Tenggara Strategics, Jakarta – The government has finally admitted that 12 incidents or tragedies that happened in the past amounted to gross violations of human rights, but short of offering an apology, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo last week expressed regret and promised restitutions for the victims. This is a startling development for a nation that has been in denial about the many horrible things that have happened in the past. But we can forget about the prosecution of the perpetrators. It is not on the cards.
The oldest and the worst of these cases is the 1965-1966 massacre, an army-led campaign to crush the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). Until last week, the killings had never been recognized in the official history books. Human rights groups said more than 500,000 PKI members, sympathizers and their family members were slain. Tens of thousands of others were sent to do hard labor on a penitentiary remote island in Maluku.
The decision to recognize the massacre and 11 other past tragedies as gross human rights violations follows the recommendation of a presidential commission created to look at nonjudicial resolutions for the 12 selected cases. Amnesty International Indonesia said the move was not enough and the government must apologize and push for the prosecution of the perpetrators.
Exactly what form the compensation will take is not clear, but President Jokowi has set up a commission comprising 17 government ministries and agencies to work it out.
He also announced a plan to personally meet with the victims, or their relatives, of the tragedies. This includes a meeting in Europe with many who went into exiles in the 1960s to avoid persecution and have lived either as stateless persons or have taken up citizenship in Europe. Part of his plan is inviting them to come home and offering to reinstate their Indonesian citizenship.
This is probably as far as Jokowi could go in fulfilling his 2014 presidential election campaign promise to resolve once and for all the 1965-66 massacre and other human rights atrocities. He faces strong pressures from those with vested interests, including the military, not to give into demands to admit the role of the state in these tragedies for fear of prosecution.
The military, whose fingerprints are visible on almost all these 12 cases, has been unusually quiet about Jokowi's admission and expression of regret.
The other 11 cases involve the killing of alleged criminals in the 1980s in Jakarta and other big cities, a military attack on an Islamic boarding school in Lampung in the 1990s, the kidnapping and disappearance of students and activists in the late 1990s and several killings in Aceh and Papua, two areas where the military has faced armed insurgencies.
Not included on the list are the atrocities committed during Indonesia's brutal military occupation of East Timor in 1975-1999. Indonesia and Timor-Leste (the new name for the independent country) have resolved these through the Truth and Friendship Commission.
Nor was there any public response from Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, who has been linked to the kidnapping and disappearance of students and activists who opposed president Soeharto in the late 1990s.
Prabowo was commander of the Army's Special Forces, which was blamed for the kidnappings. He was discharged from the military in 1999 for "insubordination". After a long exile in Jordan, he returned to Indonesia and founded his political party Gerindra in 2008, but lost his presidential bids in 2014 and 2019, both times to Jokowi. After the 2019 defeat, Prabowo joined Jokowi's Cabinet and is now contemplating to run again in the 2024 presidential election.
It remains to be seen whether the classification of the kidnappings of activists in 1990s as a gross human rights violations would affect his electoral standing.
Responding to his critics, Jokowi said the recognition and the expression of regret for these human rights violations does not prejudice against the judicial process. There are two sides to these violations, one is the victims and the other is the perpetrators, and the presidential team set up in August was tasked with working out compensation for victims, he said.
Who will take up the initiative to pursue justice? He did not say.
Any attempt to uncover the truth about 1965-1966 massacres has been foiled by the military.
In 2015, activists sensing encouragement from the then newly elected Jokowi, began open public discussions about the massacres, hoping to find resolution in time to coincide with the commemoration of 50 years after the tragedy. The lively discussion, aided by Joshua Oppenheimer's 2012 documentary film The Act of Killing, was abruptly shut down by the government.
President Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid in 1999 apologized for the massacres, recognizing the complicity of the youth wing of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) Islamic organization, which he had chaired. After his death in 2009, however, the NU rendered the apology void.
In 2004, shortly after taking office, president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono refused to sign into law the bill on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission passed by the House of Representatives. He sent the bill to the Constitutional Court, which repealed it because it was "unconstitutional". Whether it is a coincident that Yudhoyono's father, the late Gen. Sarwo Edhie was commander of the Army's Special Forces that led the communist purge in 1965-1966, is anybody's guess.
A somewhat positive response to Jokowi's initiative came from United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. "The President's gesture is a step on the long road to justice for victims and their loved ones," UNHCHR spokesperson Liz Throssell told journalists in Geneva.
Until that happens, however, the ghosts of the victims of these human rights violations will continue to haunt Indonesia.
What we've heard
According to a source, the Nonjudicial Resolution Team for Past Serious Human Rights Violations (PPHAM) has been working for several months to complete its inquiry into past cases of gross human rights violations. This team was formed by Jokowi last September through Presidential Decree (Perpres) No. 17/2022.
This source said according to the government, the 12 cases of gross human rights violations were proposed after investigations into them by the Attorney General's Office (AGO) stalled. At the same time, said this source, the government is choosing a restorative justice approach with an aim to restore the victims' rights.
"This acknowledgment focuses on restoring the victims' rights and does not touch on the involvement of the perpetrators," said a member of PPHAM.
Several members of PPHAM had lobbied various groups to explain the government's purpose in acknowledging past gross violations of human rights. Kiki Syahnakri, former chairman of the Indonesian Army Retirees Association (PPAD), approached his PPAD colleagues to express that PPHAM's recommendations would not implicate the military. Furthermore, As'ad Ali met Muslim clerics in various regions to explain the 1965 incident they were allegedly involved in.
PPHAM's recommendations and Jokowi's acknowledgment will be followed by the establishment of a task force. A number of ministries and institutions have been invited for a discussion by the Coordinating Political, Legal, and Security Affairs Ministry, including the Finance Ministry to discuss the budget for the victims' rehabilitation.
"The Finance Ministry will calculate the value of rehabilitation and funding opportunities for the victims' recovery such as LPDP scholarships for their families," said an official at the ministry.