TEMPO/Subekti

Indonesia: President’s rare acknowledgement of past human rights abuses is “nothing without accountability”

Responding to the statement of Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Coordinating Political Legal and Security Minister Mahfud MD that “acknowledged” and “regretted” gross human rights violations in Indonesia’s past, Amnesty International Indonesia executive director Usman Hamid said today:

“While we appreciate President Widodo’s gesture in admitting the occurrences of human rights abuses since the 1960s in Indonesia, this statement is long overdue considering the suffering of victims who have been left in the dark without any justice, truth, reparation and redress for decades.

“But a mere acknowledgement without efforts to bring to trial those responsible for past human rights abuses will only add salt to the wounds of victims and their families. Put simply this statement is nothing without also addressing accountability and bringing an end to impunity.

“Merely mentioning the name of several tragic events is far from enough. The President did not even talk about sexual violence that occurred systematically in various situations of past gross human rights violations such as 1965-1966 tragedy, May 1998 Riot Tragedy to Aceh military operation while it was under martial law from 1989-1998.

“The government only singled out 12 events as gross human rights violations, while noticeably neglecting other well-known horrors, such as the violations carried out by Indonesian security forces and militia groups during the occupation and invasion of East Timor from 1975 to 1999. These omissions are an insult to victims. 

“The government further overlooked the fact that the half-hearted investigation process in the four unmentioned cases – the East Timor violations, the killings in Tanjung Priok in 1984, the extrajudicial execution and tortures in Abepura in 2000, and the killings of civilians in Paniai in 2014 – had led to the acquittal of all defendants in the past trials.

“If the President is truly committed to preventing gross human rights violations from reoccurring, Indonesian authorities should immediately, effectively, thoroughly and impartially investigate all persons suspected of criminal responsibility in past human rights abuses wherever they have occurred, and if there is sufficient admissible evidence, prosecute them in fair trials before an ordinary criminal court.

“We remind the Indonesian government that ending impunity is crucial to preventing the recurrence of human rights abuses and to provide victims and their families with genuine truth, justice and reparation.” 

Background:

On 11 January 2023, Indonesian President Joko Widodo made a rare statement  in which he admitted that “gross human rights violations did happen in many occurrences” and he “strongly regrets” them. He made this remark after receiving a report from a government-commissioned team formed to formulate recommendations to help with victims’ reparations.

The team was formed in August 2022 through a presidential decree and tasked to create recommendations on reparation for victims of human rights violations and on preventing the past atrocities from reoccurring in the future.

In his statement, the President acknowledged 12 specific events as gross human rights violations. They cover the period from 1965 to 2003, dating back to an anti-communist crackdown in the mid-1960s that killed an estimated 500,000 people. 

The other cases deal with the shootings that happened around the protests demanding reform in Jakarta from 1998 to 1999 that killed at least 32 people, including university students, and cases of murders and torture of civilians after the military conducted raids in 25 villages in Wamena, Papua, in April 2003, among others. He further said that the government would try to provide redress for victims and to prevent recurrences of past gross human rights violations.

Indonesia has failed to hold accountable a single member of its security forces for acts of sexual violence and other gross human rights violations which occurred in the past.