Subject: JP Editorial: Elusive Justice For Jakarta Riots Victims

The Jakarta Post Friday, May 14, 2010

Editorial: Elusive justice

Today's bustling business area in Jakarta 's China town of Glodok no longer bears the marks of the horrible scenes of looting, arson attacks and gang rapes targeting the Chinese community 12 years ago.

Everybody would agree that the relatively quick recuperation of this iconic business district has reflected an optimistic views of Indonesia's economy, which is good news for the whole nation which is still struggling to break away from a history of poverty.

However the prospect of return to the prosperity of the good old days still leaves a shadow over the cry for justice from the families of those who perished in one of the darkest episodes of this nation's history. Over 1,000 people were burned alive in shopping malls, sexually harassed on the streets or at home or simply went missing during the May tragedy, according to official reports.

Although the euphoric reform movement resulted in sweeping political and economic changes in the past dozen years, efforts to deliver justice to the victims of the riots and their families have remained rhetorical rather than real.

Arguably not one single serious human rights case has been resolved, despite the legal instruments set up showing the nation's recognition of the need for the protection of human rights.

Look at the group of people calling themselves the Families of Victims Voice Network. They have held a peaceful rally outside the State Palace every Thursday over the past few years to question the state's commitment to resolution of legal issues arising from various crimes against humanity before and after the landmark reform movement of 1998.

In an invitation to group members for the weekly vigils on April 29, May 6, May 20 and May 27, group coordinator Sumarsih, winner of the Yap Thian Hiem human rights award in 2005, encouraged these seekers of justice to keep fighting the "forgetfulness" syndrome which has infected those in power and perhaps the nation.

The group did not arrange a rally on May 13 as it coincided with a national holiday, in which rallies are prohibited according to the 1998 law on freedom of expression.

Sumarsih, whose son was killed in the military crackdown on student protesters near the Semanggi clover-leaf in November 1998, has made tireless efforts to bring those responsible for these serious crimes to justice so as to unravel the truth behind these events.

Despite the persistent questions of Sumarsih and other victims and their families on past human rights abuses, the political will to answer them adequately does not seem to be there.

The post-New Order regime seems to have been no different from its predecessor when it comes to human rights protection. The players have changed but the mentality looks the same as is evident from the endless cycle of impunity for those considered accountable for past atrocities.

All the military officers charged in the 1999 mayhem in East Timor were acquitted, so were others standing trial at the ad hoc human rights court for alleged crimes against humanity in Tanjung Priok in 1984 and in Abepura, Papua in 2000. There are other cases that the National Commission on Human Rights has declared serious crimes, including the May 1998 riots, but no human rights tribunal can be established due to resistance from the House of Representatives.

The absence of political will is obvious from the foot-dragging process to draft a new law on the truth and reconciliation commission after the Constitutional Court annulled the 2004 version of the law in December 2006, for failing to provide legal certainty. Many, including victims of human rights abuses, consider the commission concept the fairest mechanism to heal past wounds.

We hope to see Sumarsih and her friends end their protest soon, not because they run out of steam but because they finally find a means to resolve their search for justice.

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