Jakarta – The families of victims of the May 1998 riots in Jakarta have held a procession in which they scattered flowers and held joint prayers at the Klender Mall in East Jakarta on the morning of Monday May 13.
The event was initiated by Amnesty International Indonesia, the Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan), the Association of Facilities of Missing Person (IKOHI), the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) and the May '98 Association (Paguyuban Mei '98).
The majority of those attending were elderly family members of the victims dressed in all black clothing.
In a speech, Kontras representative Dimas said that the event is held every year to commemorate and remember the tragedy that took the lives of so many victims.
"Friends, this morning we gather here, in front of the Klender Mall, to commemorate the May 1998 riots which began on May 13", said Dimas.
Dimas said that there has been no progress in resolving the May 1998 tragedy, meaning it has marked time. He is therefore, in representing the families of the victims, demanding that the government immediately find the mastermind behind the riots.
"The commemoration of May 13 by the victims as well as the families of the victims is an effort to maintain memory, public and national awareness, as well as evidence of resistance against the state which so often provides opportunities for the perpetrators of human rights violations to sit in the halls of power", he said.
"This commemoration is held as a moment of reflection and [to mark] the struggle of the victims and families of the victims who every year continue to urge the state to immediately fulfill its duty of providing justice and rehabilitation to the victims and their families", said Anam.
Speaking in the same vein, Maria Sanu, the mother of Stevanus Sanu who died at the Klender Mall in the May 1998 riots, warned the government that it must immediately investigate and try the masterminds behind the tragedy.
She said that the government must take responsibility for the families of the victims over the tragedy which ended in the fall of former president Suharto's New Order regime.
"There has been no response, because it is as if the government wants to forget past human rights violations, particularly May 14, 1998. We the families of the victims don't agree, because the government must take responsibility for the families of the victims, because the families of the victims are still waiting for the 98 case to be resolved", said Sanu.
Aside from holding the flower scattering ceremony in front of the Klender Mall, the families also held joint prayers at the Pondok Rangon public cemetery (TPU) in East Jakarta. The majority of those who died at the Klender Mall are buried at the Pondok Rangon TPU.
May 1998 was historical event for the Indonesian nation. On that month the 32-year-old authoritarian rule of Suharto was brought to an end by people's power.
Behind all of this however, were the bloody riots which took place in several parts of the country, particularly in Jakarta as the centre of government, which claimed many lives.
Now, 21 years after reformasi – the political reform process that began in 1998 – a full resolution to the tragedy has yet to find a point of clarity.
On May 12, 1998, security forces fired into a crowd of student protesters from the Trisakti University near their campus in West Jakarta, killing four students and injuring several others. This proved to be the spark which set-off mass demonstrations and rioting in Jakarta with angry mobs taking over the streets, looting and setting fire to Chinese Indonesian owned shops and targeting ethnic Chinese communities in a wave of violence that lasted for three days. More than 1,000 people were killed in Jakarta alone, many of them looters who died in a series of large fires. Initial estimates uncovered evidence of at least 168 rapes in the capital with another 300 reported nationwide. Most of the victims were Chinese Indonesian women.
Presidential hopeful and former Army Special Forces (Kopassus) commander Prabowo Subianto along with Coordinating Minister for Security, Politics and Legal Affairs former General Wiranto were both implicated in the riots in a 2003 report by the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM). Wiranto, who at the time held the post of Defense and Security Minister as well as the commander of the Armed Forces, has been accused of having command responsibility for the riots as well as the Trisakti and other student shootings in 1998 but has never been investigated over the case.
[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "Keluarga Korban Kerusuhan Mei 1998 Gelar Prosesi Tabur Bunga dan Doa Bersama di Depan Mall Klender".]