Saturday, July 28, 2012

Indonesia’s 1965 Bloodbath can now can be told

It’s official. The mass killings that took place across Indonesia between 1965 and 1966 really happened, according to a new report by the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) released on Monday.

For more than four decades, the nation has known about the Army-led massacre of communists, their sympathizers, relatives and innocent bystanders, though the details and the extent of the killings remain unclear. Not even the Komnas HAM report has been able to calculate the precise death toll, with estimates ranging from 200,000 to 3 million (the latter figure of which one of Soeharto’s generals once boasted).

Officially to this day, however, the killings never happened. They are not mentioned in official history books. The tragedy, which should count as the darkest era in Indonesia’s modern history, has been virtually wiped from the nation’s collective memory.

The Komnas HAM report describes the killings as “a gross violation of human rights” by the state. Although they took place during Sukarno’s presidency, it puts the blame for the killings squarely on Gen. Soeharto, the chief of the Command for the Restoration of Security and Order who went on to become president in 1967.

The report listed the crimes committed to include murder, annihilation, slavery, forced disappearances, limits to physical freedom, torture, rape, persecution and forced prostitution.

The report calls on the Attorney General’s Office to conduct further investigations and then to begin prosecutions against the perpetrators — presumably for most, including Soeharto, in absentia as they are already dead. It urges the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission, the restoration of the rights of victims, compensation given to survivors and an apology by the state, in this case, the President.

Now that stories of the killing can be told officially, any attempt to rewrite history of this tragic episode must also look into the harsh treatments of the communists and their relatives, including their internment, many without trial, and the removal of their basic rights until as recently as the beginning of the century.

As we wait for President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to act upon the report’s recommendations, the nation should ponder why we have allowed a tragedy of such horrific proportions to occur, and moreover then try to erase it from our collective memory.

It is too easy to blame the military and Soeharto, especially now that he is dead. Many people believe to this day that the military saved Indonesia from communism. But the nation never learned, or never bothered to find out, about the real costs in terms of human life, and the suffering and injustice perpetrated against its own citizens. Like it or not, our silence all this time makes us part of the conspiracy.

President Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid in 1999 had the resolve to admit the role that Ansor, the youth wing of the Nahdlatul Ulama, played in the killings, particularly in East Java. And he publicly apologized for that when he

was president.

But Gus Dur was rare among Indonesians, most of whom are either still in denial or would rather forget that the killings ever happened. This collective amnesia is reflected in the largely indifferent public reaction to the Komnas HAM report, which should be a milestone in the nation’s history. Most newspapers gave the story a wide berth, or buried it in the inside pages. Jakarta Post

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