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Should we share the opinion put forward in The Jakarta Post’s “Issues of the day” (Aug. 23) that said an “apology to the 1965 victims is not necessary”?
Recently, the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) released a report on the 1965 purge, which declared that the systematic persecution of alleged members of the now defunct Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) was a gross violation of human rights.
After hearing this, groups including the Retired Army Association, the Arif Rahman Hakim Student Militia and the Ansor Youth Movement (GP Ansor), a youth wing of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), urged President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to reject Komnas HAM’s findings and recommendation that the government deliver a public apology to the victims of the 1965 purge. “We are against the idea of setting up a human rights court and ask all citizens to stay alert to the rise of ideologies that are against Pancasila. No ideology other than Pancasila should be allowed to exist here,” said Nusron Wahid, GP Ansor chair.
Deputy chairman of NU, As’ad Said Ali, said that NU lost many figures during the period leading up to the aborted coup blamed on the PKI. NU demanded nothing in compensation and never demanded the perpetrators be brought to justice and, therefore, he encouraged all Indonesians to forget about the 1965 purge and move on.
Such controversial statements are the result of reviewing the 1965 purge partially, without considering the whole true story in its fullest sense. If this were a play, history has divided the purge into three phases of narratives: prologue, analogue, epilogue. Some people have only seen the prologue where the PKI comprised the alleged perpetrators of political provocations and various acts of violence, with many victims coming from Muslim groups.
Back in the day, my father, a local ulema in West Java, was listed as a target for killing. My mother was once surprised to learn that I was pursuing justice for the victims of 1965, including those accused as PKI members. Nevertheless, my family refused to pursue revenge or seek more truth.
We should not ignore the importance of the analogue period, when the Army was involved in the killing of the generals, including the foreign-domestic covert operations that provoked high-level violence. While the epilogue seems to be have been abandoned for political or emotional reasons, the massive amount of violence and political imprisonment that occurred resulted in the largest number of victims being members of the PKI, the military (mainly from the Air Force), and even police officers accused of being communists. They included Muslims, Protestants, Catholics and even Buddhists. Given this reality, the right to seek the whole truth about this past chapter, amounts to a very complex issue.
So, who exactly were the victims? Victims should be identified from an impartial political perspective in every phase of this tragedy. The United Nations defines victims as persons who, individually or collectively, have suffered harm, including physical or mental injury, emotional suffering, economic loss or substantial impairment of their fundamental rights, through acts or omissions that are in violation of criminal laws operating within Member States, including those laws proscribing criminal abuse of power.
Therefore, victims can come from any of the parties caught up in the 1965 purge. The state shall investigate, prosecute and bring perpetrators to justice and to grant victims (anyone) with reparations, which include rehabilitation, restitution and compensation, regardless of their origin, religion or ideology.
All of us, including Muslims, should forgive the PKI (prologue), require the state to reveal the truth about the past (analogue), and help the victims demand justice (epilogue). Upholding justice and truth is a path that needs purity from the beginning, free of hidden intentions, sacred from foul interference.
By forgetting the past, without specifying which part should be forgotten, such attitudes can be used to shield perpetrators in order to hide the truth.
It is also imperative to consider one major gesture in political transition — that is, apology. In Chile, President Patricio Aylwin Azocar made a heartfelt apology for General Pinochet’s regime’s repression of the country’s citizens over many years.
Apologies are not only made by states in political transition but also more established democratic states. In 2008, a remarkable milestone was made by the former Australian prime minister, Kevin Rudd, who publicly acknowledged and apologized to the aboriginal victims of past human rights violations. Later, British Prime Minister David Cameron made an official public apology to the victims and community in Northern Ireland for the “Bloody Sunday” events in January 1972. On that tragic day, British troops opened fire on unarmed demonstrators, resulting in dozens of casualties.
Former president Abdurrahman Wahid, once a prominent chairperson of NU, offered a public apology during his administration. Besides him and former president Habibie, who were notable exceptions, I’ve always wondered why until now all post-reform era presidents have been reluctant to apologize to victims of past crimes and deliver justice. There are plenty of state crimes to choose from besides the 1965 purge, such as Tanjung Priok (1984) and Talangsari (1989), in which most of the victims were Muslims, to the shooting and kidnapping of students and political dissenters in 1997-1998.
Many are skeptical about the power of a simple apology. No one is suggesting, however, that an apology is enough to redeem a state. Nevertheless, it is a significant foundation for reconciling the cruelty of the past for the victims. An apology is an essential first step toward healing the wounds of all those families who lost loved ones.
Finally, Indonesia needs to adopt a new perspective to the historiography of justice in the country, especially to salve the grudges and wounds through the nation’s history, and to become aware of the importance of “an ethic for enemies” for Muslims. As Shriver (1995) stated, “revenge, the end of politics; justice, the beginning”.
The writer is the chair of the board of Kontras and Indonesian campaign director for Change.org.