Oct 25, 2021 Last Updated 10:22 AM, Oct 21, 2021

Behind the student demands

STANLEY is impressed with the latest generation of students demonstrators.


After three months of continuous demonstrations, many observers are asking where the student actions might lead as they become more angry and violent. Will they really persist in their demand that the 'Old Man' Suharto step down? Or will the history of 1966 repeat itself and the students peacefully return to their classes while the army brings the situation under control with gradual reform?

A growing wave of demonstrations has spread to campuses in almost every province of Indonesia. In disturbances at the North Sumatra University in Medan, and at Mataram University on the island of Lombok, both on 25 April, troops opened fire and killed several demonstrators. The shootings created an important new phase for student activists. Would they press on with their demands, or go along with reforms proposed by the government in a dialogue led by armed forces commander General Wiranto?


Serious incidents since then have convinced many observers that attempts to hose down the fire of the students' passion is a waste of time.

Student and IMF demands for reform have been answered by the government with a series of inconsistent responses. For example, the national logistic board Bulog, which has a monopoly on distributing essential food items, was abolished, only to be replaced by a new marketing organisation called Goro, headed by the President's son, Hutomo 'Tommy' Mandala Putra.

The credibility gap makes the students reject any invitation for dialogue. 'We only wish to deal directly with the president,' said one of the student groups in Jakarta.

The head of the student senate at the prestigious University of Indonesia, Rama Pratama, was among those who declined the invitation to dialogue with General Wiranto. 'It is better to engage in direct dialogue without the presence of a mediator. Anyway, dialogue is not the point of the students' struggle,' said Pratama, in the 1993 economics class.

Meanwhile his comrade-in-arms, Teguh Agung Budi Utomo, a student at Airlangga University in Surabaya, declared: 'The 1945 constitution proclaims the sovereignty of the people. To be absolutely constitutional, a dialogue must take place through the People's Consultative Assembly, the MPR.' He was referring to growing demands for a special session of the MPR to call the president to account.

'This refusal of the students is really humiliating for us as assistants to the president,' complained Information Minister R Hartono.

Old regime

The students' logic in rejecting the invitation for dialogue is really the same as that of the students in 1966. Both refused to dialogue with an old regime on the brink of destruction. 'We will only conduct a dialogue with anyone who can change the so-called New Order of Suharto,' said a group of students from 11 March University.

Senior officials who up until now have been famous for being 'allergic' to entering university campuses have suddenly fallen in love with the idea of having a dialogue with the students. Everybody knows that the 'New Order' regime has up until now been anti-dialogue.

The military have not appreciated the fact that university students since the 1980s have themselves become allergic to anything to do with the men in green. They have always been critical of the Generation of 1966, who they hold responsible for the military domination of the country since then. We all know that the military as a group, as well as a section of the 1966 student generation, have paid excessive homage to the preservation of Suharto's power.


Indeed, the dialogue planned for 6 April ended in failure. All the invited student representatives boycotted it. By means of sheer hard work and plenty of manipulation, it took Abri headquarters till 18 April to put on another dialogue. It was held in the Jakarta suburb of Kemayoran.

Most of the students who turned up belonged to official government organisations like Ampi and Knpi. A few student senates did send representatives, but far more considered the dialogue just a farce. All the students knew that the point of the dialogue was to stop the students from doing anything.

In order to create a spectacular impression, the 18 April dialogue brought together hundreds of people from various backgrounds. Besides 60 student representatives, dozens of representatives from other social organisations, from intellectual groups, and heads of universities were brought along to join the merry throng. No fewer than 16 cabinet ministers were in attendance. Armed forces commander General Wiranto turned up with his entire staff.

What was the result? Students thought it was a nice break from their studies. Cabinet ministers and military officers said seriously that they would attempt to implement the student demands for reform, of course 'in a constitutional manner, through the right channels, and gradually'.

Even more ironically, the president's daughter Siti Hardiyanti 'Tutut' Rukmana declared: 'Your demands for reform are ours as well. These are not just the demands of our younger brothers and sisters, the university students.'

There seemed to be a desire to bury the demands of the students by changing the word 'oppose' to 'all of us together'. Of course this really infuriated the students. One from Surabaya said: 'Don't you know that all the while, behind the demands for reform, the students are demanding Suharto step down from the presidency?' This declaration naturally shocked a considerable number of the dialogue participants.

Counter dialogue

While the army held its dialogue in Jakarta, students put together a 'counter dialogue' at the Agricultural University (IPB) in Bogor at the same time. The dialogue rather resembled a rally to be on the alert. Over 4000 students attended from tertiary institutions in Java and Bali. Several IPB professors supported the event.

The meeting was the debut for a number of new student leaders within Indonesian campus politics. Among them were Cahyo Pamungkas from Gajah Mada, and Rama Pratama from the University of Indonesia. According to Cahyo, it was no longer necessary for students to sit around and discuss their vision. 'Our vision is the same: we all want change. Silence means betrayal and silence also means being oppressed,' he said. He declared that change could be constitutional or it could be unconstitutional.

Cahyo called on students to reject dialogue with the government, and also to reject calls by senior officials for them to come up with a political and economic blueprint. 'That is not the job of students, professors, doctors or other graduates', said Cahyo.

