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Jakarta Post

Jokowi vows to settle past human rights abuse cases. But which ones?

  • News Desk

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Wed, December 11, 2019   /   07:09 am
Jokowi vows to settle past human rights abuse cases. But which ones? Activist stand next to a photo installation commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Kamisan rally in front of the State Palace in Jakarta on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. (JP/Seto Wardhana.)

When President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo first entered office in 2014, activists and families of victims of past rights abuses pinned their hopes on him finally bringing closure to the victims of past cases of human rights violations, as he had promised in his presidential campaign.

His first term ended without any significant progress in the settlement of the cases — much to the dismay of many — with New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) even criticizing him in its 2019 World Report by saying that Jokowi had “failed to translate his rhetorical support for human rights into meaningful policies during his first term in office”.

Jokowi renewed his vows to settle past rights abuse cases during his reelection campaign in April.

But now that he is serving a second term in office, many members of the public doubt whether he and his vice president, Ma’ruf Amin, are capable of resolving the cases, as shown in a recent survey by Kompas daily, which also revealed that 82.2 percent of the population felt that past rights abuse cases should be resolved.

The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) concluded preliminary investigations into at least 10 unsolved cases of past human rights abuses within the past five decades or so and submitted its findings them to the Attorney General’s Office (AGO).

In observance of this year’s International Human Rights Day, which fell on Dec. 10, here is a list of 10 decades old cases for which human rights activists and families of victims continue to demand justice.

Read also: Q&A: 1965 and national reconciliation

1965 tragedy

On Sept. 30, 1965, six Army generals were kidnapped, murdered and buried in Lubang Buaya, Jakarta. The now-defunct Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) was blamed for what was called a failed coup attempt.

An Army special battalion quickly took control and detained PKI leaders, leading to what many describe as the systematic killing of PKI members and sympathizers across the country from late 1965 until 1966, which reportedly led to the death of approximately 500,000 people.

The International People’s Tribunal on the 1965 Crimes Against Humanity (IPT 1965) in The Hague, the Netherlands, concluded in 2016 that the Indonesian government had committed acts of genocide — according to the 1948 International Genocide Convention — during the 1965 massacre and oppression that followed the events of Sept. 30, 1965.

In a historic move to address the 1965 tragedy — which remains a highly sensitive topic in the country — the government for the first time organized in April 2016 a symposium to discuss the massacre and strive for reconciliation for the dark past.

The symposium, however, ended with an arguably insignificant outcome for the families of victims of the 1965 tragedy. Then-chief security minister Luhut Pandjaitan said the government would not apologize to the victims and survivors of the 1965 purge.

A dark history -- Maj. Gen. Soeharto briefs members of the Army’s Special Forces (RPKAD, now Kopassus) prior to the removal of the bodies of the Army generals who were murdered during an alleged coup attempt on Sept. 30, 1965, which was blamed on the now defunct Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). As the most senior military officer available at the time, Soeharto led all the operations to restore security and impose order in the aftermath of the alleged attempt.A dark history -- Maj. Gen. Soeharto briefs members of the Army’s Special Forces (RPKAD, now Kopassus) prior to the removal of the bodies of the Army generals who were murdered during an alleged coup attempt on Sept. 30, 1965, which was blamed on the now defunct Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). As the most senior military officer available at the time, Soeharto led all the operations to restore security and impose order in the aftermath of the alleged attempt. (JP/30 Tahun Indonesia Merdeka/File)

1982-1985 mysterious shootings (Petrus)

A series of penembakan misterius (mysterious shootings, Petrus) started in August 1982 and was suspected of being a means to reduce the crime rate.

During 1982 and 1985, repeat offenders, gang members and unemployed youths suspected of being involved in violent crimes became victims of extrajudicial killings. Some were targeted simply because they had tattoos, which were considered a mark of criminals.

Military and police personnel were believed to be responsible for carrying out the widespread killings, which resulted in the deaths of at least 2,000 people in cities throughout Central and East Java, Bogor in West Java, Jakarta, Palembang in South Sumatra and Medan, according to Komnas HAM.

