Subject: IHT: Soeharto buried while Munir is vindicated

UPI Asia Online

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Soeharto buried while Munir is vindicated


Published: February 20, 2008

HONG KONG, China, It may seem a simple matter of coincidence that the week Indonesian ex-president Soeharto was buried with state honors, the killers of human rights activist Munir Said Thalib, were given prison sentences by the state legal apparatus.

Munir was undoubtedly the most outspoken critique of the system of impunity carefully nurtured by the new order regime of Soeharto. Systematic torture, rape, killings and mass murders during his reign would not have been possible without a muzzled press, domesticated judiciary and a police subjugated to the military that had no powers of investigation. Certainly, ideal conditions for gross human rights violations.

Soeharto created these conditions, which perhaps have died with him. Munir died for them and through a redeeming gesture, was vindicated by the country's prosecution system. What grips everyone's imagination now is whether this judicial gesture usher's in a new era, replacing the "New Order" of impunity of the defunct leader by an order of the rule of the law. Will it occasion a shift from the "rule of the ruler" to the much-needed "rule of law" which is crucial for the emerging democracy? This is what is weighing on minds of the people.

The dream of the establishment of the rule of law has been found to be elusive even after the fall of Soeharto. The reluctance or perhaps the evasion of the real issues of reforming the prosecution system in the last ten years gave birth to a host of pseudo mechanisms that had no teeth to grind.

Creation of the "Ad Hoc Human Rights Court" for instance, for adjudicating gross human rights violations, gave a glimmer of hope for the relatives of the families of the disappeared or extra judicially killed, in both East Timor and Indonesia. However, the hopes of the people were dashed when at the end of the hearing, the persons indicted with gross human rights violations were sanctioned impunity by the Ad Hoc Human Rights Court.

Similarly the creation with much fanfare of the National Human Rights Commission, Komnas HAM, officially mandated to inquire into past human rights abuses and gross human rights violations in particular, has so far been very disappointing. The inquires made into a few cases of gross human rights violations as in the case of Trisakti and Semangi, have apparently seen only a dead end. A similar fate awaited the much awaited "Truth and Reconciliation Commission". All these defunct or dysfunctional mechanisms point to a major malaise in the justice system, which is now being reluctantly brought under serious scrutiny.

Indonesia never had an impartial system of investigation. This was due to the non-existence of a proper investigation mechanism with qualified personnel and resources. The police was a subsidiary of the military and played a second fiddle to the military. The recent separation of the police from the military has not resulted in the quick adoption of a culture that is needed for serious investigations into gross violations of human rights. The investigation into the murder of Munir, contributed to highlighting this serious lacuna.

The above observation equally applies to the office of the prosecutor. In a culture of impunity, serious prosecution of human rights violations is irreconcilable. The prosecutor was deemed necessary only to sanction impunity. In hind sight, the defunct "Truth and Reconciliation Commission" (TRC), would have done the same -- help the victims of gross human rights violations to pass from 'de facto' to 'de jure' impunity. The Judicial Commission that dismissed the TRC apparently saw this inconsistency but never deemed it necessary to augur a proper justice delivery system. However, due to the investigations into the murder of Munir, due to both local and international pressure, there was an obvious compulsion to address the major issues related to investigation and prosecution. Besides, in the recent judgments awarded in this case, the judges seem to be enlightened, though much more is expected.

Therefore, the intriguing question is whether the committed application of the rules will apply equally to all players in the playing field or will it be confined to the high profiled human rights activist Munir, to placate the international credulity.

What Indonesia actually needs and the people deserve are an effective investigation mechanism with qualified persons and resources, a prosecutor bent on enforcing the rule of law by indicting the law flouters, the judges determined to provide redress to the victims and punishment to the perpetrators of crimes impartially and speedily. This would be a genuine gesture to bury Soeharto, and give hope to all, who yearned with Munir, for the death to impunity and the emergence of a reformed prosecution system aimed at establishing the rule of law in the country.


(Philip Setunga is a staff member of the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong responsible for the organization's research on Indonesia. He has a doctorate in sociology.) 

Back to February  menu

December 2007
World Leaders Contact List
Main Postings Menu