The meeting was also an opportunity to plan simultaneous actions throughout Indonesia, which took place over the following week. Some students agreed to overcome the impasse up till that moment by going out into the streets. They believed that by going onto the streets, the threat of being beaten up by the security apparatus would merely increase student militancy.

Others were going to try to enter parliament (DPR) and present a motion of no confidence in the representatives of the people. Another group wanted to visit the State Secretariat and convey a statement to President Suharto.


Students at the moment are virtually unanimous in demanding 'reform'. This is interesting because around the time of the March session of the MPR they were demanding that Suharto be rejected as a presidential candidate. 'Of course the word "reform" is a euphemism for "bring Suharto to justice"', commented Sukendro, a student activist from Dr Moestopo University. 'At the moment it is not possible to yell openly what we were saying during the March MPR session'.

Although the word 'reform' dominates the demonstrations, in free speech rostrums we hear that there are in fact Ten People's Demands. They are reform of the political, legal, economic and educational system; repeal of five notorious laws on politics; abolition of the army's 'dual function'; reduction of the price of basic foodstuff; reduction in the cost of education; rejection of the plan to raise fuel prices; elimination of corruption, collusion and nepotism; an end to kidnapping of activists; an end to unfair and unofficial charges in universities; and speedy attention to unemployment.

Some students are adding another demand to these ten, namely the swift convening of a special session of the super-parliament (MPR) to bring Suharto to justice.

Some of these demands were already put forward by Megawati's People's Democratic Party before they were crushed and declared an illegal organisation at the end of 1996.


As usual, the security apparatus are laying the accusation that mysterious others have infiltrated the students and are fomenting violent confrontation with the security forces. 'From the type of actions employed it can clearly be seen that there were extremist elements at work in the student actions at the Gajah Mada University campus. We see the influence of the PRD and Fretilin', stated the military area commander for Central Java.

Some see the accusation of revolutionary infiltration as just another tactic to intimidate the students and their parents. 'Oh, that's old hat. Everybody knows the only thing that has infiltrated us is our conscience', commented Rama Pratama. 'If we were to let this issue of infiltration bother us then students would never dare do anything. We will continue to move ahead', he added.

The issue of infiltration was dealt another blow when senior lecturers, professors and even the wives of government officials within Dharma Wanita joined the demonstrations and called out the same demands as the students.

By contrast with those who reject dialogue with the military, some other students declared they did not want to close their minds to the idea of an alliance between students and the military. 'As long as it ends in reform,' said Abdullah, a student from 17 August University in Jakarta. He added that information had come into student hands about whole units deserting from the armed forces. Apart from feeling the consequences of the economic troubles, he said, these soldiers were refusing to repress the students.

'It is these soldiers who have the potential to become our allies in the struggle. This time we are not afraid of being coopted by the military, as the students were in 1965/1966. This time the military will not be able to get on top of the economic crisis', Abdullah said.

30 April 1998. On 12 May, six student demonstrators were shot dead, apparently by military snipers, at Trisakti University in Jakarta.

Stanley is a journalist and author in Jakarta. David Williams, at the University of Southern Queensland, was the translator.

Inside Indonesia 55: Jul-Sep 1998

Ratna accused, and defiant

BARBARA HATLEY traces the life of Ratna Sarumpaet, among the most prominent of Indonesia's new political prisoners.


On the evening of Wednesday 11th March, viewers of Australian ABC television's '7.30 Report' witnessed a startling event - the arrest of playwright and theatre director Ratna Sarumpaet.

Ratna and others had planned a gathering to coincide with the joint sitting of the Indonesian parliament, about to formally re-elect President Suharto. The international press and foreign embassies were invited. But the program of discussions was cancelled when security officials intervened.

As we watched from our living rooms, Ratna informed a small crowd that the event could not go ahead, and led them in the singing of two patriotic songs, Indonesia Raya and To you our country. Then, as they prayed silently before dispersing, the order went out to take Ratna Sarumpaet.

We heard Ratna's sharp cries of protest 'Where is your warrant? Where is the warrant?', and saw her companions attempt vainly to prevent security police from forcing her into a car. Eight were arrested and taken with Ratna to the police headquarters in Jakarta.


Eventually six people were charged with holding an illegal political meeting. At the time of writing they remain in detention awaiting trial. Ratna herself faces two charges. One under a Sukarno-era ban on 'anti-revolutionary' political gatherings (with a maximum sentence of one year in prison), the other under an infamous colonial law against the spreading of hatred (maximum seven years). Both charges are filled with irony. A pre-trial appeal, protesting irregularities in their arrests, was summarily dismissed. The judgement stated in part that 'singing Indonesia Raya and To you my country is proof of their political crime'.

Ratna's supporters around the world have rallied in her defence, with letters of protest to the Indonesian authorities, a web page focussed on her case, and a world-wide program of readings from her works. But, confronting a regime which indicts the singing of patriotic songs as a political offence, they face a tough struggle.

At one level Ratna's arrest was hardly a surprise. Over the past few years the outspoken, determined playwright has been involved increasingly combative confrontations with the authorities. She joined protests against the banning of Tempo magazine. She participated in the 1997 election campaign with a street theatre involving a coffin labelled 'democracy'.

