Indonesian commission urges trials of military rights abusers


Jakarta – After a three-year investigation and testimonies from 349 witnesses, Indonesia’s National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) has declared that the systematic prosecution of alleged members of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) when former president Suharto and the military seized power in 1965 constituted gross human rights violations.It urged that the military officers involved be brought to trial.

Speaking at a press conference on July 23, Nur Kholis, the head of the investigative team into what is officially described as a coup attempt by the PKI, said that state officials under the Operational Command for the Restoration of Security and Order (Kopkamtib) who served from 1965 to 1967 and between 1977 and 1978 should be tried for crimes including murder, extermination, slavery, eviction or forced eviction, deprivation of freedom, torture and mass rape. Kholis said that his team had handed over the 850-page report to the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) and “hoped that the AGO would follow up the report”.

Kholis said that military officials had deliberately targeted innocent civilians during the operations, which occurred nationwide. “Many of the victims had nothing to do with the communist party or its subordinates. The military officials made it look like those people were linked to the party”, he was quoted as saying by the Jakarta Post.

Anti-communist purge

Two men await certain death – October 1965

On the night of September 30, 1965, a group of middle-ranking military officers kidnapped and killed six generals they accused of organising a coup against Indonesia’s leftist President Sukarno. Blaming the incident on the PKI provided the pretext for sections of the military, led by Major General Suharto, to mount a bloody counter-revolution in which as many as 1 million communists and left-wing sympathisers were killed. Hundreds of thousands of others were imprisoned for years without trial.

According to newspaper reports at the time, Western governments, particularly the US, were delighted with the turn of events in Indonesia, with a cable by Secretary of State Dean Rusk expressing support for the “campaign against the communists” and assuring Suharto that the “US government [is] generally sympathetic with, and admiring of, what the army is doing”. The US also supplied Suharto’s forces with money and weapons to conduct the anti-communist purge as the CIA ticked off names from a list of key party leaders and figures which it had provided to Suharto several months before.

Formal apology

Nur Kholis said that the team demanded that the government issue a formal apology to victims and their families. The apology should be followed by rehabilitation, reparation and compensation. The Institute for the Study of the 1965-1966 Massacres (YPKP) said that while Suharto was the person most responsible for the crimes, the fact that he had died should not deter the AGO from investigating the case, noting that many other perpetrators remained alive. Although Kholis declined to provide names, YPKP chairperson Bedjo Untung told Kompas newspaper that in legal terms it was very clear who was responsible. The release documents of prisoners incarcerated over the 1965 affair, he said, cite the names of Indonesian military commanders from the subdistrict (koramil), district (kodim) and regional (kodam) military commands.

Former PKI members and others accused of involvement in the alleged coup suffered decades of stigmatisation and discrimination. People linked to the PKI were not allowed to become civil servants, military or police officers, teachers, preachers or legislators. Their IDs were labelled with “ET” (ex-political prisoner) making them vulnerable to harassment and extortion by government officials; finding work was nearly impossible because they had to produce a letter stating they had no affiliation with communism.

Following a landmark Constitutional Court ruling in 2004, former PKI members were allowed to contest elections, and in 2006 the government deleted the ET label on IDs. However, a 1966 decree on the dissolution of the PKI and prohibitions on Marxist, Leninist and communist teachings remain in force. Public events related to 1965 and the PKI are routinely harassed and attacked with impunity by the police and military-backed Islamic thugs.

Mysterious shootings

Komnas HAM also released the findings of an investigation into a spate of killings in the early 1980s of hundreds of petty criminals throughout the country. The report said that the military and the police, with their territorial commands, were most responsible.

Speaking at a press conference on July 24, Komnas HAM commissioner Yoseph Adi Prasetyo said they had found proof of crimes against humanity. “The team found evidence of gross violations of human rights in the mysterious shootings that took place between 1982 and 1985. This campaign was carried out by state security personnel and was widespread across the country”, Prasetyo said. “The killings followed certain patterns, such as the thumbs of the victims being tied together behind their backs, the bodies were wrapped in sacks and Rp10,000 [US$1.06] was left on top of the bodies for funeral costs.”

The so-called petrus or mysterious shootings started in August 1982 under the command of Kopkamtib chief Admiral Soedomo, who died in June this year. Code named “Operation Sickle”, the operation targeted repeat offenders, local gangs, unemployed youths and others considered sources of violent crime. Some were targeted simply because they had tattoos, considered the mark of criminals. In March 1983, General Benny Moerdani who died in August 2004, replaced Soedomo as Kopkamtib commander and took over the operation.

In its report, Komnas HAM said that the military and police drew up lists of targeted individuals, which were then distributed to community leaders. Some were kidnapped and detained at military facilities and others were executed in front of their families. The commission said that corpses were found across Java and Sumatra, including Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Bantul, Semarang, Medan, Palembang, Magelang, Solo, Cilacap, Malang and Mojokerto, with the possibility that killings also occurred in Bandung, Makassar, Pontianak, Banyuwangi and Bali.

