September 30, 1965, a radical group called G30S killed six top generals in the Indonesian army in an attempt to overthrow the government of President Sukarno. General Suharto, who was instrumental in squashing the coup, seized control of the army and over the next two years led a campaign to purge the country of Indonesia’s Communist Party, known as the PKI, and other leftist groups. These systematic attacks killed an estimated 500,000 members of the PKI (with some estimates as high as one million), and included incidents of rape, torture, slavery, and prostitution.
Now, after nearly 40 years, the Indonesian Human Rights Commission has delivered a long-anticipated report to the attorney general’s office on the “gross human rights violations” that occurred during the 1965-66 crackdown. The Commission, Komnas HAM, places blame for the violations on the security forces operating under General Suharto, who assumed the presidency in 1967. The 840-pages of findings come after nearly three years of investigation in which 349 witnesses and dozens of victims testified. Komnas HAM has urged that military officials who were involved in the purge be brought to trial.
Nur Kholis, the head of Komnas HAM’s investigation team, said that military officials 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 said.
Human Rights First was in Indonesia last week meeting with local human rights groups. Activists in Jakarta told us that the report is good news, and a significant step in the fight against impunity. For decades, a government-instituted “enforced silence” banned publications which mentioned the 1965-66 events in the name of preserving public order, and textbooks in schools called the crackdown an act of patriotism. This ban was only lifted in 2010.
It is now up to the attorney general’s office to further investigate these incidents in Indonesia’s past. But some groups, such as Human Rights First’s partner organization KontraS, do not have high hopes. KontraS recently produced a report which details numerous statutes that still bar former political prisoners from employment in education, the military, and other professions. As KontraS executive coordinator Haris Azhar noted, “We have several experiences of negligence by the attorney general’s office on the other gross violations of human rights cases. So, I think looking at the legal mandatory it is their duty, but looking at their experiences I think we are not comfortable and really not sure about the position that has been presented.”
Some lawmakers are already pushing for a tribunal to address the report, and a victim’s association group believes that there is now enough evidence to take the case to the International Criminal Court. Komnas HAM and survivors of the purge have urged the president to follow up on the report’s findings and to make an official state apology to victims and their families. They also seek rehabilitation, reparation, and compensation . Though President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is considering a formal apology, personal interests might get in the way. One of those responsible for the 1965 attacks is the president’s father-in-law.
Many in Indonesia believe that young people’s interest in the purges is a positive signs in the efforts to reclaim their country’s history. “We were taught that PKI was really something evil,” said 30-year-old Lely Cabe a cultural officer at the Goethe Institute, “Now the younger generation is asking why.”
The report is a positive step in the struggle against impunity, and Human Rights First urges the Indonesian Attorney General to act upon the report’s recommendations to bring those responsible to justice. By Diana Sayed Human Rights Defenders