The last straw was her outright defiance of a ban imposed in Lampung last December on the performance of her monologue 'Marsinah accuses'. She proceeded with the show in a darkened, locked theatre complex before an audience who had evaded security guards by climbing a back fence.


Her political activities have been accompanied by an increasingly critical stance in her creative works. Her 1994 production Marsinah: Nyanyian dari bawah tanah ('Marsinah: A song from the underworld') reflected on issues of political violence and repression inspired by the Marsinah case. Terpasung ('Shackled') explored themes of male dominance and violence towards women. Pesta terakhir ('The final celebration') depicts the grand funeral of a deceased authoritarian leader at which not one guest appears.

And in the monologue Marsinah menggugat ('Marsinah accuses') Ratna returns to the Marsinah theme, speaking directly in the voice of the murdered worker, who details the horrific brutality of her torture and death.

Indeed, Ratna's words just before her arrest show her moving to a savage indictment of a parliament which betrays the hopes of 200 million people. 'Who and what are we before our children, before the coming generations, before hundreds of millions of people far less empowered than ourselves', she called out passionately to those present, 'if, as our nation faces such a desperate situation, we can do nothing?'.

Ratna's activities do not, of course, remotely justify her detention. But they may suggest how a paternalistic, authoritarian regime, outraged at such provocation by a mere woman, feels the need to silence her. And they raise an intriguing question. How is it that a woman playwright who until a few years ago had been quite uninvolved in politics has taken up such a critical, outspoken position, at a time when better-known literary and theatre radicals are silent?

Rendra Both Ratna's parents had been politicians. But as representatives of Christian parties, marginalised and disfavoured in the Sukarno period, they did not bring up their children to be political. The emphasis, Ratna reports, was on working hard to do something useful.

She was studying architecture at the University of Indonesia in 1969 when she saw a production of one of Rendra's plays and decided immediately that this was the path she wanted to follow. She went to Yogya and joined Rendra's group. After a time she left, with the aim of becoming a director and proving that in this way she could do something for society.

But instead she fell in love, married and had children. At first her husband, a businessman, refused to allow her to perform. Later he financed her in staging several productions. These were adaptations of foreign works - Rubaiyat of Omar Kayam, Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet, in the last case with Ratna playing Hamlet.

Then from 1976 to 1989 Ratna stopped performing theatre, though still working in television and film, as she struggled with the traumas of an unhappy, violent marriage. When she returned to theatre after her divorce, her productions were informed by a sustained focus on the situation of women.

Ratna explains that her adaptation of Antigone to a Batak setting, for example, reflects the privileging of sons and brothers in Batak society and the lack of rights held by women.


But it was the murder of the female worker Marsinah in 1993 which set Ratna on a new direction in her work. Marsinah was a factory labour leader who was almost certainly murdered by military men acting on behalf of management. 'I am obsessed by Marsinah', Ratna said before the performance of her Marsinah play. She recounts how the murdered worker's face had appeared before her as she wrote the script, and how, after the production, she cried out to Marsinah's spirit to release her from her overwhelming influence.

Ratna identified intensely with Marsinah in her brutal silencing, not just as a worker but as a woman. The way Marsinah was treated, her raped and mutilated body simply discarded in a forest, to Ratna symbolised the deep, trivialising contempt which men, especially powerful men, feel towards women who dare to speak out. She herself had suffered enforced silencing and physical abuse in her marriage.

Stimulated by Marsinah's story Ratna went on, both in 'Marsinah: A song from the underworld' and in 'Shackled', to explore links between male dominance of women in the family and the exploitation of weaker forces by the power-holders in the paternalistic Indonesian state. Over the months and years the abuses of this authoritarian political system came to serve as an ever stronger focus of personal anger for Ratna. Artistic exploration flowed into direct political action.

If personal suffering has fuelled Ratna's attacks on the political system, so too, she suggests, such experience has given her courage to sustain the consequences. Surviving the trauma of her marriage, and the long struggle to obtain a divorce through Islamic courts which preached reconciliation until convinced by hospital reports of her broken ribs, gave her new confidence. Speaking prophetically in 1995, Ratna stated that she was now not afraid to speak out, not even of going to prison. The only things she feared were harming others and God.

Though there are powerful feminist resonances in Ratna's story and in her creative work, her relationship to feminism as a movement is an ambivalent one. She reports that feminist groups in Indonesia always want her to make a Statement about women in her plays, and to do something about the situation of women through her work. But this is too hard a thing to ask, she says. Social change does not happen in this way. In any case her concern is for all weak, oppressed people, women as well as men. She feels she can best assist Indonesian women by providing an example of achievement which others can follow.

Feisty defiance That achievement, as the only recognised Indonesian woman playwright and director in an otherwise all male field, has been hard-won. Ratna's personal style - assertive, forthright, self- confident, sharply critical at times - has both been central to her success and has also aroused criticism and controversy.

Similar complexities are evident in her present situation. The same feisty defiance which has seemingly provoked the authorities into hard-line repression is also sustaining her strongly through its effects. When her pre-trial appeal was rejected she issued a statement questioning President Suharto's re-election promise of openness to criticism - was this gold or dross, real commitment or lip-service?

