Dec 01, 2023 Last Updated 8:29 PM, Nov 27, 2023

Stop Impunity Now

Published: Oct 01, 2015

Nursyahbani Katjasungkana and Saskia E. Wieringa

To achieve true reconciliation we need to have an in depth enquiry by the legal apparatus, if we can still get clear proof. This has to be done within our country. It is far from clear that people who were accused to be communists were all so wrong that they had to receive the death penalty.

- President Abdurrahman Wahid on TV program Secangkir Kopi, 14 May 2000

Addressing impunity 

According to Orentlicher impunity involves a 

‘failure by States to meet their obligations to investigate violations; to take appropriate measures in respect of the perpetrators, particularly in the area of justice, by ensuring that those respected of criminal responsibility are prosecuted, tried, and duly punished; to provide victims with effective remedies and to ensure that they receive reparation for the injuries suffered; to ensure the inalienable right to know the truth about violations; and to take other necessary steps to prevent a recurrence of violations’. 

To counter impunity key words are the rights to truth, justice, rehabilitation and the guarantee of non-recurrence.

The continuing impunity around the ‘events of 1965’ is a social cancer that affects Indonesian society in multiple ways. Even in the more liberal reformasi era, after the fall of Suharto in 1998, the Indonesian State has done virtually nothing to guarantee these rights. 

The International People’s Tribunal of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity 1965–2015 (hereafter IPT65) has been set up to address the failure of the Indonesian state to address impunity with regards to the violence of 1965. Fifty years after the events, the govern¬ment of Indonesia should no longer be allowed to escape accountability for this genocide and other crimes against humanity, and the voices of victims and their families cannot be silenced any longer. We use the term genocide as the extermination of a national group falls under the definition of genocide under international customary law. IPT65 was thus set up to break down the vicious cycle of denial, distortion, taboo and secrecy surrounding the events of 1965. 

Acknowledging and assigning responsibility for the crimes committed during this period will help ensure that tormented surviving victims and their families, who are now in the last stages of their lives, will be able to live out their remaining years in great¬er dignity, peace and security. IPT65 believes that justice is still possible and that the atrocities committed in 1965–66 can be prevented from being repeated. Addressing these issues is a tremendous challenge as the mechanisms to deal with human rights violations are inadequate and communist phobia is still rife in Indonesia.

People’s Tribunal

IPT65 will be held on 10–13 November 2015 in The Hague, chosen because it is known as a symbol for inter¬national justice and peace. The format of IPT65 is that of a formal human rights court, but not a criminal court in the sense that individual persons are indicted. The Tribunal also does not directly ensure justice and compensation for the victims. These are tasks of the State. The Indonesian State is also the only actor that can investigate the truth – the extent of the crimes of humanity committed by the army and the vigilante groups it controlled. The IPT emphatically does not aim to fill in for the State, but seeks to pressure the State to take responsibility in relation to the victims and their families, as well as Indonesian society as a whole.

IPT65 is thus a people’s tribunal, which derives its power from the voices of victims and from national and international civil societies. The experiences of other international people’s tribunals are that they contribute to creating a climate of respect for human rights and to the healing process of the victims and their families. The power of IPT65 thus lies in the ca¬pa¬city to examine evidence, develop an accurate historical record of the genocide and other crimes committed while applying principles of customary international law. 

The proof that will be presented at the Tribunal will consist of documents, (audio)visual materials, statements of witnesses as well as other recognised legal means. Based on this material, the prosecutors will indict the State of Indonesia for its responsibility for the genocide, and widespread or systematic crimes against humanity committed after the ‘events of 1965’. This should create awareness for the failure of the State of Indonesia to take legal and moral responsibility for the victims of 1965. In this way, the Tribunal will be a tribunal of inquiry that steps into the lacuna left by the State of Indonesia, but it does not purport to replace the role of the State in the legal process. 

This verdict will also be used as a basis for changing the history text books for school children and other purposes of countering the hate propaganda against (alleged) communists produced by the Soeharto regime. 

Memories of 1965–66

Central to the Tribunal is the ethical and deeply political process of forgetting, remembering, and distorting the past. All Indonesians, but especially younger generations, have the right to know the truth about what happened in the aftermath of the army purge/coup attempt in 1965. They have the right to reassess the factors and mechanisms that led up to the mass violence and to understand how history was distorted by the army in the aftermath of the crimes committed. We believe that it is only through an honest confrontation of these questions that Indonesia will be able to devise strategies to prevent such violence from happening again. 

To prevent Indonesians from forgetting what happened in 1965 and its aftermath, the Tribunal intends to be a moral instrument that gives voice to the victims, who have been silenced and oppressed until now. Their stories must ring out clearly to break down the stigma that they and their families still suffer from. The 2012 report of the National Human Rights Commission was the first public record of the crimes committed in 1965–66, but it has never received recognition from the State and no action has been undertaken so far. Producing a public record based on the victims’ voices will help break the cycle of violence and push for transitional justice, including truth seeking, fair judicial proceedings, reparations and the reform of the security sector to ensure non-recurrence. IPT65 will especially address the anti-communist propaganda campaign around the ‘events of 1965’. 

IPT65 will extend and contribute to opening up public debates on this history. It can help create the ‘mental revolution’ that is needed to build a society that is governed by the rule of law and sustained by vibrant debates about its future, informed by an honest assessment of its past. The Tribunal can help break through the culture of violence and create an Indonesia in which social and gender justice as well as equality become important values, sustained by religious and socially progressive groups alike. 

Advocacy activities 

Crucial to IPT65’s success is support by the national platform for its advocacy activities in Indonesia itself. The core of the Tribunal’s activities lies in mobilising public opinion about the genocide and the other crimes against humanity after the ‘events of 1965’, the continuing impunity for those crimes and the necessity of a tribunal. This is not an easy task given the deeply rooted ignorance and enduring social stigmatisation of the victims and survivors, which the forceful state hate propaganda campaign against (alleged) communists has created. Important also are the activities in support of the victims and their families in their current truth-seeking and reparation efforts.

After the judges have reached a verdict, to be read in Geneva in 2016, IPT65 will continue to employ advocacy activities. It will work to increase the international attention, especially with UN Human Rights bodies, for the genocide and other crimes against humanity committed in Indonesia after 1965.

Within Indonesia itself IPT65 will aim at stimulating the development of a political, legal and socio-cultural process to deal with the events of 1965. It will create a media campaign to work towards the rehabilitation of victims and their families, the restoration of their dignity and possibly reparations. All of this should lead to a process of reconciliation in the country. Furthermore, to counter the still dominant army propaganda of this period IPT65 will prepare educational materials on the ‘events of 1965’ and their aftermath for various target groups such as high school and university students.

True reconciliation

With reference to Abdurrahman Wahid, whom we quoted at the start of this article, we believe that an indepth enquiry by the legal apparatus is necessary to achieve true reconciliation with regards to the crimes committed in 1965–66. This needs to be carried out within Indonesia. Ultimately, the Indonesian State has to assume its responsibility to address impunity by getting clear proof. It is time that the Indonesian State builds a comprehensive structure for transitional justice based on four pillars: truth seeking, fair judicial proceedings, reparations and the reform of the security sector to ensure non-recurrence of the genocide and other crimes against humanity committed in 1965 and its aftermath. IPT65 will work to achieve this. 

Nursyahbani Katjasungkana ( is General Coordinator of IPT65 and National Coordinator of Indonesian Association of Legal Aid Society for Women. Saskia E. Wieringa ( is Chair of the Foundation IPT 1965 and Chair of Gender and Women's Same-sex Relations Crossculturally at the University of Amsterdam.

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