Read also: Duterte inspired by ‘Petrus’: Wiranto

Talangsari massacre

At dawn on Feb. 7, 1989, a Garuda Hitam Military Command battalion from Lampung reportedly attacked Cihideung village in Talangsari subdistrict, Rajabasa Lama district, Lampung.

Hundreds of followers of a man called Warsidi, who was suspected of preaching extremist views, were shot dead.

Former National Intelligence Agency (BIN) chief Gen. (ret) AM Hendropriyono, the then-Garuda Hitam commander, has been accused of being culpable. He has denied the allegation.

Never forgotten: R. Subiyanto (center), displays a picture of his son, Gunawan, one of over 1,000 victims of the May 1998 riots in Jakarta, with the parents of other victims who mostly perished in a fire that engulfed Yogya mall in Klender, East Jakarta. The picture was taken on May 19, 2013, in front of a memorial for the victims. No one has been held accountable for the riots, which took place in a number of cities. Never forgotten: R. Subiyanto (center), displays a picture of his son, Gunawan, one of over 1,000 victims of the May 1998 riots in Jakarta, with the parents of other victims who mostly perished in a fire that engulfed Yogya mall in Klender, East Jakarta. The picture was taken on May 19, 2013, in front of a memorial for the victims. No one has been held accountable for the riots, which took place in a number of cities. (JP/Jerry Adiguna)

May 1998 riots

The riots — triggered by an economic crisis and mass unemployment — occurred throughout the country, mainly in Medan in North Sumatra, Surakarta in Central Java and Jakarta, and led to the downfall of then-president Soeharto in 1998.

The cities witnessed the rage of mobs, with hundreds of buildings, shop-houses and houses set on fire and crowds looting malls and grocery stores. Chinese-Indonesian women were also raped during the violence.

A report by a joint-fact finding team sanctioned by then-president BJ Habibie found that total fatalities in Jakarta as a result of the riots reached nearly 1,200, with at least reported 52 rape cases and more than 12 sexual violence cases.

The Volunteers Team for Humanity, an NGO advocating for the victims' families, and which represents the highest number of them, claims that 1,190 perished in burning buildings while 27 died of other causes, such as from gunshot wounds. 

1998 Trisakti shootings

Trisakti University played an important role in the country’s historic yet bloody march toward the Reform Era and saw the fatal shootings of four of its students who were participating in a prodemocracy rally.

The incident took place on the university's campus in Grogol, West Jakarta, on May 12, 1998 when people wearing dark uniforms and purple berets opened fire on protesting students. Three days of rioting followed.

Four students — Elang Mulia Lesmana, Heri Hartanto, Hafidin Royan and Hendriawan Sie — were reportedly shot by soldiers, who had, ironically, been deployed to maintain security and order during the protests demanding reform.

Read also: Endless love, 21 years on: Mothers write letters to fallen sons who died in Semanggi Tragedy

Semanggi I and II shootings

Fatal student shootings occurred during two incidents involving protests held in November 1998 and September 1999, which took place after Soeharto stepped down from power and BJ Habibie assumed power.

Nearly six months after Soeharto stepped down, students rallied on Nov. 13, 1998, against the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) as they did not acknowledge the Habibie administration and opposed the New Order doctrine of dwifungsi (dual function) for the military.

The Volunteer Team for Humanity recorded that 17 civilians were killed and hundreds injured during the Semanggi I tragedy. The fatalities included four university students, identified as Teddy Mardani, Sigit Prasetya, Engkus Kusnadi and Bernardus “Wawan” Realino Norma Irawan.

Another violent demonstration took place on Sept. 24, 1999 in which at least 11 lives were lost, including University of Indonesia student Yap Yun Hap, and 217 people were injured, according to the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras).

Low-ranking police and military personnel were convicted for the shootings, but many claim the trials had failed to touch those responsible for ordering the shootings.

