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Jakarta Post

‘We won’t stay silent about impunity’: Families of Semanggi shooting victims sue attorney general

  • Tri Indah Oktavianti

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Wed, May 13, 2020   /   02:26 pm
‘We won’t stay silent about impunity’: Families of Semanggi shooting victims sue attorney general Maria Catarina Sumarsih 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 Realino Norma Irawan. (JP/Aditya Bhagas)

Family members of victims of the Semanggi tragedies in the late 1990s filed on Tuesday a lawsuit against Attorney General ST Burhanuddin over his statement that the tragedies were not gross human rights violations.

Plaintiffs Maria Katarina Sumarsih and Ho Kim Ngo, both mothers of victims of the Semanggi I and II tragedies, filed the lawsuit to the Jakarta State Administrative Court (PTUN Jakarta). They are being represented by lawyers from the Semanggi I and II Justice Coalition.

The coalition consists of representatives from Amnesty International Jakarta, the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute (YLBHI), the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH Jakarta) and Asia Justice and Rights (AJAR).

“The lawsuit was filed because when Burhanuddin delivered his statement, he was acting as a state official who was trying to prevent the victims’ families from getting justice,” Semanggi I and II Justice Coalition said in a statement. 

The coalition also said that the attorney general’s statement undermined the struggle of the victims’ families and society in their demands for truth and justice over past cases of gross human rights violations.

“We want the attorney general to retract his statement,” Saleh Al Ghifari, a member of the coalition, said during a virtual press conference on Tuesday. “This is the right moment for us to remind the country that we will not stay silent about impunity.”

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

Meanwhile, the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) claimed that it had not been notified of the lawsuit, Kompas.com reported.

ST Burhanuddin made the controversial remark during a hearing with the House of Representatives’ Commission III overseeing legal, human rights and security affairs on Jan. 16, stating that a House plenary meeting had "concluded that the events [Semanggi tragedies] were not gross human rights abuses". Activists and the victims’ families have condemned the remarks, describing it as a step backwards in the government’s commitment to resolving past human rights abuses.

"Attorneys general are trying to escape their responsibilities as the investigators of human rights violations as usual. It keeps happening, so it appears the country allows impunity," Sumarsih told The Jakarta Post in January.

Coordinating Political, Legal, and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD defended the attorney general, saying, “No statement was made denying that the tragedies were gross human rights violations”. He also clarified that all parties were on the same page regarding the matter and that investigations into case were still ongoing.

The Semanggi I tragedy on Nov. 11 to 13, 1998, took 17 lives, including Maria Katarina Sumarsih’s son, Bernardinus Realino Norma Irmawan. He was shot during a student protest against the 1998 special session of the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) and the Indonesian Military’s (TNI) dual role in civil service and politics. 

The Semanggi II tragedy, which took place on Sept. 24, 1999, saw 12 people killed, including Ho Kim Ngo’s son, Yap Yun Hap. He was shot during a student protest against a bill that was feared would give the Army more powers in emergency situations.