She told journalists: 'Although I am physically in prison, my ideas about truth and justice will not be imprisoned'. She was recently hospitalised briefly with severe back pain due to a pre-existing condition, but remains positive.

While awaiting trial, she says she is learning from her 'new friends' - her ten cell-mates, whose backgrounds and experience are totally different from her own. And each day she is gratified to read in the newspapers of the ongoing struggle by the students to achieve political reform.

To these young people Ratna in turn is a source of inspiration as an artist who has dared to speak out for the same cause as theirs. Ratna's international supporters, while pressing for concrete political action, are also sustaining the spirit of this determined, idealistic, idiosyncratic fighter for justice, and thereby contributing to a spirit of solidarity and resistance.

Ratna was sentenced to 70 days jail on 20 May (the day before Suharto's resignation). The sentence equalled the time of her detention, and she was immediately released. For general information about Ratna and her writings, how to send letters of protest about her case, and to donate to a support fund, see http://www.en.com/users/herone/Ratna.html. For information about play readings, including some being held in Australia, see http://members.aol.com/leharper/index.html.

Barbara Hatley has written widely on Indonesian theatre. She teaches at Monash University in Melbourne.

Inside Indonesia 55: Jul-Sep 1998

Letter from Medan

A failing economy takes its toll in fear and anger, says JOHN McCARTHY.


After landing in Medan, North Sumatra, it took no time at all to realise that things had gone seriously amiss.

On the way to my research site, near Gunung Leuser National Park, the tire on the minibus I was travelling on burst and the car jackknifed all over the road. We had just come down a steep mountain, so I was extremely relieved that the tire burst on a flat piece of road.

As the price of tires has more than doubled, buses are running on bald tires over rugged terrain. 'We can't afford new tires', the conductor of the minibus exclaimed. 'How can average people like us to survive'. His voice was almost breaking with frustration mixed with anger. 'And I heard on the news they want to put up the price of petrol next month - we'll be finished when this happens'. (Reducing subsidies on fuel and food is among the required IMF reforms).

The newspapers said that thirty percent of public transport vehicles are now off the road because their owners can't afford the spare parts to keep them running.


I arrived in the village a day after Hari Raya, the feast marking the end of the fasting month. A year previously, I'd met lots of people by a simple act - sitting in a coffee shop on the main street. But now the festive mood had quickly dissipated. All able bodied men had taken to the hills. With the economic crash, there was no time to sip coffee in the local warung. It was planting time.

Rolim, a craftsman with a large furniture shop in the main street, had abandoned his furniture shop to plant cash crops in an empty plot of land behind his house. The reason was simple: with the prices of foodstuffs rocketing, no-one could afford his furniture. The economy was forcing everyone in the village to become a peasant. As official salaries were no longer sufficient to buy food stuffs, even public servants were out opening plots to grow cash crops.

On a local mini bus one day, a man held up a bag of cooking oil - 'Rp 1500 a litre', he said. 'You used to be able to go to the market with Rp 10,000 and buy everything you need. Now that only buys some oil and rice and maybe one or two other things'. A few days later cooking oil threatened to disappear completely from the local market. Within a week it was selling for Rp 4500 a litre.

I too began to wonder. Some people had no land, or no capital to buy seedlings. Other families had no able bodied men to open plots of land. Would people end up starving?


I'd spend nights listening to reports of food rioting on short wave. In remote places, the abstractions of white collared economists wearing pointy ties made no sense. People were angry and wanted to take things in their own hands. But who to blame? And from whom could they demand justice? In warungs each day people apportioned blame. Some said it was Chinese food hoarders, others the Americans.

But I had personal concerns: What would happen when the rioting reached here? Would I be able to leave? Would the buses continue to run?

Eventually, despite assurances from my friends and even the village head that I was safe here, I decided to leave. Clearly I faced no immediate danger, but only one issue was critical here: how would they feed their families - today, next week, in one month? If I would stay, how could I help? Anyway, I felt uncomfortable with the role of a researcher in these conditions. When people were struggling so hard, how could I interview them about wildlife and forest use?

Back in Medan, I rang a friend, an Australian woman. She told me this story. 'Yesterday my pembantu (home help) came to the house and asked me if I wanted a baby. I said "What do you mean". "Well", said the woman, "one of my friends in the kampung can't afford powdered milk for her baby anymore. And so she is trying to find someone who can afford to keep it"'.

Later, a taxi driver asked me if I was a reporter. 'No, why?', I replied. 'Because if you stay a few more weeks it will be very interesting', he said. 'You will see something big. It will be like a war'. 'But what I don't understand is who is the enemy', I asked. 'The enemy will be the rich, the corrupters, those who have got rich unfairly, the Chinese, and Christians. They will burn lots of churches. It is going to be very bad...'.

27 February 1998. Days of rioting broke out all over North Sumatra in early May.

John McCarthy is a researcher at the Asia Research Centre, Murdoch University, Perth, Western Australia.

Inside Indonesia 55: Jul-Sep 1998

Marsinah accuses

The spirit of Marsinah speaks out in this chilling extract from RATNA SARUMPAET's monologue in her memory.
Read more

Soldiers murder in Irian Jaya

Indonesian soldiers shot at least 11 civilians in the remote interior of Irian Jaya, a new report has established. GERRY VAN KLINKEN reports.