Maria Catarina Sumarsih (left) holds an umbrella during the 536th kamisan, a weekly silent protest in front of the State Palace in Jakarta, on Thursday, April 26. 2018. The protests have been held since 2007 to urge the government to resolve human rights abuse cases, including the 1998 Semanggi shooting, which resulted in the death of Maria’s son, Bernardus Maria Catarina Sumarsih (left) holds an umbrella during the 536th kamisan, a weekly silent protest in front of the State Palace in Jakarta, on Thursday, April 26. 2018. The protests have been held since 2007 to urge the government to resolve human rights abuse cases, including the 1998 Semanggi shooting, which resulted in the death of Maria’s son, Bernardus "Wawan" Realino Norma Irawan. (JP/Aditya Bhagas)

1997-1998 activist abductions

At least 13 prodemocracy activists remain missing to this day after they were abducted at the tail end of the New Order regime between 1997 and 1998 because of their political stance.

Those who disappeared include poet Wiji Thukul and People’s Democratic Party (PRD) activists, including Suyat, Herman Hendrawan, Petrus Bima Anugerah, M. Yusuf, Ucok Munandar Siahaan, Yadin Muhidin and Hendra Hambali.

On Aug. 25, 1998, the Armed Forces (ABRI) – since renamed the Indonesian Military (TNI) – honorably discharged then Lt. Gen. Prabowo Subianto and removed two Army Special Forces (Kopassus) officers from active duty as punishment for their suspected roles in the abduction of the prodemocracy activists.

In his capacity as then-military commander, former coordinating political, legal and security affairs minister Wiranto was accused of being responsible for the Trisakti and Semanggi shootings as well as the activists’ abductions. Both Prabowo and Wiranto have denied all allegations.

Read also: Kidnapped activists pin hopes on Jokowi-Kalla

Simpang KKA atrocity

On May 3, 1999, Indonesian military personnel reportedly shot hundreds of people protesting a shooting in Aceh days before.

Also known as the Dewantara atrocity, the incident —  which occurred when Aceh was declared a military operation zone from 1989 until a peace deal was signed in 2005 — claimed 39 lives and injured 36 people, while 10 people remain unaccounted for.

Empty promises?:  Human rights activists stage a rally in front of the State Palace demanding President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo make good on his presidential campaign promise and bring closure to the victims of past cases of human rights violations.Empty promises?: Human rights activists stage a rally in front of the State Palace demanding President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo make good on his presidential campaign promise and bring closure to the victims of past cases of human rights violations. (JP/-)

Jambo Keupok atrocity

In May 2003, 16 civilians were tortured and killed by members of a Kopassus special operations unit (PARAKO) and joint intelligence unit (SGI) in Jambu Keupok village in Aceh.

The incident, which began after the military received information that the village was a Free Aceh Movement (GAM) base, happened when the province was under martial law, which was lifted in 2005 with the peace deal.

A 2014 Komnas HAM investigation revealed that the Jambo Keupok and Simpang KKA incidents constituted gross human rights violations and recommended legal measures be taken, but the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) rejected the recommendation.

Read also: Military operation in Aceh was 'gross human rights violation'

Wamena and Wasior incidents in Papua

The Wasior incident in Papua took place on June 13, 2001. It was triggered by the deaths of five members of the National Police's Mobile Brigade (Brimob) and one civilian after a dispute between residents and timber company PT Vatika Papuana Perkasa. 

During a search for the perpetrators, Brimob members allegedly committed gross human rights violations in the form of murder, torture and abduction.

In April 2003, military members searched 25 villages in Wamena after an unknown mob raided the local military district command’s (Kodim) arsenal, leading to a number of human rights violations by the military, including torture, murder and the burning of civilians’ houses.

A Komnas HAM investigation into the Wamena and Wasior incidents found that the police and the military had committed gross human rights violations. The cases were submitted to the Attorney General's Office for prosecution in 2004, but little progress has been seen. (ggq/afr)