The Asia Justice and Rights group has conducted a series of interviews with 26 women who survived the mass killings and other forms of violence in Indonesia during the anti-communist purge conducted by the military in 1965.
Fifty years have passed since the army arrested hundreds of thousands of communists and their suspected sympathizers as part of a campaign to save the country from the scourge of communism. An estimated half a million people were killed during the anti-communist hysteria and even more Indonesians suffered “torture, enforced disappearances, rape, sexual slavery, and other crimes of sexual violence, slavery, arbitrary arrest, and detention, forced displacement, and forced labor” after 1965. The army claimed it only retaliated, accusing the communists of attacking government forces first.
General Suharto rose to power during this period and remained Indonesia’s leader until 1998, when a popular uprising forced him to resign. While in power, Suharto didn’t allow the media, academia, or the the public to discuss or probe what really happened in 1965. This occurred only after his ouster, when victims and witnesses came forward to share their stories.
In 2012, Indonesia’s National Commission on Human Rights declared that the army committed gross human rights violations in 1965.
Last August, President Jokowi proposed the formation of a reconciliation commission to address unresolved issues related to the 1965 massacre. The enduring importance of Suharto's legacy was evident, however, when Indonesia's biggest political parties and its military rejected Jokowi’s proposal.
This month, a literary festival aimed at sharing stories of what transpired in 1965 was cancelled due to pressure from the government.
But if the government is hesitant to look back and reflect on the lessons of the 1965 massacre, many people and groups in Indonesia are ready to dig deeper into the past and seek justice on behalf of the victims of violence and other crimes against humanity.
An International People's Tribunal is being organized in The Hague next month to probe the accountability of the Indonesian government in the 1965 violence.
Meanwhile, the research conducted by Asia Justice and Rights is a disturbingly poignant way to learn about the ordinary people who endured decades of violence and discrimination during the Suharto regime. Many of the female survivors are wives or daughters of political prisoners and suspected communist sympathizers. Their stories remind us that the quest for truth and justice continues to be an essential yet unfulfilled political demand in Indonesia.