The soldiers were anxious to reestablish government control after they forced OPM rebels to release foreign hostages in May 1996. To permit negotiations during the five months hostage crisis, the Indonesian army had withdrawn from the area.

The Indonesian armed forces (Abri) may have regarded the entire population as hostile for looking after the OPM bands during that time. The villages of Bela, Alama, Jila and Mapenduma are located about 150 km east of the huge Freeport copper and gold mine. The frightened population responded to aggressive Abri patrols by seeking refuge in mountain-side caves.

Among the harrowing stories in the report, some describe hungry villagers coming out of hiding only to be gunned down by soldiers camped in their gardens for that very purpose. In all, eleven were shot dead, two remain missing, while three were injured between December 1996 and October 1997. More (about 137 by April 1998) died of lack of food and disease while in hiding.

The area is extremely inaccessible. It has a long history of suffering at the hands of powerful outsiders. Natural disasters and disease are also taking a dreadful toll. Bushfires swept the area in August and September 1997. Cholera is often fatal in the dry season. Serious strains of malaria are spreading rapidly.


In March 1998, the 'Rajawali' unit had just arrived in the Amongkonop village as part of a military operation. Some soldiers invited Elias Aim and his 22-year old nephew to come bird shooting. After walking for some distance, the two men were separated from one another. The nephew was never seen again.

Elias Aim said afterwards: 'I was told to squat facing a soldier. He put a round in his rifle to shoot me while his friend was looking over the edge of a cliff. But his friend said: "Don't shoot him there, later we'll have a hell of a job dragging him to the cliff. Make him go to the cliff's edge and then shoot him." '

'The soldier guarding me put down his rifle and they told me to go to the cliff's edge. They pointed their rifles at me from my left and from behind. I was shaking with fear. The cliff was more than 150 metres high. So high that the river below was not clearly visible. When I reached the edge I decided it was better to kill myself than be shot. I threw myself over the edge before they could shoot.'

'When I woke up I realised I was still alive. I checked my whole body and found only scratches. I said a prayer of thanks to God for saving me from the hands of Abri, and another for saving me after I jumped off a cliff so high none of my ancestors had ever been there. After that I managed to climb down'.

Soldiers also destroyed at least twelve churches and a large number of houses, as well as much livestock, the main form of capital in Irian Jaya.

Servant of Christ

After leading a church service in the village of Gilpid on Sunday 12 October 1997, the evangelist Wenesobuk Nggwijangga, 48, went out to check his cus-cus traps.

When villagers went to look for him that evening, soldiers from Battalion 751 camped nearby denied that they had seen him. But after two days searching, the persistent villagers found the body buried by a river.

When they confronted the local Kopassus commander with the badly damaged body, he first said soldiers had found it and wanted to give it a decent burial. He then pleaded with them not to spread the news that Abri had killed him.

The commander offered them food and drink but they refused, saying: 'We have given you chickens, pigs, rabbits, and vegetables. We almost always fulfilled your requests. But you wanted human life. You wanted the life of a servant of Christ. And we did not want to give him to you.'

'Now we have been visited by disaster. We have lost a church leader who worked among us and guided us. We can do nothing. We are just little people.'

Instead of helping relieve the difficult conditions villagers face, the government, represented mainly by the army, appears to be on a permanently hostile footing with the population. Yet Australian soldiers are working with them giving drought relief.

Volunteers compiled the detailed report during visits to the area between August 1997 and April 1998. They took great personal risk, because the area remains under strict military control and outsiders are banned. They interviewed numerous eyewitnesses and victims.

It is signed by parish leaders of three Christian churches in Mimika, the nearest town. The report calls for a detailed investigation, and for punishment of those guilty.

The report is available from ACFOA Human Rights, 124 Napier St, Fitzroy 3065, fax 03-9416 2746, acfoahr@acfoa.asn.au.Gerry van Klinken edits 'Inside Indonesia'.

Inside Indonesia 55: Jul-Sep 1998

The power of the disappeared

JAMES GOODMAN tastes the raw courage that brought down Suharto.


A spate of kidnappings took place in Indonesia in February. Activists were taken to interrogation centres and tortured. Anger aroused over these disappearances, and over the testimonies of those released, precipitated the student protests which by 21 May had toppled President Suharto.

February and March were relatively quiet. The People's Assembly (MPR) met without incident to give Suharto another term of office. Though discredited, the regime was able to intimidate people into inaction.

But when some torture victims revealed their stories in April and May, the government was caught red-handed. It became more urgent to end the regime. All pro-democracy students were now at risk, and were willing to take action.


Some two months earlier, thirty young people are meeting in the backyard of a Jakarta household on a Monday night. They are members of Siaga, formed to support Megawati Sukarnoputri and Amien Rais for the presidency. They have been meeting for several weeks, and their numbers are swelling.

Siaga means Alert, and stands for Indonesian Solidarity for Amien and Mega. As the meeting opens, small strips of white cotton are handed out, a symbol of support for the democracy movement. White for solidarity.

