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PBHI rejects govt fact-finding team on riots

Tapol - July 27, 1998

In a statement issued on 24 July 1998, the Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association (PBHI) has strongly criticised the Indonesian government's decision to set up a fact-fidning team to investigate a series of crimes, in particular the crimes which occurred during the riots in Jakarta on 13 - 15 May this year.

PBHI Director Hendardi said that the fact-finding commission as constituted was in contravention of the principle of impartiality which means that it is fundamentally flawed. Impartiality was the critical factor in any such investigation, the statement said, so as to ensure that it works strictly independently. Such a principle can only be safeguarded if the fact-finding team is set up by a third party including neither the perpetrators nor the victims. The May riots occurred because the government authorities failed to carry out their task of protecting the people, a failure which is usually referred to as 'violence by omission'.

In such circumstances, the government and in particular the Armed Forces (ABRI), should play no part in fact-finding investigations because they are the very ones that have to be investigated. Their inclusion means that the fact-finding team is by definition not independent.

The PBHI also strongly criticised several NGOs for agreeing to be members of the fact-finding team. Their involvement in no way makes the team independent. On the contrary, by agreeing to collaborate with this investigation, these NGOs have sacrificed their own independence which requires them to engage in the work of controlling the activities of government. This is very regrettable, the more so because it is solely because of the sterling work done by such bodies as the Volunteer Team for Humanity that the atrocities perpetrated in May have come to light and been widely disseminated at home and abroad. It is precisely because of this wide public concern that the government has been compelled to take responsibility. It is the duty of the government to bring the perpetrators to justice. The task of NGOs is to remain outside in order to carry out their task of controlling and correcting the government.

In conclusion, the PBHI declared that it therefore rejects the fact-finding team set up by the government and states that it is unwilling to collaborate with this body. It continues to insist that an independent fact-finding team should be set up by civil society to investigate the crimes against humanity perpetrated when four Trisakti students were shot dead on 12 May and during the riots on 13 - 15 May and stresses the importance of involving United Nations human rights monitoring bodies in these investigations.