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Human Rights Commission reveals the truth about 1965/66 crimes against humanity

23 August, 2012

For the first time ever, an official body has revealed the truth about Indonesia’s darkest secret. While official acknowledgement has taken nearly fifty years to attain, the victims of one of the worst massacres of the twentieth century now have a glimmer of hope that justice may finally be done. In July this year, Indonesia’s National Human Rights Commission – Komnas HAM – published the results of a four year investigation, describing the events of 1965-1966 as ‘a black page in the history of the Indonesian people,’ involving widespread violence on ‘a truly massive scale.’

In the face of overwhelming political pressure, Komnas HAM’s report finally tells the true story of those fateful years; the killings, the torture, the mass arrests, the evictions, the forced disappearances, the rape and the forced labour. It states that these brutal acts were carried out with the purpose of destroying the Indonesian Communist Party (Partai Komunis Indonesia, PKI), which was hugely popular in Indonesia at the time, with a broad following of around 26 million people, according to the report. Finding ample evidence of ‘crimes against humanity’ which were ‘widespread’ and ‘systematic,’ the report reveals the identities of the killers, noting that in legal terms, they now have nowhere to hide.

The groundbreaking report has shaken Indonesia to its core, and the political consequences could be far-reaching. According to the country’s history books and current political discourse, the mass crimes described in the report never happened. Meanwhile, the advocacy of Marxism is still illegal in Indonesia and the establishment of parties or organisations which are suspected of having communist leanings is prohibited.

Komnas HAM decided to launch it investigations after being approached by surviving victims and families of victims, going on to interview 349 witnesses in total. The report carefully details what happened, limiting the range of its investigations to four regions in the country due to the enormity of the geographical spread of the crimes, the length of time elapsed, the lack of funds, and the trauma still experienced by survivors and the families of the victims who died or were ‘disappeared.’

The investigations make it clear that the perpetrators of these crimes were members of the Indonesian armed forces and that they were acting on the basis of orders issued by KOMPAKTIB, the Command for the Restoration of Security and Order. The commander of this unit was Suharto, who seized power from President Sukarno in late 1965 and whose ‘New Order’ remained in power for more than three decades, until the middle of 1998.

While the report only investigated four specific areas of Indonesia, it details over 240,000 victims who were killed, enslaved, detained, tortured, raped, starved and disappeared. While the report makes no attempt to extrapolate from this the total numbers of those killed and affected during the six months from October 1965 to March 1966, it is clear that long-standing estimates of 500,000–1,000,000 people killed in the massacres are, if anything, extremely conservative.

The investigation found that people were rounded up in vast numbers, arrested without warrants, subjected to torture and mal-treatment and in many cases dispatched to prisons and work camps, remaining in prison for up to ten years. The allegation against these people was that they were ‘involved’ – terlibat – in an incident on 1 October 1965 when six generals were kidnapped and killed in Jakarta, the so-called G30S movement. According to the witness testimonies, many people were slaughtered and their bodies disposed of in rivers, dumped in caves or simply left lying in public places, unburied. There were also many who died as the result of untreated injuries or from starvation caused by of the denial of basis foodstuffs.

Members of Komnas HAM travelled to all the districts that were selected for investigation, in order to speak to local people and to see for themselves the places that were used to incarcerate people, not only prisons but buildings such as schools, church halls and the offices of Chinese organisations. Their findings state the estimated death tolls in these places, amounting in many cases to hundreds of people.

The thoroughness of their investigations is clear from the level of detail in their report about the places where people were held and what happened to them, how while being interrogated, they were beaten and tortured by army officers, subjected to vicious body blows, beatings on the head with crude implements such as blocks of wood, whippings and sexual assaults including rape.

The report also makes it clear that ‘crimes against humanity’ fall under the rubric of universal jurisdiction, on the principle that there is no safe haven anywhere in the world for the perpetrators and moreover that according to the Rome Statute on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court, adopted on 17 July 1998, the statute of limitations does not apply in the case of such crimes.

In its recommendations, it states that those responsible for these crimes, including the commander of KOPKAMTIB who established the policy and local military or police officers who were the perpetrators in the regions, should be called to account. It calls on the Attorney General to ‘follow through the results of its investigations with its own investigation,’ adding that the matter may also be handled through ‘non-judicial mechanisms in order to comply with the sense of justice of the victims and their families.’

TAPOL congratulates Komnas HAM for having undertaken these investigations and calls on President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to take all necessary measures to follow through these ground-breaking investigations and end the impunity which has prevailed for so long in Indonesia. While President Suharto died without ever facing justice, many of the killers are still at large. They must be brought to justice.


Read the report summary (English)

Read the report (Bahasa Indonesia)