Tenggara Strategics, Jakarta – President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has set up a team to resolve past serious human rights violations without going through courts of law, prompting some civil society organizations to accuse the government of trying to absolve the perpetrators of any guilt.
In almost all the 13 cases of serious human rights violations most often cited, the hands of the Indonesian Military (TNI) are found everywhere, and this is one probable reason why these cases remain buried and have never reached the courts.
The oldest of these is the massacre of communists and their sympathizers in 1965-1966, led by the military but with widespread public support, including Islamic groups. Almost six decades later, there is still no admission from the government or the military about these state-sponsored killings, in which as many as 1 million died. Every attempt to uncover the truth has been consistently quashed.
The presidential office said the presidential decree to set up the team to find nonjudicial resolutions would help relieve the nation of these historical burdens. A spokesperson said the move did not necessarily preclude the possibility of bringing these cases to court.
The president has yet to announce the line-up of the team, but it will be led by veteran diplomat Makarim Wibisono. Tempo said an early draft of the decree had names of scholars and activists such as Ifdhal Kasim, Suparman Marzuki, Apolo Safano, Mustara Abubakar, Harkristuti Harkrisnowo, Asad Said, Kiki Syahnakri, Zainal Arifin Muchtar, Achmad Muzakki, Komaruddin Hidayat and Rahayu. Two other people had been proposed, but they declined to join the team, according to Tempo. They were Usman Hamid of Amnesty International Indonesia and historian Hermawan Sulistyo.
In 2019, shortly after his second inauguration, President Jokowi ordered the Law and Human Rights Ministry to draw up a bill on the creation of a truth and reconciliation commission. Now, with just a little more than two years before he steps down, the text of the bill has not even reached the House of Representatives for deliberation. The team appears to be an alternative as the president is bent on fulfilling a promise that he made in his first presidential campaign in 2014.
But human rights organizations are not impressed and see the presidential initiative as paving the way to closing these cases while giving impunity to the perpetrators. They urged the president to drop the plan and continue to pursue truth and justice in all the cases.
It is not clear what President Jokowi has in mind when he asks for non-judicial resolutions.
If the team follows the South African model of the truth and reconciliation commission after the end of the Apartheid regime, he could be seeking admission from all parties involved with the promise of no legal prosecutions, some form of apology and compensation for victims or their relatives.
Indonesia and Timor Leste established a truth and friendship commission in 2005, in which the two countries agreed to bury the hatchet for Indonesia's 25 years of brutal occupation of what was then East Timor, without having to send any of the Indonesian Military (TNI) generals involved to jail.
In 1999, then-President Abdurrahman Wahid sought to establish a truth and reconciliation commission in 1999. The plan was picked up by his successor Megawati Soekarnoputri and the bill on the commission's establishment was passed by the House in 2004.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, when he assumed office in October 2004, refused to sign the bill into law and got the Constitutional Court to repeal it because of "flaws" in the text. Some 15 years later, President Jokowi picked up the initiative, but he has not made any progress.
President Wahid in 1999 apologized on behalf of Ansor, the youth organ of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) Islamic organization, for the role it played in the anti-communist killings. NU and Ansor leaders, however, retracted the apology on his behalf after his death.
In 2015, human rights groups organized discussions to mark 50 years after the killings, hoping that this would lead to the establishment of the truth and bring closure to the case. The government cracked down on these discussions amid claims that they would lead to the revival of communism.
The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) conducted a study on the killings and in 2012 came out with a detailed report and sufficient evidence of the tragedy to conclude there was a gross violation of human rights committed by the state. The report suggested a state apology and compensation for victims and for the Attorney General's Office (AGO) to use the report as the basis for starting an investigation. Nothing happened.It is not clear how many cases the presidential team intends to take up. Komnas HAM has a list of 13 cases of serious human rights violations that have not been resolved.
One of them is the kidnapping and disappearances of anti-government activists in 1998, which later was discovered to be the work of the Army's Special Forces Command (Kopassus), led at the time by Lt. Gen. Prabowo Subianto.
The case never came to light, but Prabowo was dismissed from military service for his role. After years in exile abroad, Prabowo returned in 2004 to launch his political career. Now a defense minister under President Jokowi, Prabowo has declared his intention to run for president in 2024.
Human rights groups suspect that President Jokowi is doing Prabowo a favor by seeking to bring closure to past serious human rights violations.
List of unresolved serious human rights violations
1. The killing of communists and communist sympathizers, Nationwide, 1965-1966
2. The "mysterious shooting" campaign against criminals and gangsters, Jakarta and big cities, 1982-1985
3. The torture of suspected rebels at Rumoh Geudong, which houses the TNI headquarters, Aceh, 1988-1989
4. A deadly raid on an Islamic community, Talangsari, Lampung, 1989
5. The kidnapping and forced disappearances of students and activists, Jakarta and big cities, 1997-1998
6. The killing of students and anti-government protesters, Near Trisakti University and Semanggi bridge, Jakarta, 1998
7. Deadly riots, anti-Chinese attacks and alleged mass rapes, Jakarta and big cities, May 1998
8. A killing campaign against witch doctors in West Java and East Java, West Java and East Java, 1998
9, The killing of peaceful protesters, Krueng Geukueh, Aceh, 1999
10, Separate raids against a village in Wasior and Wamena, Papua, 2001 and 2003
11, The extra-judicial killings of civilians, Jambu Keupok, Aceh, 2003
12, The assassination of human rights defender Munir, On board a flight from Jakarta to Amsterdam, 2004
13, The torture and killing of civilians, Paniai, Papua, 2014
What we've heard
A source at the National Commission of Human Rights (Komnas HAM) said prior to Jokowi's decision to form the team to deal with past human rights violations without having to go to the court, Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD called Komnas HAM officials to discuss the formation of this team. During the meeting, the source said Mahfud asked for solutions to human rights violations cases. "We explained that court settlement is the only way according to the law," said the official.
During the meeting, Mahfud said, however, there should be a mechanism to solve the cases outside of the court, while exploring the legal measures as suggested by Komnas HAM. According to the source, Mahfud said non-judicial resolutions could be considered to provide a sense of justice to victims of, especially, the 1965 tragedy and the Tanjong Priok incident in 1984. "Jokowi wants to leave a legacy of solving human rights violation cases before ending his term in 2024," the source said.
After a meeting with Mahfud, President Jokowi held three meetings with Komnas HAM leaders. During these meetings, the President requested that at least one case of human rights violation could be solved before his term ends in 2024. During the discussion, the topic of the 2014 Paniai shooting incident in Papua came to the fore. The Paniai case was eventually chosen as the first crime against humanity to be solved in court. The Human Rights Court in Makassar, South Sulawesi will hear the case.
A member of the team said he was informed by a State Palace official of the President's intention to solve these human rights cases. However, the team members were not given details of their job description and when they should start working. "The Palace official said that everything is already included in the Presidential Decree," said the source.
Regarding the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Bill, a source from Komnas HAM said discussions are still ongoing between the government and the House of Representatives. Komnas HAM has been invited to discuss several issues in the bill. The source said President Jokowi was pushing for immediate passage of the bill.
A source at the Law and Human Rights Ministry said the government is consulting several figures and civil society organizations related to the bill drafting. "The bill will focus on rehabilitation of victims of human rights violations that have been handled by Komnas HAM and the Witness and Victim Protection Agency," a senior ministry official said.
[This content is provided by Tenggara Strategics in collaboration with The Jakarta Post to serve the latest comprehensive and reliable analysis on Indonesia's political and business landscape.]