Today marks 54 years since the killings of six high-ranking generals that led to the biggest gross human rights violation in the country’s history: the murders of half a million people for being communists, followed by the decades-long persecution of their relatives.
Half a century later, the 1965 human rights victims and their families remain nameless and are far from attaining justice.
And nothing is likely to change during President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s second term.
Yet, the latest massive student protests in at least nine cities across the country demanding that the government and legislators drop various controversial bill gives new hope: The fight for human rights in this country may not be all doom and gloom.
During the protests, the students rejected draconian passages in the amendment to the Criminal Code (KUHP), which many fear will criminalize minorities, women and undermine basic human rights to privacy and freedom of expression. They have demanded that legislators also pass the sexual violence bill, which protects the rights of women and minorities.
At one point, Jokowi succumbed to the students’ demands and decided to delay the deliberation of the controversial KUHP bill. After two days of massive student protests in front of the House of Representatives complex in Central Jakarta last week, Jokowi is even mulling over issuing a government regulation in lieu of law (Perppu) to annul the unpopular, newly passed KPK Law.
Jokowi’s decision is a good sign amid despair over his administration’s slow progress in human rights reform.
A former furniture businessman and the first Indonesian leader without political or military baggage, Jokowi promised to resolve the country’s human rights abuses during his first presidential campaign in 2014. Yet, his promises have not materialized.
In the 2019 presidential election, he ditched the promise to gain more votes and succeeded. It has been 131 days since Jokowi was reelected in the world’s third-largest democracy, but it is as clear as day that he neither cares nor can be bothered to protect the rights of the people in the past and present.
His ignorance is evident, not only in his support for controversial bills that undermine people’s rights but also in the way he has handled recent violence in the country’s easternmost region, Papua.
Last week, more than 30 people were killed after protests turned violent in Papua. In August, the government blocked internet access in Papua to prevent the spread of hoaxes from triggering more violent protests, a decision deemed ineffective and to have only restricted people’s freedom of expression.
Protests in Papua were a culmination of people’s dissatisfaction with the authorities following past human rights violence allegedly carried out by the military to suppress separatist movements.
Then, the student protests erupted. One of their demands is to end militarism in Papua
It suddenly feels like deja vu of the 1998 student protests, which ended Soeharto’s 32-year authoritarian regime filled with abuses and human rights violations, putting reform agendas in place and giving birth to democracy.
It may be too premature to compare the two protests but it is fascinating to see that the spirit of people power remains strong.
The younger generation in 1998 and 2019 sent a strong message to politicians that they should never underestimate young people. The majority of students who took part in the 2019 rallies belong to generation Z, those born after 1996. While young people are often underestimated, they have once again succeeded in garnering a president’s attention.
In the era of social media, it is really hard to ignore young people as they are the masters of getting attention. A series of hashtags for the protests have trended worldwide.
One single mistake from the authorities and there will be protests, hashtags, online petitions and fund-raising on various digital platforms.
Thanks to technology, young people have also launched online human rights initiatives to get people to hear and notice them.
Pamflet, a Jakarta-based non-profit organization promoting social and cultural change, has launched a pilot project called Human Rights 101 to produce and distribute information on human rights to young people.
Two platforms run by young people address the 1965 tragedy. Ingat1965 (Remember 1965) collects stories and reflections on the tragedy from young people and publishes them online to trigger discussion on the issue. Another one is #1965setiaphari (living1965), which collects stories, drawings, photos and films to remind people of the tragedy.
These online movements and initiatives on human rights are a breath of fresh air amid the country’s poor commitment to resolving human rights violations.
Young people are initiating change with their relentless spirit seen on digital platforms and in street protests.
Yet, the battle is far from over.
Let’s just hope that it will not take another 50 years for the 1965 tragedy victims or any victims in Java or Papua to see justice served.
Editor's note: The headline of this article has been corrected due to error in editing process.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.