The group draws support from the People's Democratic Alliance (Aldera), from the independent 'prosperity' trade union (SBSI), and from Megawati supporters formerly in the Indonesia Democratic Party (PDI).

A few days before, they had attempted to distribute leaflets in public. Four were arrested and later released. At the same time Pius Lustrilanang, Siaga's secretary-general, was abducted while visiting a relative in hospital. Siaga attempted to lodge a complaint with the Indonesian Human Rights Commission, but this was refused as there was no proof the military or police were involved.


They are uncertain how to proceed. Should they ignore the abduction, and concentrate on the campaign against Suharto? Or should they focus on the disappeared and use it to illustrate the arbitrary repression that democrats face under the New Order?

They decide on the latter. How can they ignore the plight of a fellow activist? They suspect he is being tortured and could be made to 'disappear' altogether if there is no public outcry. Another activist, who last year was abducted and tortured for two weeks, is present at the meeting. He offers to join in a press conference with Lustrilanang's family.

Meanwhile, they discuss how to demonstrate their opposition to Suharto despite the police crackdown during the MPR session. Could they create an outdoor, alternative People's Assembly? Safety concerns are uppermost - 25,000 riot troops are staging a show of strength in the city. Someone mentions Tiananmen Square. They opt for a less vulnerable indoors venue.

On 10 March the MPR rubber-stamps the Suharto presidency. At the same moment Siaga mounts its alternative 'Peoples Summit' at a Jakarta hotel. The speaker is playwright Ratna Sarumpaet. She is arrested with eight others. They join over 300 people officially detained as political prisoners.

These are the lucky ones. The Committee against Disappearance and Torture have details of a further fifty people who 'disappeared' in the first three months of 1998. Several surface in police custody. Others are released with warnings not to speak of their experiences on pain of death.

Andi Arief, head of Student Solidarity for Democracy (SMID), abducted on 28 March, is confirmed to be in police custody on 28 April. Haryanto Taslam, adviser to Magawati, disappeared on 2 March, reappears on 17 April, keeping silent about his experiences.

Several others remain untraceable. Early in March Pius Lustrilanang's mother, Fransiska Djamilus, visits the International Committee of the Red Cross in Jakarta. She has travelled from Sumatra to lodge a missing person's report for her son. His legal case notes, and those of others, hint at the widespread fears: 'His family and lawyer are still searching'; 'the victim is still missing, with his friend'; 'his family has yet to say where he is'; 'there has been no information from the authorities'.


Official attempts at discrediting the disappeared students fall on deaf ears. Denials of military involvement fail to re- establish credibility.

Lustrilanang is released early in April. On the 27th April, at the National Human Rights Commission, he reveals full details of his kidnapping. He tells how he was abducted by four armed men, taken to a secret location near Jakarta, and interrogated for two months. He was tortured with electricity and water, and severely beaten. His captors carefully concealed their identities, but he had no doubt they were soldiers. Every afternoon at 3pm he heard the trumpet reveille.

He had been questioned about his involvement in Siaga, about its members, its strategy and planned actions. After giving evidence to the Commission, Lustrilanang immediately goes into exile overseas.

Pius' story is widely reported. More press reports appear that directly challenge official denials. Desmond Mahesa, a legal aid lawyer, who disappeared and was released at the same time as Pius, gives similar evidence on 12 May. He says he was held in the same lock-up. Despite the personal risk, he decides to remain in Indonesia.

Student outrage at the kidnappings combines with worsening economic conditions as the government lifts controls on petrol and electricity prices. Demonstrations move off the campuses, and culminate in the fatal shooting of six Trisakti University students on 12 May. Several have already died elsewhere, in Medan for instance, but none so publicly and in such cold blood. The Legal Aid Institute reports that four were shot in the back, while two died from head wounds.

Student radicalism and violent repression precipitate mass uprisings. More students disappear - 27 from Trisakti alone - and fears grow.

But the issue of the disappeared unclothes the regime. Its brutality is on display. When challenged, its confidence is shattered. In a panic reversal, price controls are reintroduced, but Suharto's loss of support is already irreversible.

James Goodman, a researcher at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), recently visited Jakarta.

Inside Indonesia 55: Jul-Sep 1998

Suharto, war criminal


What are 'crimes against humanity'? Can Suharto be brought to trial for them? RICHARD TANTER reports.

Two unexpected events in recent months give hope that former President Suharto may some day be brought to trial for genocide and crimes against humanity, for his part in the anticommunist holocaust in 1965, and for the hundreds of thousands who died after the Indonesian invasion of East Timor.

On May 1, Jean Kambanda, former Prime Minister of Rwanda, pleaded guilty to charges of genocide and crimes against humanity before the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Kambanda will probably be sentenced to a maximum of life imprisonment.

On April 30, the United States announced its intention to request that the Security Council establish an International Criminal Tribunal to try Cambodian former Khmer Rouge leaders on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity

United Nations

I believe that the UN Security Council should appoint a Special Rapporteur or a Committee of Experts to assess prima facie evidence against Suharto and other senior or retired Abri leaders.

The Security Council should then establish an International Criminal Tribunal for Indonesia with a view to trying Suharto and others for the following crimes under existing international legal conventions and customary law:

  • Crimes against humanity
  • Genocide
  • Grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions
  • Violations of the laws of war
  • Crimes against peace

Three questions need to be answered:

Did Suharto and other senior Indonesian military commanders commit acts that amount to 'crimes against humanity' and 'genocide'?

