INDONESIA IS STILL AFRAID TO LOOK INTO THE MIRROR AND FACE ITS BLOODY PAST
The Guardian, London, Wednesday 11 November 2015 04.59 GMT
As a tribunal into Indonesia’s 1965 purges opens in The Hague, Indonesians are still waiting on a comprehensive, rational response from our own government
Join Guardian Australia online on Friday 13 November at 3pm AEST for a live webchat discussing the issues raised in this article
Attendees at the International People’s Tribunal 1965 in The Hague, Netherlands.
Attendees at the International People’s Tribunal in 1965 in The Hague, Netherlands. Photograph: Peter Dejong/AP
Wednesday 11 November 2015 04.59 GMT
Last modified on Thursday 12 November 2015 07.22 GMT
In 1965, Kadmiyati was a young student teacher who enjoyed the arts living in Bantul, a small district outside of Yogyakarta. On 10 October, along with her brother and father, Kadmiyati was rounded up by the military and brought to the district military headquarters with about 10 of her neighbours. She thinks herself lucky – she was only detained for a few months. A year later she was again arrested, interrogated and tortured.
Ubud writers’ festival debates massacre ‘that we’re not supposed to talk about’
Kadmiyati was invited to attend the Ubud writers’ festival this year. She was due to speak at the opening of a photo exhibition organised by Asia Justice and Rights (AJAR) together with the Herb Feith foundation. She was excited and had prepared a Javanese song to share with the audience. When the exhibition was cancelled, along with a series of sessions discussing 1965 and its legacy, I asked if Kadmiyati felt disappointed. She smiled brightly: “I am used to it. It does not mean we stop speaking out.”
Indonesia’s president Joko Widodo has only been in power for one year. During his election campaign, he included the promise to address the violations of the past as part of his so-called nine point agenda, Nawacita. A few months into his presidency, Jokowi spoke to a group of survivors convened by the National Human Rights Commission at a meeting in Yogyakarta to commemorate human rights day in December 2014.
Kadmiyati was among the crowd, together with other survivors of 1965. She rushed towards him at the end of his speech. “Some of us are now elderly and frail. We need support. Time is running out.” The president listened intently, nodded his head and asked his minders to write down their names. She left the meeting feeling hopeful. Now, her hopes have been dashed.
Indonesia is still afraid to look into a mirror and come to terms with its bloody past. But it hasn’t always been like that. In the fervour of reformation, the upper house of the Indonesian national parliament passed a resolution in 1999 acknowledging how the Suharto regime had “fractured protection and promotion of human rights, demonstrated by various human rights violations, in forms that include violence, discrimination and abuse of power”.
The idea of a truth and reconciliation commission was floated, a law was passed in 2004 but annulled two years later. This has also blocked the establishment of two truth commissions for Papua and Aceh, respectively legislated in the special autonomy laws.
The problem with impunity is that it is contagious
The problem with impunity is that it is contagious. Impunity for these past crimes seeps into impunity from everyday justice. The mass crimes committed in 1965 were repeated in Timor-Leste, repeated in Aceh and Papua, and replicated among those speaking out against land grabbing and in defence of labour rights. Although Indonesia has made progress towards democracy since reformation, we are still ensnared in our past.
However, the lack of official appetite for truth has not dampened the urge to seek it. Survivors and human rights workers have worked hard to carve out a space to speak about the atrocities of 1965 and other incidences of repression and abuse that were rife throughout Suharto’s “New Order” regime.
Censorship is returning to Indonesia in the name of the 1965 purges
Between 2013 and 2014, a coalition of 50 NGOs from Aceh to Papua organised a year-long event called the Year of Truth, where survivors and witnesses spoke out about their experiences. The coalition, Coalition for Truth and Justice, gathered testimonies and evidence from its members, held public hearings in cities across the nation, and produced a final report that has been widely disseminated.
This year marks the 50th year since the pogroms against members of the Indonesian communist party and anyone thought to be associated with it. Even today we do not know whether 500,000, one million or more were killed. An Amnesty International report from 1969 estimated that 150,000 people were held without trial as “political prisoners” in makeshift detention centres throughout Indonesia.
