Recent attempts to address the Indonesian genocide after 1 October 1966
Saskia E. Wieringa
On 27 June 2023, President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) delivered a speech in the Rumoh Geudong in Pidie, Aceh. Between 1989 and 1998, when Aceh had the status of a Military Operations Area (Daerah Operasi Militer, DOM), this was a place where people were murdered and endured severe torture, including sexual torture. In his address the president promised to ‘heal the nation’.
These DOM-era gross human rights violations comprised one of the 12 cases included in a report issued by a body Jokowi had commissioned a year earlier, Tim Penyelesaian Non-Yudisial Pelanggaran Hak Asasi Manusia yang Berat Masa Lalu (Team for the Non-Judicial Resolution of Past Gross Human Rights Violations, PPHAM). The other cases listed were the 1965 massacre, the 1989 Talangsari massacre, the disappearances of pro-democracy activists in 1997-1998, the May 1998 Riots, Trisakti Shooting Tragedy, Semanggi I and II Shooting Tragedy, the Banyuwangi Massacre in 1998-1999, the 1993 Simpang Kertas Kraft Aceh (KAA) incident in Aceh, Wasior and Wamena incident in 2001, Jambo Keupok Aceh incident in 2003, Munir’s murder, and the Bloody Paniai case.
In the first part of this article, I provide the background to this remarkable and most welcome statement from the president and make some suggestions for what kinds of state action might now follow. The second part of the article will examine the particular case of those who found themselves in exile following the 1965-66 purges, and restoration of their rights as Indonesian citizens, before concluding with further recommendations for possible state actions for reconciliation.
PPHAM and Jokowi’s initial reaction
In 2014, in his bid to become the nation’s president, Jokowi presented a plan called Nawacita. One of the nine priority points noted in that document addressed Indonesia’s record of human rights violations, including the mass murders in 1965-66. For the next eight years, there was no progress on this issue. In August 2022 and nearing the end of his second term as president, Jokowi established the PPHAM to deal with past gross human rights violations. The commission was asked to compile a report and make recommendations to the government. It was comprised of a steering committee and an executive committee, various ministries were also involved, as well as prominent external members, including a former commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM), and the chair of the national army veterans, Kivlan Zen. Less than six months later, the PPHAM presented its report and recommendations to the president. Until today, the full report has not yet been made public.
On 11 January 2023, 19 government ministers, the heads of police and the army, as well as the attorney general, attended a meeting to discuss the report and the 12 cases it mentioned. Each of these cases had already been investigated by Komnas HAM and all had been declared to be cases of grave human rights violations. The results of these investigations were handed over to the attorney general’s office at the time but never followed up, citing insufficient evidence.
The PPHAM’s recommendations have no legal status. They were presented as a gesture of goodwill from the president and the body was mandated to make recommendations for non-judicial solutions to heal the victims and their families and prevent such violations from happening again. Whilst the report noted significant limitations in data collection affecting its process, two important findings must be highlighted.
The report squarely points to the state as the major actor in these events. This belies the New Order propaganda that for instance, the 1965-66 genocide was the result of a ‘horizontal conflict’. It speaks of ‘victims of violence’, thereby levelling blame at the state and not, as has long been the case, at the victims themselves. New Order propaganda consistently accused the victims of being culprits, as having been ‘salah’ or wrong; as somehow responsible for their own deaths or torture. This is an important development, which can help lift the stigma the victims have been living under until today.
In the short time given to the PPHAM they studied relevant documents, held discussions with victims, their families, their supporters, civil society organisations and other experts, and met with various governmental and non-governmental organisations. The body made eleven recommendations.
- Communicate recognition and regret about the occurrence of the past grave violations of human rights;
- Implement the rewriting of the history of these events as the official state version of that history which takes into account the human rights of the victims;
- Restore the rights of the victims of other grave violations of human rights who didn’t fall within the mandate of the team PPHAM;
- Carry out fact-finding about the victims;
- Restore the rights of the victims, both their constitutional rights and their rights as citizens;
- Strengthen the settlement of the responsibility of the state towards the healing of the victims on the one hand and the strengthening of the broader cohesion of the people on the other hand. Alternative efforts must be made towards the harmonisation of the people with a cultural perspective;
- Implement the resocialisation of the victims in society in a broader sense;
- Produce policies of the state to ensure the there will be no more grave violations of human rights via
- A public awareness campaign;
- Guidance of society to stimulate them to become conscious of human rights, at the same time to ensure the presence of the state in the effort to provide guidance towards he victims of human rights;
- To increase the participation of society in collective efforts to mainstream the principles of human rights in daily life;
- To build a structural and cultural policy of reform in the army and police.
