Thursday, April 16, 2015

The 1965 Indonesian mass murder controversy and need for people’s tribunal - “EGP?” (Emang gue pikirin?/Why should I care?).

The 1965 Indonesian mass murder controversy and need for people’s tribunal - “EGP?” (Emang gue pikirin?/Why should I care?).

About the mass killings of alleged leftists in 1965-1966 and their aftermath in the following years, there have been a few qualifications.

Most of the political establishment and the general public today seem either publicly, sometimes loudly, to oppose any attempt to recall the issue, or consider it, out of fear, a taboo subject — a sensitive issue that they choose to ignore altogether.
They thus tend to say, in today’s parlance, “EGP?” (Emang gue pikirin?/Why should I care?).

Some, however, might recognize the importance of the issue for the nation but tend to take a deceitful pretext rather than one of consolation and hope, that the consequences of the human and political tragedy will somehow be resolved as we move forward with our democracy. For want of a better term, this may perhaps be called the “false optimistic” perception.

Others — the maximalists — have dubbed the unfortunate year of 1965 a “Never Ending Year” implying that the terrible psychic consequences of the massacres, incarcerations, torture, rapes, mass disappearances, forced labor, social dislocations and suffering, forced exile, stigmatization and discrimination will never be resolved — unless, that is, justice, reparation and compensation by the state are materialized.

There is nothing unique in such controversies among many nations. Unlike the Nazi crimes in Europe, which found their resolutions in the war-victors’ Nurnberg Tribunal, the Armenian massacre (1915) continues to be denied while those of the Spanish Civil War (1930-1933) are only partially resolved.

Both cases missed, at some levels, a crucial political breakthrough. Some, therefore, would rely on the hope of a sort of tribunal that could lead to the South African model of truth and reconciliation.

As the 50th anniversary of the 1965 tragedy comes closer, a number of Indonesian and local researchers, activists and 1965 victims at home and in various countries in Europe have interestingly taken the initiative to pursue efforts toward that sort of tribunal.

It is called “the International People’s Tribunal for the 1965 crimes against humanity” (IPT).

The idea was born two years ago as a follow up to the screening of Joshua Oppenheimer’s historic and award-winning documentary film The Act of Killing, which was followed a year later by his equally successful The Look of Silence. The initiative was also encouraged by the Indonesian National Commission on Human Rights’ (Komnas HAM) findings on the subject and the newsweekly Tempo’s special report on the perpetrators, “Jagal”.

Any crime, political or otherwise, would normally be resolved at a formal state court. But when it comes to the 1965 atrocities, given the political contingencies as reflected by both the conservative “EGP” and the “false optimist” discourses indicated above, few, if any, expect the state will do the job and resolve its own “crimes”. Hence, a people’s tribunal — being the only alternative, like people’s tribunals on Vietnam, on Palestine and on Japanese comfort women, to mention but a few — should pursue the efforts.

International law experts have argued any indictment by such tribunals, to be credible, should name names of individual perpetrators and be supported by sound empirical evidence, which in the case of the 1965 killings and its aftermath may hardly be possible save for a few specific cases.

Justice would thus be at a loss without truth — just as truth would be meaningless without justice.

It is for these reasons that the coordinators of the IPT, human rights lawyer Nursyahbani Katjasungkana and sociologist Prof. Saskia Wieringa, supported by noted lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis and other experts, apparently conclude that the IPT may have to take the form of a “tribunal of inquiry” in order to find the truth and recommend steps toward reconciliation, rather than filing verdicts, and to urge the state to take on its responsibility to bring about justice, implement reparations and provide compensation.

Historic genocides and atrocities, however, will remain influential as their political consequences and moral implications will always loom.

Controversy remains in Spain on the implementation of “historical memory” laws to repair the atrocities of 70 years ago — just as fierce debate has continued on the unresolved “Armenian genocide” now approaching its symbolic centenary on April 24.

As for Indonesia’s 1965, it’s revealing to hear former Dutch minister of development and cooperation Jan Pronk, at the IPT seminar on April 10, expressing his sympathy for IPT efforts by reminding the public of Dutch colonial atrocities.

The Dutch enfant terrible of the 1970s, who was seen as inciting then president Soeharto’s anger when he protested against the 1991 Dili killings, argued it was the Dutch colonial past as well as huge economic interests that led the Netherlands administration to remain, to this day, officially “silent on the 1965 killings”.

What is more, recent local studies have demonstrated, as Dr. Martijn Eickhoff (on Semarang) and Prof. Gerry van Klinken (on West Timor) told the seminar, that local victims and their relatives’ have in fact kept their memories and recollections vivid as they began to recognize the significance of “1965”.

In a separate occasion, Dr. Paul Moedikdo, a former anti-communist activist in Jakarta and sociology lecturer at the University of Utrecht, cried as he now admitted that the 1965 massacres were indeed “similar to the Nazi crimes”.

Yet, almost a half century on, the New Order’s political and mental legacy, manifested as they are in the “EGP” and “false-optimist” mainstream discourses, are still there.

Controversy thus looms, too, for whatever efforts there are toward any tribunal on Indonesia’s 1965 tragedy.
Aboeprijadi Santoso, Indonesian journalist who lives in Amsterdam.


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