It started on a late night in September, with the murder of seven military generals in Jakarta, Indonesia. Suharto, then a general, blamed it on the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). So began the violent purge of leftists, intellectuals, and ethnic Chinese across the archipelago that killed an estimated half a million people.
Suharto rose to power, and held on for 32 years. For the decades under his iron-fist reign, public discussions on 1965 were discouraged, and survivors were forced into silence. The government denies responsibility, and communism remains outlawed even today.
But on Wednesday, the International People's Tribunal (IPT 1965) at the Hague, Netherlands, delivered the most damning verdict yet: Not only did the mass murders happen, the state is responsible for 10 gross human rights violations including genocide.
"The State of Indonesia is responsible for and guilty of crimes against humanity consequent upon the commission and perpetration, particularly by the military of that state through its chain of command, of the inhumane acts", Chief Justice Zak Yacoob stated in the judges' final report, released yesterday.
The tribunal, held from November 10–13 last year, is an international initiative led by lawyers and human rights activists. It was the first high-profile forum to examine evidence and witness testimonies surrounding the mass killings.
An international panel of judges concluded that the government is responsible for human rights violations include mass killings, destruction, imprisonment, slavery, torture, forced disappearance, sexual violence, banishment, false propaganda, international complicity, and—its most controversial charge—genocide.
The judges stated the atrocities fall under the Geneva convention, claiming that the violations were systematically perpetrated against specific groups with intent to destroy those groups.
"The State of Indonesia also failed to prevent the perpetration of these inhumane acts or to punish those responsible for their commission. To the extent that some crimes were committed independently of the authorities, by so-called 'spontaneous' local action, this did not absolve the State from the obligation to prevent their occurrence and to punish those responsible", Yacob said.
The tribunal recommends that the government formally apologise for its role, investigate and prosecute all crimes against humanity, and guarantee compensation for the victims and survivors.
All things that are unlikely to happen.
As soon as the decision was published, government officials dismissed the tribunal's verdict. "They are not our bosses. Indonesia has its own legal system. I don't want other people to dictate this nation", Coordinating Minister for Law and Security Luhut Panjaitan said at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta on Wednesday.
Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu similarly brushed it off. "Don't listen to the people there. Why listen to foreigners? Foreigners should listen to Indonesia", he said.
Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Armanatha Nasir, meanwhile, pointed out that the verdict has no influence over the Indonesian legal system. "The IPT 1965 group and the activities conducted do not have legitimate legal mandate", Nasir told Tempo yesterday.
While rights activists were hopeful the verdict would push President Joko Widodo's administration to formally acknowledge the atrocities, there looks to be little progress in resolving the country's greatest controversy. There was hope, when on 18 April, the government held the first ever national symposium on 1965 at the Hotel Aryaduta in Jakarta. "We want, as a great nation, to resolve our problem," Luhut had said at its opening.
But that was soon followed by a counter-symposium, on 1–2 June, where military officials and members of the conservative Muslim faction again denounced the PKI and vowed to eradicate all forms of communism from the country.
"We will depose any president who apologises to the PKI", Habieb Rizieq of the Islam Defenders Front said at the event. Even if it means more violence. "Our troops are ready for war", added retired Major General Kivlan Zen.
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