- Build memorials based on historical documents which provide an adequate and sufficient warning to ensure such events will not reoccur in the future;
- Implement efforts to institutionalise and instrumentalise human rights. This involves the ratification of various international human rights instruments, the amendments of legal measures and the confirmation of new laws;
- Build a mechanism to implement and monitor the implementation of the recommendations forwarded by the team PPHAM.
The emphasis on human rights, police and army reform and the restoration of the rights of victims are critically important and at the same time very sensitive issues. In this sense the report must be welcomed. But there are also some glaring absences.
Offering an apology - saying sorry - is not recommended. Nor is there any provision for compensation for the material and immaterial losses the victims suffered. Although there is recognition that these crimes were committed, there is not yet any mention of the perpetrators. The state as an entity carries the blame, but the chain of command under which these violations were committed is not revealed, and the individual state actors who tortured, killed, and profited from the labour and goods of the victims still enjoy impunity.
Indeed, the continued impunity for the 1965-66 genocide (a term not used in the report of the PPHAM nor by the president) arguably led to the chain of subsequent violations of human rights listed in the report, including massacres in Aceh, Papua, Lampung and East and Central Java. Hopefully, this is just the beginning of a long overdue process of truth-finding and healing.
Healing? Truth, justice and reparation
To heal the nation Indonesia must seriously embrace a process of transitional justice as the only way towards reconciliation and the prevention of new violations. Accountability, truth, justice, reparation, memory and guarantees of non-recurrence are essential elements. A very limited number of survivor organisations were involved in the work of the PPHAM team, deepening levels of distrust about the intentions of this government, which have grown over the years. There was no process of truth-finding, the basis of any form of justice.
Prior to the PPHAM report there had been only a few attempts by state and non-state actors to deal with this ugly scar in Indonesia’s history. In 2001, President Abdurrahman Wahid (1999-2001) proposed an apology on behalf of the Muslim mass organisation Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and to lift the decree prohibiting the study and propagation of Marxism/Leninism, MPRS Decree 25/1966. Due to strong opposition from right-wing forces, particularly hardline militia and army veterans, nothing came of it. In 2012, Komnas HAM prepared a report based on over 350 interviews with survivors. In 2013, Joshua Oppenheimer released his documentary film The Act of Killing, based on extensive interviews with some killers. This film shocked the world into awareness of the crimes committed in Indonesia after 1 October 1965. Though it was banned in Indonesia, it had a wide impact there as well.
In November 2015, The International People’s Tribunal (IPT) on 1965 Crimes Against Humanity in Indonesia was held in The Hague, to commemorate and end 50 years of silence. The judges concluded that the state of Indonesia was responsible for a genocide of possibly one million people, and for other mass crimes against humanity. Following this tribunal, in 2016 a national seminar was held in Jakarta at which survivors spoke out at such a public forum for the first time.
Suggestions for state action
In line with the PPHAM report, the Indonesian state could take some immediate steps towards healing the nation in relation to the 1965-66 genocide. Truth-finding is the first step. Until today the number of victims is not yet known. Only the state apparatus can fully account for the scale of murders, the sites of prisons, torture locations and mass graves, and the numbers purged from the army and the bureaucracy. Some of this information may already have been destroyed, but a concerted effort from the present state apparatus will be able to provide much more accurate figures. Komnas HAM already possesses a list of hundreds of mass graves, compiled with the help of victims’ organisations. These sites need to be investigated following proper legal and forensic methods, and also preserved for memorialisation purposes.
With the help of neighbourhood heads or village elders, it should still be possible to compile lists of people in their villages who have disappeared or were murdered. This data can be complemented by information held in the army’s archives. The president can give the order to open the archives of the Kopkamtib (Operational Command for the Restoration of Security and Order), regional army offices, prisons and other detention and torture centres that held prisoners during this period.
Once the truth about the scope of the 1965-66 genocide is established, then next steps can be taken to end the denial that a genocide took place, lift the impunity of the perpetrators and provide compensation. If Jokowi is serious about healing the nation, he can immediately start the process of truth-finding as laid out here. The two miniscule steps taken so far are promising but insufficient in order to heal the deep scars that the genocide caused, and to ensure that the Indonesian security forces abide by the rule of law and respect human rights. History books must be rewritten, so that the lies the New Order regime has propagated can be corrected and students taught about the role of the army and its allied militias in the mass murders. Only then will the stigma attached to those associated with the ‘events of 1965-66’, finally be lifted.
Saskia E Wieringa (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the chair of Gender and Women's Same-sex Relations Crossculturally, University of Amsterdam. She has published widely on sexual politics in Indonesia, women's empowerment and women's same-sex relations globally. Her books include the landmark Sexual Politics in Indonesia (Palgrave Macmillan, 2002) and Propaganda and the Genocide in Indonesia; Imagined Evil (with Nursyahbani Katjasungkana, Routledge, 2019). She is chair of the Foundation International People’s Tribunal (IPT) 1965.