Efforts at national reconciliation are underway in Indonesia after a state-sponsored inquiry indicated gross human rights abuse and crimes against humanity during the 1965-66 government-led anti-communist purge.
An estimated half a million Indonesians were killed and a million others were said to have been jailed and tortured in the aftermath of an attempt to overthrow President Sukarno in September 1965.
Indonesia’s National Commission on Human Rights which carried out the inquiry has urged the government to offer a formal apology and compensation to the victims.
An eight-year state-sponsored inquiry by Indonesia’s National Human Right Commission recently concluded that there were indications of serious human rights violations and crimes against humanity.
Nur Kholis, deputy chair of Indonesia’s National Human Rights Commission, said: “We visited many places in several provinces. We found the similar incidence repeated everywhere. For example, witnesses testified about the killings that took place in those places. These incidences took place in government controlled places – specifically military areas.”
64-year-old Bedjo Untung survived the purge but not before serving nine years of hard labour in a concentration camp in Tangerang, West Java.
Bedjo said: “The area was at least 100 hectares. It was like a forest with tall vegetation. The military didn’t give us any tools to clear the land. We had to use our bare hands to pull the grass and thorns. It was difficult. And the military didn’t give us any food. We had to eat grass, cassava leaves and other types of leaves. Sometimes I had to eat snails, snakes and rats. We had to survive.”
Bedjo was a student leader and a suspected communist sympathiser.
He now heads an organisation that studies the 1965-66 massacres.
Bedjo is seeking justice and called on the government to remove all forms of discriminations on former political detainees.
“As an ex-political detainee, it was difficult for us to get bank credit, housing credit from the government. We can’t be government officer; we cannot marry a military officer, we cannot teach, cannot be a doctor. That’s why I am self-employed,” he said.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has instructed the Attorney general to follow up on the Human Rights Commission report.
Nur Kholis said: “We will submit these findings to the Attorney general for investigation. Secondly, we also recommend a National Reconciliation effort. We call this a non-judicial solution.”
Dr Asvi Warman Adam – who was a member of the 2003 inquiry team – believes an official apology by the State is in order.
The research professor at Indonesia’s Institute of Sciences said: “It means the President – for example – first seek an apology from the victims and followed by compensation. That could be a workable solution.”
Victims like Bedjo are eager to hear an apology from the Indonesian government but they also don’t discount the possibility of taking the case to the International court.
Bedjo said: “For me it’s okay as long as the government acknowledges by that the victims were actually innocent. They know nothing about the case and what I also believe that the Indonesian Communist Party was not wrong too. If the Indonesian rule of law doesn’t work effectively; as a last resort I would report it to the international community.”
During President Suharto’s rule – only one side of the Indonesian history was and could be told – that is the government version.
This latest findings will put to rest any lingering doubt that mass killings and torture took place across Indonesia during the anti-communist purge.
It’s a chance for Indonesia to reconcile with its dark past and an opportunity to re-write its history.