed from school curriculums by the Ministry of National Education due to public complaints.

Like the education system, the country's legal system is also discriminatory in nature, leaving it unable to serve justice to the victims of the massacre. A class action lawsuit by a group of individuals imprisoned after 19651966 was recently heard in court against the current and former presidents of Indonesia. The victims, demanding the restoration of their honour and compensation for the discrimination they experience to date, were harassed and threatened when they appeared in court. The judge decided the case purely on jurisdictional issues, not on its merits (the court can apparently only hear cases that are filed within a certain period of time after the incident).

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Bill, passed by the government in September 2004, is yet another act of injustice delivered to the victims. The bill omits any definition of who is a perpetrator and further forces the victims to forgive their perpetrators if they want compensation. According to the bill's provisions, only when the perpetrators are given amnesty by the government can the victims be given compensation, and amnesty is given after the victims grant forgiveness. While the commission is presently in the process of being established, it has understandably little support from victims and other concerned groups. Without provisions for genuine justice, which would include legal remedies for the prosecution and punishment of the perpetrators as well as compensation for the victims, the commission is a tool to whitewash the massacre rather than an attempt at reconciliation.

Genuine national reconciliation is possible only when the truth is told. To this end, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) urges that school textbooks be immediately rewritten with accurate accounts of the events of 19651966 and that legal mechanisms be established for the purpose of giving redress to the victims as well as to monitor and investigate the existing forms of discrimination suffered by the survivors and family members. To aid these mechanisms, it is necessary to enact the Witness and Victim Protection Bill that is currently pending in Parliament. All concerned groups and individuals should urgently take these issues up with the relevant government agencies.

Posted on 2006-03-15
Asian Human Rights Commission

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