Subject: Push to Uncover Indonesia's Hidden Killing Fields [+JP: Rights Seminar]

also: JP: Fight for Human Rights 'Must Go On:' Seminar

Push to Uncover Indonesia's Hidden Killing Fields

photos: Sajimin gestures as he tells a story about the 1965 massacre of people involved in the Indonesian Communist Party; and three men demonstrate how soldiers dragged victims during the Indonesian massacres in 1965. AFP

SRUWEN BOYOLALI, Indonesia, May 28 (AFP) - In the bloody history of the 20th century, the killing fields scattered through the lush greenery of Indonesia's islands are a rarely mentioned footnote.

In clumps of one or two or even a dozen, unmarked graves containing between 500,000 and two million suspected communists killed in purges between 1965 and 1966 were an unspoken feature of the landscape during general Suharto's 32-year rule.

But with the tenth anniversary of Suharto's 1998 fall this month, activists are finally pushing for investigations into one of the last century's biggest killings, which changed the course of the Cold War and formed the backdrop to the strongman's rise.

On a clattering rural road on Java island, 60-year-old farmer Achmad Nashori recalled how he helped dispose of the bodies.

At his feet was the spot where, more than 40 years ago, he said he was summoned around dawn by local authorities to help bury five communist sympathisers who had been shot dead the night before.

With seven other villagers, he dragged the bodies into a pre-prepared grave and covered them in earth.

"There were those whose heads had been shot off, split open, the insides of people's guts had been shot out. There were those who had been shot in the back of the neck, the side of the head, the back and the waist," Nashori said.

Down the road, in anonymous clumps, more graves are believed to hold dozens of victims.

For now, the graves remain undisturbed. Human rights group Kontras is travelling the country talking to witnesses and identifying massacre sites. Indonesia's official human rights body Komnas HAM has also started its own investigation.

But those looking into the case say they are running into resistance from the country's elite, where few are keen to revisit the killings.

The violence of 1965-66 had its roots in the tense Cold War politics that marked the final years of the reign of Indonesia's charismatic first president Sukarno, who had fostered the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) as a political force to balance the power of mass religious organisations and pro-Western generals.

But this delicate balance collapsed on 30 September, 1965, with an abortive coup -- which was swiftly blamed on the PKI.

An obscure general called Suharto took control of the ensuing crackdown while soldiers and "youth groups" trawled the country, rounding up and executing suspected communists.

"All the local people were ordered to bring hoes to bury to bodies," Nashori recalled of the killings near his village.

Nashori said the killings in his area were carried out by soldiers and members of Ansor, the youth wing of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Indonesia's largest Muslim organisation.

NU today is a major force in Indonesia, boasting over 30 million members. Muhammadiyah, Indonesia's second-largest Muslim organisation, was also involved, historians say, as were a whole range of organisations that now make up Indonesia's political and religious mainstream.

"These groups were itching to do it following the coup of the 30th of September," said Greg Fealy, an Indonesia expert at the Australian National University.

"Once they had the green light from the military, away they went."

Anti-communist propaganda became a mainstay of Suharto's New Order regime, although the killings themselves were a taboo subject.

"Even though it didn't talk openly about the killings, (the regime) knew that everyone knew about the killings and it used this for its own purposes," Fealy said.

In the world at large too, the killings went largely unnoticed.

In the grip of the Cold War, many Western governments greeted the swift suppression of the PKI -- which was rivalled in size only by the communist parties in the Soviet Union and China -- with relief.

Many in Indonesia, particularly among the elite, strongly oppose efforts to exhume graves and bring the 1965-66 case to court. Komnas HAM has been the target of multiple protests by religious and nationalist groups.

"The New Order's propaganda was extremely strong for 32 years, and up until now we also see that the people in the government are an extension of those in power in the New Order, both in terms of people and institutions," said Yati Andriyani, a campaigner with Kontras.

Nur Kholis, the head of Komnas HAM's investigation into the killings, said human rights cases were always difficult to push in Indonesia.

"If reconciliation can be reached through legal processes, a court, that's great. But if that can't be done, these efforts can also push the reconciliation process by political means," Nur Kholis said.

"Actually, I'm not too confident about bringing this case to court, but I should try."


The Jakarta Post

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Fight for Human Rights 'Must Go On'

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Indonesian people must continue to speak up against human rights violations committed by their government and other citizens, a rights seminar has concluded.

Executive director of the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (Elsam), Agung Putri Astrid Kartika, said here Tuesday the country was facing huge challenges in resolving past human rights crimes.

Examples include the incidents in Tanjung Priok, Jakarta, in 1984 and in Talang Sari, Lampung, in 1989, and the May riots in Jakarta in 1998.

"The challenges are related to the historic manipulation of human rights crimes by the ruling parties and a widespread national aversion to uncovering the truth," she said.

"To overcome such challenges, we have to work hand in hand to keep on campaigning on the issue (human rights violations), not only to the government but also to other Indonesian people who do not know about it yet."

Agung Putri said one way to ensure the fight continued was for the government to form a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Elsam has been lobbying for the establishment of such a commission since 2006.

"We have proposed it once and have not succeeded yet. However, we keep on bringing it up because the idea of establishing the commission is to prevent any violations against human rights resulting from any regulation," she said, adding Elsam's proposal had received support from various quarters, including the governor of Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam.

Agung Putri said the function of the commission would be to reveal any human rights violations made by authorities by investigating state officers, instruments, systems and budgets.

"The goal of the investigations would be to revise regulations that could lead to violations, and to make the state admit its mistakes," she said.

Commenting on the proposal, Karlina Supelli, lecturer at the Driyarkara School of Philosophy, agreed greater efforts were needed.

"The country needs to make a continuous effort to resolve crimes against humanity. The commission might be a good way to remind everyone about the issue, as long as it promotes peace and caring," said Karlina, who is also a human rights activist for the Voice of Concerned Mothers.

Elsam also urged the government to start protecting Indonesian citizens' social, economic and cultural rights.

The aim of such protection is to ensure citizens are not denied their rights to a decent living, education and development, human rights campaigner Atnike Nova Sigiro said.

"To gain that protection, the first step is for Indonesia to acknowledge such rights as part of citizens' rights." (nkn)  

Back to May menu

World Leaders Contact List
Main Postings Menu