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TAPOL mourns the passing of our inspirational founder Carmel Budiardjo

11 July 2021
Carmel Budiardjo, TAPOL


Carmel Budiardjo, TAPOL’s founder and driving force for many decades, passed away peacefully on the morning of Saturday 10th July. 

She will be greatly missed by all of us in TAPOL and in the wider TAPOL family, the extensive network of people whose lives were touched - and sometimes transformed - by her passionate and determined campaigning for human rights, justice and democracy in Indonesia, East Timor, Aceh and West Papua. For many of us she was a great mentor as well as a beloved friend.

TAPOL stands for 'tahanan politik' or 'political prisoners' in Indonesian. Carmel, a British citizen then living in Indonesia, was imprisoned without trial in Indonesia following former President Suharto’s rise to power in 1965. An Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, Carmel was released after three years’ imprisonment and she returned to the UK. In 1973 she founded TAPOL to campaign for the release of the tens of thousands of political prisoners following the 1965 atrocities and in support of the relatives of the hundreds of thousands who were killed. Carmel was determined to raise international awareness of those atrocities and injustices in which many western countries, including the UK, were complicit in their attempts to halt what they saw as the rise of communism.

Over the next three decades, TAPOL's work broadened to encompass wider issues of human rights, peace and democracy in Indonesia, including in Aceh, East Timor and the contested territory of West Papua. Wherever possible, and despite the extreme repression of the New Order regime, we built close relationships and collaboration with the very brave human rights defenders and pro-democracy campaigners there. In 1995, Carmel received the Right Livelihood Award, after being nominated by the International Federation for East Timor.

With awareness growing also of the environmental damage being wrought by the regime on nature and local communities, in 1988 Carmel helped set up a sister organisation, Down to Earth, to fight for ecological justice. Later, in 2007, Carmel and TAPOL were also founder members of the London Mining Network, established to support communities harmed by London-based mining companies.

As Indonesia became more democratic during the 2000s, we increasingly turned our attention to the region of West Papua. There, human rights violations have continued, largely out-of-sight and un-discussed within Indonesia as well as internationally. For TAPOL’s international work on West Papua, Carmel also received the John Rumbiak Human Rights Defender Award and was honoured as an 'Eldest Daughter of Papua' by leaders of West Papuan civil society in 2011. 

TAPOL is still today very much as Carmel set it up: a small organisation/network of committed staff, volunteers and collaborators, all aiming for a big impact. We remain committed to her ideals of promoting justice and equality across Indonesia, and are deeply grateful for all that she contributed and taught us. Our thoughts and sincere condolences for this huge, sad loss go to Carmel’s family in particular, but also to all those across the globe who knew and loved her.

Carmel, 2014

Film: ‘Carmel and the story of TAPOL’ by Sanne Van Den Berg, Su Lin Lewis, Barbara Patilla and Jonnie Kinder, 2015:

Book: ‘Suharto’s Gulag: Surviving Indonesia's Military Rule: A Western Woman's Memoirs’, by Carmel Budiardjo, Cassell Global Issues, 1996.