  • If so, can Suharto be brought before an international tribunal on such charges?
  • Is it desirable to call for such an international criminal tribunal?


The crimes

In the thirty years of President Suharto's control, at least two sets of events amount to crimes against humanity and/ or genocide in an ordinary meaning of the terms.

First, President Suharto's rule was founded when he led the holocaust that destroyed the Indonesian Communist Party. Between mid-October 1965 and the end of the following year, the Indonesian armed forces planned, orchestrated and in part carried out the murder of between 200,000 and one million Indonesian citizens. Virtually all were unarmed.

Most victims were alleged members of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) or its allied community organisations. Some were targets of anti-Chinese hatred fostered by army propaganda. Hundreds of thousands were shot by the military. Comparable numbers were clubbed and hacked to death by their neighbours, directed, equipped and incited by the armed forces.

Much about the anti-communist killings remains unknown even today, since the subject has been unspeakable in Indonesia. Yet no serious historian doubts that hundreds of thousands of Indonesians were killed. One of the first tasks a UN Special Rapporteur or Committee of Experts faces is to examine the existing evidence as to the scale of the crimes.

The next task is to plumb the details - to date virtually unknown - of the armed forces' planning of the holocaust.

East Timor

Second, on the periphery of Indonesia, the state's repression of self-determination gave rise to another set of massive crimes. The war against the East Timorese is only the best known of these. Indonesian intelligence agents began by coercing the leaders of several groups of conservative and anti-independence East Timorese into signing a 'request' (which the Indonesians had dictated) for assistance. Indonesian armed forces then invaded the former Portuguese colony on December 5th, 1975.

In the following four years, the population of East Timor decreased by 200,000 people. They died as a result of direct Indonesian army killings and bombings, but also through forced re-locations and the starvation and disease that followed the invasion. Since then, torture has been a standard operating procedure for Indonesian forces.

The law

How then does international law relate to Indonesia? On what grounds could an international criminal tribunal bring charges against Suharto? Though there are some important legal matters for debate and interpretation, a case against Suharto for crimes against humanity is quite possible under existing international convention and international customary law. A prosecution against Suharto for the crime of genocide, though more difficult, would also be quite possible.

Until the Security Council established the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia [ICTY] in 1993, and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda [ICTR] in 1994, no-one had been charged with crimes against humanity or genocide in the years since the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals at the close of World War 2.

Both those earlier trials were tainted with the flavour of 'victor's justice'. But the international law dealing with such grave crimes has developed considerably since that time. In fact the UN has been moving in recent years with surprising speed to establish a permanent International Criminal Tribunal. In June 1998 an International Treaty Conference will have been held to approve a draft convention, and then a process of signing and ratifying will begin. In the meantime, a special tribunal on the Yugoslav and Rwandan model remains the way forward.

The Security Council empowered the ICTY to 'prosecute persons responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law', including genocide, crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva conventions of 1949, and violations of the laws of war.

War crimes

In 1946, the UN General Assembly affirmed the principles of international law as recognised at Nuremberg.

Subsequently the International Law Commission (ILC) reported to the UN General Assembly that it had codified Principles of Law Recognised in the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal and in the Judgement of the Tribunal.

Principle 6 includes among the crimes punishable under international law:

'(c) Crimes against humanity: Murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation and other inhuman acts against any civilian population, or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds, when such acts are done or such persecutions are carried on in execution of or in connection with any crimes against peace or any war crimes.'

The affirmation of the Nuremberg Tribunal's Charter and Judgement by the General Assembly, and their codification by the ILC, provide a solid foundation for the law on crimes against humanity as an accepted part of international customary law. This was the basis for Security Council Resolution 827 (1993) that established the ICTY.

A case could clearly be made that under international law Suharto has committed crimes against humanity. He directed the Indonesian armed forces that murdered tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of overwhelmingly unarmed civilians in 1965-1966.

It is not known whether Suharto personally killed PKI members, or simply left that to colleagues, subordinates and civilian allies. But, mainly in his role as commander of the Operational Command for the Restoration of Security and Order (Kopkamtib), Suharto exercised direct and command responsibility for the planning and execution of what amounted to a massive crime against humanity in those years.


Prosecuting Suharto for the crime of genocide will be more difficult, though not impossible. The difficulties are two-fold. First, under international law the crime of genocide has a limited legal definition. Second, Indonesia, almost alone among important countries of the world, has not signed and ratified the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Neither of these difficulties is, however, conclusive.

Under the Convention, genocide means:

'Any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group as such: killing members of the group; causing serious mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing methods intended to prevent births within the group; forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.'

In the case of Indonesia, the category of genocide is relevant in at least two cases: the mass anti-communist killings of 1965- 1966, and the killings following the invasion of East Timor.

However in 1965-66, as in Cambodia, Indonesian victims were for the most part killed not because of their ethnicity, nationality or racial identity. They were killed because of their alleged political beliefs. This would, in a strict sense, mean that their murders do not amount to genocide under the terms of the Convention.