In his 1988 autobiography, Suharto acknowledged that he sanctioned the killings, referring to them as “shock therapy”. No official figures were ever reported for the number killed.

Waiting for justice

Despite the landmark ruling, the AGO was quick to pour cold water on any possible follow-up. Attorney General Basrief Arief – whose appointment last year was slammed by anti-corruption and rights activists as supporting the status quo – said he welcomed the investigation, but warned that reviving a case that happened nearly 50 years ago was no simple matter. Arief said he would “wait and see”" before conducting his own investigation. “It is [Komnas HAM’s] job to conduct an investigation. Once it is over, of course, they will hand it over to us”, he told the July 25 Jakarta Globe. Komnas HAM has only investigative powers and must rely on the police and AGO to prosecute cases.

The Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) questioned the AGO’s commitment to investigating past human rights crimes, particularly those that occurred under Suharto’s New Order dictatorship. “There are five cases of gross human rights violation which never got investigated [by the AGO]”, Kontras anti-impunity division chief Yati Andriani told the Globe.

Last month, the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (Elsam) released a report in which it said the handling of human rights cases had stagnated. “In general, there have been no significant developments related to past cases of human rights abuses”, said Elsam executive director Indriaswati D. Saptaningrum. “None of the cases investigated by Komnas HAM, such as the Trisakti shootings, Semanggi I and II, the May 1998 riots, Talangsari 1989 and the 1997-98 missing person cases, were brought to an ad hoc human rights court.”

Presidential apology

In April it was announced that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono would make an apology to families and victims of past human rights abuses, including those who perished in 1965, the Tanjung Priok massacre in 1984 and the May riots. Presidential Advisory Council member Albert Hasibuan said on April 25 that the council was preparing a draft speech for Yudhoyono and that the council was devising a mechanism to compensate victims. Hasibuan said that Yudhoyono would make the apology before his term ended in 2014 because he wanted the gesture to be his “legacy”.

Victims and their families expressed scepticism. Sixty-year-old Maria Catarina Sumarsih, the mother of a student killed in the 1998 shooting of student protesters in Semanggi, said that saying “sorry” was not enough and that the government must first acknowledge the gross human rights violations that happened in the past. “What concerns us is that no concrete actions will be taken as a follow-up to the public apology”, she told the Post on April 26.

A previous apology was made by former president B.J. Habibie, who also called for a thorough investigation of past rights abuses. However, no action was taken. President Abdurrahman Wahid made a similar gesture and agreed to rehabilitate the victims of rights abuses, although, again, without serious follow-up.

Empty promises

Yudhoyono – whose now deceased father-in-law, Lieutenant General Sarwo Edhie Wibowo, was the commander of the army’s special forces RPKAD (now Kopassus) that spearheaded the campaign of mass murder and terror in 1965 and once boasted that 2 million were killed “and we did a good job” – has ordered the AGO to follow up the report.

“What Komnas HAM has reported will be studied by the attorney general, who is expected to report to me and other relevant parties. We want a good, just, factual, smart and constructive settlement”, Yudhoyono told a press conference on July 25. Speaking afterwards, Arief said he would “probe” the Komnas HAM findings and promised to share the results with the public. “We call this kind of probe a ‘pre-prosecution’. The investigation will decide whether or not there will be enough evidence [to bring the case to court]”, Basrief explained.

But if Yudhoyono’s previous pledges are anything to go by, his statement is little more than empty rhetoric.

Shortly after being elected president in 2004, Yudhoyono promised the public that he would personally ensure a thorough investigation into the murder of Indonesia’s foremost human rights activist, Munir, who was poisoned on a Garuda airlines flight to Amsterdam in September 2004. He even described the murder as a “test case for the nation” and established an officially sanctioned fact-finding team. In its final report submitted to Yudhoyono in June 2005, the team found evidence that Munir’s death was a “well-planned conspiracy” and named a number of Garuda executives and State Intelligence Agency officials who should be investigated. A former Garuda pilot and Garuda executive were sentenced over the case, but those behind the murder have never been brought to justice.

In September 2009 the House of Representatives made a number of recommendations to Yudhoyono on the abduction and disappearance of 13 activists in 1997-98 by the army’s Kopassus. These included that the president establish an ad hoc human rights court, that the president along with all government institutions and related parties attempt to find activists declared missing by Komnas HAM, that the government rehabilitate and provide compensation to the families of the victims and that the government immediately ratify the United Nations Convention Against Forced Disappearances. Three years on, Yudhoyono has yet to respond to, let alone act on, any of these recommendations.

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Direct Action – August 1, 2012

International News & Analysis