Jakarta – The government has finally admitted that many of the nation's past tragedies amounted to gross human rights violations, and President Jokowi "Jokowi" Widodo has expressed regret on behalf of the state.Rights activists, however, say this is not enough. They have called for the prosecution of the guilty parties, in addition to the planned compensation arrangements for the victims, and say the President's expression of regret falls short of the deep apology warranted under these circumstances.
Jokowi was carrying out a recommendation made by the team he established to look into severe cases of human rights violations and to propose non-judicial resolutions to them. Given the scope of work of the presidential team, few expected the President to go further than the statement he made on Wednesday.
Nevertheless, it represents progress that we should welcome.
The first and most severe of the 12 gross human rights violations that the government has acknowledged is the killing of at least 500,000 members, supporters and presumed supporters of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) in the 1960s and the jailing of tens of thousands of them without fair trials.
For nearly seven decades, the nation was in a state of denial because, officially, the massacre had never taken place. Early attempts to bring out the truth were blocked by powerful parties who feared the repercussions. As time passes, these fears seem to have lessened, as the perpetrators are now either dead or elderly.
Wednesday's official admission opens the door to the pursuit of the truth about what happened in that dark chapter of our history, and later, if necessary and possible, the prosecution of the guilty parties. Ensuring this actually happens, and in good time, will be human rights supporters' next battle.
The other 11 cases, though they involved fewer deaths, are equally important, and since they happened more recently, they should be easier to deal with. They include a killing campaign against gangsters in the 1980s, a military raid against a pesantren (Islamic boarding school) in Lampung in 1989 and several cases of violence and repression that occurred in Aceh and in Papua.
Jokowi made it clear that he wanted non-judicial resolutions to all these cases from the team, but he also stressed that such resolutions should not replace the judicial process. If not the executive, surely other government bodies such as the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) or the Attorney General's Office (AGO) can and must take on the prosecutorial initiative.
But putting aside the questions of restitution and prosecution, we owe it to ourselves to learn and openly discuss the truth about these tragedies and the many others that the state has sought to conceal to protect a handful of powerful individuals and institutions.
The Indonesian Military (TNI) and police should stop shielding members of their senior staff from accountability for the horrors they committed against their own people. This is for the good of the two institutions.
As a nation that claims to respect lives, human rights and human dignity, we need to clear our conscience. Jokowi's admission and expression of regret have set us on that course, but we must have the integrity and courage to continue on it. We need to get the skeletons out of our closet.