But this does make the Convention irrelevant. In fact the presumed religious beliefs of PKI members, or rather, the lack of such beliefs, were very relevant to many of their persecutors. The fact that the PKI positively affirmed atheism was often held as a reason why they could never be trusted, and why they lost full status as human beings. In this limited sense, most of the 1965-66 killings had a religious aspect under the terms of the Genocide Convention.


Another, smaller, target of the 1965-1966 killings in some parts of Indonesia were Chinese Indonesians. To the extent that they were killed because of their Chinese identity, their murders would plausibly amount to genocide under the Genocide Convention.

Certain aspects of the Indonesian invasion and occupation of East Timor, especially during the years 1975-1979, could also be construed as genocidal under the terms of the Genocide Convention.

The most important difficulty with the genocide case against Suharto is that Indonesia has not signed and ratified the Convention. Unlike Indonesia, Yugoslavia, Cambodia and Rwanda are parties to the Genocide Convention. Consequently, there was no difficulty in law in trying former Rwandan government officials before a UN criminal tribunal. Nor is any difficulty anticipated on that ground in the Cambodian case.

Are the provisions of the Genocide Convention therefore not applicable in any way to acts of genocide committed within the territory of Indonesia? Most likely not, at least not in a direct sense.

Yet, some international legal experts maintain that the law of genocide has developed an overriding and peremptory applicability. This means individual states may not be permitted to defy it. Not only is the Convention a development of the established 1946 Nuremberg principles, they argue, but it gains added force simply by having been signed and ratified by the great majority of states.

In other words, the general law of genocide is likely to be applicable to some degree within the territory of Indonesia. The assumption must surely be made that in law, the categories of crimes against humanity and the crime of genocide are not closed.

If the US proposal to establish an International Criminal Tribunal for Cambodia is accepted by the Security Council, then the global applicability of the law of genocide will be very closely examined.

The politics

Why is it desirable at this point in history to mount charges of genocide and crimes against humanity against Suharto? Isn't it all now a matter of history, of revenge against old men rather than justice? Won't raking up the past do more harm than good, at a time when Indonesia needs stability?

There is something to be said for this objection, but it is wrong. An international criminal tribunal has three purposes. The first is to bring those individuals responsible for horrific crimes to justice, and to punish the guilty. By ordinary human standards, Suharto and his colleagues committed - and then benefitted greatly from - crimes on a horrific scale.

In Indonesia, the dead are many, but so are the scarred survivors. How long must they wait in fear and silence?

The second purpose is to deter such acts in the future. By establishing the possibility that those leaders of states may have to take responsibility for their actions.

A Rwandan prime minister is in gaol for genocide, Serbian war- lords slink in hiding, and two Korean presidents ended their careers with gaol sentences and national disgrace. Small comfort in a world of pain and hypocrisy, but possibly the beginnings of assigning global responsibility.

The third purpose of an international tribunal is to establish a reasonable basis for national reconciliation and for overcoming deep collective trauma.

Despite thirty years of repressing open discussion of the Indonesian holocaust, the wounds among the living are deep. Half a million victims left behind millions of bereaved. Fantasies and fears of revenge are to be expected, but the understandable desire for revenge is best met by facing the events of the past openly, and by establishing individual responsibility in open courts, properly conducted.

Crimes against humanity and genocide are recognised as the concern of all humanity, not only the peoples who suffer directly. Security Council Resolution 827 (1993) requires all states to cooperate fully with the ICTY. Under Principles of International Co-operation in the Detection, Arrest, Extradition, and Punishment of Persons Guilty of War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity, adopted by the UN in 1973, member states 'shall not grant asylum to any person with respect to whom there are serious reasons for considering that he has committed a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity'.

Now that Suharto has fallen, this will be an important obligation to recall. In the world of realpolitik, especially during the Cold War, international law and ordinary principles of justice counted for little against the interests of the major states. But there is plenty of reason to hope that the cry for justice will be heard this time.

In the face of widespread calls from abroad and inside Indonesia for the former president to be tried for crimes against humanity, some Indonesian successor regime, as in Rwanda, may well be prepared to acknowledge the jurisdiction of an International Criminal Tribunal.

By establishing that Suharto is, prima facie, guilty of crimes against humanity, a great deal is achieved. By focussing the minds of the international legal community on solving the practical and technical problems, we normalise the idea that this respected international figure came to power through genocide.

Leaders like President Clinton should be asked to explain just why he is prepared to act on Cambodia, but not on Indonesia. This way the double standard is rendered visible. In the face of the deceits of power, cynicism is understandable. But the cynical response is not always quite as realistic as it may seem at first sight.

The leader of the Rwandan genocide has been tried before a United Nations court. In the broken remains of Yugoslavia, UN warrants for the arrest of war-lords keeps them in hiding, lest they be arrested. Even, finally, in Cambodia, the dirty hands of world politics have moved enough to allow for the establishment of a tribunal.

Once the face of capitalist fortune turned away from Suharto, the outside world started to see him as a dictator. With a little more effort, he may be seen for what he truly is - a criminal on a massive scale.

Richard Tanter is Professor of International Relations at Kyoto Seika University. He is an Australian.

Inside Indonesia 55: Jul-Sep 1998

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