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Jakarta Post

Tribunal a necessity for truth and reconciliation

  • Fynn-Niklas Franke

    The Jakarta Post

Yogyakarta   /   Thu, October 1, 2015   /  03:50 pm

Prior to the Independence Day celebrations last month, the international European Association for Southeast Asian Studies (EuroSEAS) conference was held in Vienna, Austria, from of Aug. 11 to 14. The conference brought together 500 scholars and PhD students, including 130 participants from Asia, with 26 Indonesians participating also.

The event featured heated debate on relevant research topics related to Southeast Asia. One popular presentation related to the '€œInternational People'€™s Tribunal for the 1965 crimes against humanity [IPT 1965].'€

The presentation was based around a film program curated by Ascan Breuer, an Austrian filmmaker. After the screening of his new documentary Riding My Tiger, the audience gained first-hand information about the IPT 1965 from two of its representatives, Sri Tunruang and Artien Utrecht.

Alex Floor, chairman of Germany-based human rights organization Watch Indonesia! moderated the discussion.

The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) called on the government to establish an ad hoc Human Rights Court in mid-2012, after the Commission completed a report on their investigations of human right abuses committed in 1965/1966.

The organizers of the IPT said they felt that the government has not made serious legal attempts to find a meaningful solution to the issue. As a result, the IPT foundation was established in early 2014 and has since been working on the establishment of an alternative international human rights tribunal.

A group of 12 people in the Netherlands and 10 in Indonesia are preparing to hold this tribunal at The Hague, Netherlands, in November this year. Despite criticism over the venue, and questions as to why it is not being held in Indonesia, the organizers are determined that it is in the interest of the victims and survivors to hold the tribunal on an international stage.

The tribunal will be organized like a human rights court with the regular legal processes and procedures. '€œWe take our inspiration and lessons from over 80 people'€™s tribunals that have been held in the past 40 years, since the Russell tribunal, which was the first one, on Vietnam,'€ explained Utrecht.

Former peoples'€™ tribunals include the Russell Tribunal on Palestine (2010-2012), the Iran Tribunal (2007-2012) and the Permanent People'€™s Tribunal on Sri-Lanka (2010-2013), among others.

The tribunal in The Hague will establish a historical and scientific record that will build upon oral testimonies and a research reports from 13 provinces in Indonesia. '€œWe are working together with a pool of 40 Indonesian and foreign researchers,'€ said Utrecht. '€œThere is plenty of material, which the tribunal will examine and apply principals of international law to it.'€

The IPT will also consider the significant amount of research made available by the Komnas HAM report and other resources as important foundations to build on.

However, the Tribunal will not determine the legal culpability of individual perpetrators or make legal findings regarding guilt. Nor will it be able to impose legal sanctions. '€œIt has no mandate to do that, because it is a people'€™s tribunal and not a formal criminal court,'€ admitted Utrecht.

'€œOur aim will be to inform the international community about the 1965 massacres and violence and call upon the Indonesian state to recognize the crime and to take accountability towards the victims and survivors over what has happened. The state should furthermore take legal and policy measures to allow for rehabilitation.'€

In fact, reconciliation and restitution is much needed in Indonesia as many of the victims and their families continue to suffer discrimination and stigmatization. Sri Tunruang explained that this can be seen as a result of the '€œghost of communism'€ that still haunts the minds of many in Indonesia.

This term refers to the sense of fear created under the New Order administration about the potential revival of communism, created by using anti-communist propaganda such as the film Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI (Treachery of the Sept. 30 Movement/Indonesian Communist Party).

The 50th anniversary of the killings this year marks 50 years of impunity for the perpetrators of one of the largest crimes in human history.

It is crucial that at this time, a deeper historical analysis of these events takes place, both in the interest of Indonesia and the whole international community.

Unfortunately, reconciliation matters are still opposed by many factions of society. For example, according to, Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu said that the government would not move forward if it always concerned itself with a past that could not be resolved. '€œIf you hold a grudge, you'€™ll never move forward, just add to the complexity of our problems,'€ he complained.

That probably represents the views of a large number of the Tribunal'€™s opponents, who come primarily from the military, as well as influential Islamic organizations.

Although the government announced the formation of a Reconciliation Commission in May this year, people engaged in the 1965 Tribunal are not fully convinced of the government'€™s commitment to the process. '€œWe consider it is not possible to have reconciliation without first establishing the truth,'€ said Utrecht.

Similar reactions occurred following rumors of a possible apology from President Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo during his State of the Nation address on Aug. 15. '€œA '€™sorry'€™ needs a truth,'€ wrote Sri Lestari Wahyuningroem for The Jakarta Post, fearing that '€œwithout truth and commitment to justice, it [the apology] would not liberate the nation from the burden of its past.'€

Truth-finding is the basis for reconciliation; a process that not only takes place among individual victims and perpetrators, but also between the generations of young and old people.

In a German anthology edited by Anett Keller related to this history, The Presence of a Mass Murder, Indonesian historian Budiawan explained that '€œreconciliation includes the dealing with lived history and inherited history.'€ It therefore exceeds the personal boundaries and becomes a societal phenomenon.

The hope of the IPT 1965 lies in its contribution to find the truth about what happened in 1965 and its aftermath, by holding the International People'€™s Tribunal in November.

Nevertheless, the task remains for the Indonesian government to recognize the human rights violations, take on the responsibility to exercise justice, implement a reparations scheme, provide compensation and issue apologies to all the victims.

This will hopefully ensure a healing process for the victims and their families.

The writer is a German journalist, currently living in Yogyakarta and a former intern at The Jakarta Post.

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