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Jakarta Post

Realistic steps to resolve human rights

Jakarta   /   Tue, June 26, 2018   /   11:47 am
Realistic steps to resolve human rights The International People's Tribunal (IPT) on 1965 crimes against humanity in Indonesia is held in the Nieuwe Kerk in The Hague, the Netherlands, on Nov. 10 to 13, 2016. (Courtesy of the International People’s Tribunal 1965/-)

Only one year remains before President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo ends his presidency. Can he meet his 2014 campaign pledge to resolve past human rights issues? On May 31, he directly heard aspirations of the regular “Kamisan” protesters who rally every Thursday in front of the Merdeka Palace, demanding justice for unresolved human rights violations. 

Jokowi reportedly has plans to join a teleconference with Indonesian exiles in Europe in the near future. They include former students who were studying or visiting countries friendly to then-president Sukarno’s government, who found their passports seized following the 1965 political mayhem as they were considered Sukarno loyalists and therefore leftist. 

The 2012 report of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) on serious violations of human rights in 1965 has not been progressively followed up by the Attorney General’s Office (AGO). 

Meanwhile, early 2018 saw the releases of three scholarly books on the 1965 genocide of perceived communists: Geoffrey Robinson’s The Killing Season: A History of the Indonesian Massacres, 1965-66, Jess Melvin’s The Army and The Indonesian Genocide: Mechanics of Mass Murder and another work edited by Katherine McGregor et al, The Indonesian Genocide of 1965: Causes, Dynamics and Legacies. 

Echoing earlier studies, Melvin contests the official claim that the 1965-1966 mass killings were spontaneous occurrences among communities and underlines that the written order to root out suspected communists and their supporters was issued by the military. She cites an authentic source, the 1965 annual report by the Aceh Regional Military Command. Robinson also states that the Army was responsible for the mass murders. 

While horizontal conflicts were indeed reported among locals, and while the Cold War was a global threat, the tragedy would not have happened if soldiers had not intervened. 

The government need not deny those findings; it is better to find what the Indonesian Historians’ Society (MSI) has to say and, if necessary, commission them to do their own field research. 

Jokowi is a president who has no issues with the past. He was not an official or board member of any political party during the New Order. He has never broken the law as far as we know. Previous president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was a son-in-law of Sarwo Edhie, the commander of the Army’s Para Commando Regiment (RPKAD) in 1965, who headed the operation to crush the Indonesia Communist Party (PKI). This, of course, gives Yudhoyono a personal constraint in resolving the 1965 cases. On paper, it would be easier for Jokowi to find solutions to human rights violations. He was neither a member of PKI nor of any of its affiliated organizations. 

In his 2014 presidential campaign, Jokowi delivered his nine-point development program, Nawa Cita. The pledged settlements of past human rights violations are reflected in his government’s midterm development plan.

In countries undergoing transition from an authoritarian regime to a democracy, serious human rights violations are resolved by an ad hoc human rights court and a commission for truth and reconciliation. Indonesia had such a court set up for the East Timor cases. The Commission for Truth and Reconciliation Act had been signed, but the Constitutional Court annulled it following a judicial review request.

Reconciliation between victims of the 1965 coup and members of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the biggest Islamic organization whose youth had joined the witch hunt against leftists, has been ongoing at the grassroots level, initiated by a youth group, Syarikat (Islamic Students for Community Advocacy) in Yogyakarta — a movement which later spread throughout Java. 

The National Leaders’ Children’s Forum (FSAB) brings together victims of diverse sides of different violent conflicts. Among others, Amelia Yani, Ilham Aidit and Sarjono Kartosuwirjo — respectively the daughter of a general killed in 1965, the son of a PKI leader who was reportedly shot dead on the run and the son of the executed leader of the DI/TII Islamist movement — made a commitment to stop conflicts and to cease passing them down to future generations. Such attempts at reconciliation have not involved government intervention and should continue.

The Jokowi administration is earnest in its attempt to solve the 1965 cases, as shown in its organization of a symposium aiming to settle the issues. The seminal event in April 2016 in Jakarta was led by a member of the Presidential Advisory Council, Sidarto Danusubroto, working with Lt. Gen. (ret.) Agus Widjojo, whose father was also among the officers killed in 1965. 

Addressing the 1965 victims at another meeting, Agus, the National Resilience Institute (Lemhannas) governor, said he believed in the need to establish a condition where the president could make a decision comfortably, without opposition from either side. 

I suggest President Jokowi first solve cases involving state policies. First, the revoking of citizenship of Indonesian students sent abroad and of members of different groups in 1965 and 1966. The policy not only cost them their citizenship but also abruptly separated them from families, whom they could not meet for decades. 

Many of these aged survivors are citizens of the countries they reside in. The solution: the President admits that the policy to revoke their citizenship was indeed issued in the past, that he regrets it and asserts it should never happen again. 

Second, the case of Buru island prisoners. Over 11,000 people were forcefully relocated to the island in Maluku province for 10 years, 1969 to 1979, without due trial. Facts surrounding this case are clear as cited in the Komnas HAM report — the place, time, victims and individuals responsible — as reflected by an order by the Operational Command for the Restoration of Security and Order (Kopkamtib) to the administrator of Buru Island resettlement, who was also the AGO, while the Kopkamtib commander reported directly to the president. 

The prisoners were forced to work from dusk to dawn, and even until late hours to prepare farmland and do other chores for the security guard chief, without pay. Every time they were seen taking a rest before they were ordered to, the commander would beat them. A presidential decree should be issued to restore the prisoners’ names, after considering the recommendation of the Supreme Court. Today we have no idea how many are still alive among survivors, who are likely in their 80s. 

Past cases of human rights violations cannot be resolved in a single presidential term. Whoever wins the next election for president and vice president will hopefully have great concern for unresolved human rights cases.


The writer is a historian at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI).

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.