Subject: JP: Indonesia Commission could be 'whitewash machine'

Received from Joyo Indonesia News

The Jakarta Post
Thursday, September 9, 2004

Commission could be 'whitewash machine'

Muninggar Sri Saraswati, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Attempts to heal the wounds of those victimized by large scale human rights violations in the past should be the priority of the truth and reconciliation commission, which is due to be set up next year, activists said.

Number one on the list of such cases should be the bloodbath of 1965 following the foiled coup d'etat blamed on the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM) suggested.

This case should be the most urgent and the most feasible to be handled by the commission, said Ifdhal Kasim, who leads the institute, given the many living survivors and documents.

"Most importantly, it claimed millions of victims, some of whom are still seeking clarification about what happened to them," he told The Jakarta Post after a media briefing on Wednesday.

Ifdhal was commenting further on Tuesday's endorsement by the House of Representatives on the bill for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Activists fear the sidetracking of the 1965 case, given the bill's mandate for the commission to work on cases "before the enactment of Law No. 26/2000 on the rights tribunal" -- meaning any case between 1945 and 2000.

Following the fall of president Soeharto in 1998, many spoke of a need for a South Africa-style reconciliation mechanism regarding cases which caused enmity through generations. Former president Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur) gave the green light to such a mechanism, apologizing in public for the participation of Muslim activists in the slaughtering of anyone suspected to have ties to communists.

There was essentially a civil war following the Sept. 30, 1965 coup attempt, pitting the "communists" and the "religious nationalists". Estimates of those killed range from 500,000 to a few million; many more were jailed without trial for years, leaving their families with no source of income and a stigma of being associated with the PKI.

The truth and reconciliation commission is set to be formed no later than six months after the bill is signed into law or after being approved by the House, if the president refuses to sign it.

Regarding the vague time limit implying that the commission could work on cases that were over 50 years old, Ifdhal said, "There is no other truth and reconciliation in the world tasked to settle cases with such a long time frame, creating difficulties to trace documents, witnesses, victims and alleged perpetrators."

Given the "weak political commitment" from the current government for the establishment of the commission -- initiated by Gus Dur in 2000, but not submitted by the current government until 2002 -- Ifhdal warned that the government must not turn the commission into "a whitewash machine" for the alleged perpetrators.

Separately, deputy chairwoman of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) Zoemrotin K. Soesilo agreed, saying that the commission should not be "an institution for impunity".

"The performance and credibility of the commission rely on its members. The recruitment must be conducted transparently," she said.

According to the bill, there will be 21 members on the commission. Earlier, it was expected that the commission would be manned by just 15 members.

Zoemrotin said that rights violations cases must still be settled in a court of law, even if it has been settled through the commission.

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