Efforts to encourage the government to acknowledge victims of 1965 has been met with a pushback from conservative elements, some have put up signs warning of the “latent danger of communism”. However, survivors and their advocates have not been swayed, their voices gathering momentum.
At The Hague on Wednesday, a group of international jurists gathered to hear the testimonies of survivors and witnesses from the 1965 atrocities. A “people’s tribunal” had been convened in lieu of a comprehensive and rational response from the Indonesian government.
Kadmiyati’s verse that she prepared to sing in Ubud goes something like this: “Let’s keep the spirit working to stop our suffering. Expressed but not achieved, release our grief and pain. Fifty years have passed, the gates of reconciliation yet to open. To lead our nation back to its glory.”
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Indonesian troops bar a crowd of flag-waving students from the approach to Sukarno’s palace at Bogor, circa 1965. Photograph: Keystone/Getty Images
It’s been three weeks since a series of public debates dedicated to reconciliation and remembrance of the 1965 Communist repression in Indonesia were cancelledat the Ubud writers and readers festival in Bali, following police pressure and increased scrutiny from the Indonesian authorities.
In the event, discussion of 1965 at the festival was even louder, as was concern expressed at growing censorship of the conversation surrounding the 50th anniversary of the massacres and their legacy.
The recent, critically-acclaimed documentaries, The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence, by US film-maker Joshua Oppenheimer, have increased international awareness of this period of history. And this week, a group of international jurists gathered in the Hague to hear the testimonies of survivors and witnesses from the 1965 atrocities. But growing numbers of Indonesians are calling for recognition from their own government.
“Indonesia is still afraid to look into a mirror and come to terms with its bloody past,” wrote Galuh Wandita in Guardian Australia. “However, the lack of official appetite for truth has not dampened the urge to seek it.”
For 50 years, Indonesians have made repeated efforts to bear witness to the events of 1965-6, with many of their stories collected in three books that were due to be launched at Ubud. What is the value of oral and written testimony of the 1965-6 massacres? How do memories of the mass violence continue to influence Indonesian identity today? And is there a creeping censorship of discussion?
Join a panel of Indonesian writers, academics and campaigners online on Friday 13 November at 3pm Australian Eastern Daylight Time to discuss these questions and more.
The live chat is not video or audio-enabled but will take place in the comments section below. Get in touch via email@example.com or @GdnAusCultureon Twitter
Ken Setiawan, research fellow, Asia Institute, University of Melbourne
Ken’s current research concerns human rights under the presidency of Joko Widodo. Among several focuses is how the government approaches past human rights violations. In 2015, she visited the Indonesian island where her father was held as a political prisoner for 10 years. @KenMPSetiawan
Martha Bire, Eastern Indonesian Women’s Network for the Study of Women, Religion and Culture (JPIT)
Martha was a member of the research and writing team on Kupang City in Forbidden Memories. She coordinates JPIT research in the region, organises data archives, and oversees assistance for the women victims and survivors of the 1965 tragedy who live in Kupang and the surrounding area. Ata Bire
Djin Siauw, board member of the Herb Feith Foundation
Djin is the son of a political prisoner, Siauw Giok Tjhan, who was national chairman of Baperki, one of the organisations banned by Soeharto. Siauw, a parliamentarian for 20 years and member of the Supreme Advisory Council during the Soekarno period, was jailed for 12 years without trial. Djin has written books about Siauw and Baperki. He lives in Melbourne.
Indria Fernida, program co-ordinator for Asia Justice and Rights (AJAR)
Indria is an Indonesian human rights lawyer managing the project, Promoting Accountability and Preventing Torture by Strengthening Survivors of Torture in Asia. She also co-ordinated The Act of Living, a photo exhibition also cancelled at the Ubud writers and readers festival @indriafernida
Vannessa Hearman, lecturer in Indonesian Studies at the University of Sydney
Born in Indonesia, Vannessa’s research focuses on the anti-communist violence in Indonesia @vanhearman
Jemma Purdey is research fellow at Monash University (@JemmaPurdey), a member of the Herb Feith Foundation Board and co-convenor of the Herb Feith Translation Series with Katharine McGregor, historian of Indonesia and associate professor at the University of Melbourne.
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