28 January 2008 – It is hard to exaggerate the damage inflicted on Indonesia by the former dictator Suharto who died today, during the 32 years when he ruled the country with a rod of iron until his downfall in May 1998.

Suharto rose to power on a wave of massacres that killed up to one million people, one of the twentieth century’s worst crimes against humanity for which no one has been brought to justice. Tens of thousands more were incarcerated and held for more than a decade without charge or trial. 13,000 men were banished to the remote island of Buru, out of reach of their families and subject to a harsh physical environment and unremitting hard labour, which caused hundreds of deaths.

Hundreds of women political prisoners were similarly detained in a remote prison camp in Central Java.

TAPOL founder Carmel Budiardjo, herself a political prisoner (tapol) for three years, said: “Millions of Indonesians will regret, as I do, the fact that Suharto was never called to account for the terrible crimes perpetrated during his despotic rule. None of the presidents who have held office since 1998 was willing to recognise that the rule of law can only have meaning if those who flout it are brought to justice. Few present or former heads of state the world over have had so much blood on their hands as Suharto.”

Following the establishment of Suharto’s New Order under which the Indonesian military established a system of pervasive control over the whole population, the initial target of the repression was the Indonesian Communist Party, the PKI, and its associated mass organisations. These organisations with a combined membership of around fifteen million people were banned without any means of redress, while their members and families were subject to discrimination in every sphere of life.

Once the PKI had been destroyed and hundreds of thousands of its members or sympathisers were either dead, behind bars or purged from the stateapparatus, Suharto turned his attention to the other political parties and mass organisations, forcing them to merge and swear allegiance to the stateideology, Pancasila. Under Suharto’s New Order regime, the vibrant political traditions that had characterised the country up until the imposition of Guided Democracy by his predecessor Sukarno in 1959, were destroyed. In furtherance of the repressive purposes of the military regime installed under Suharto’s command, the population was stripped of all its political rights, the rule of law ceased to function and gross human rights violations occurred without end.

After Suharto was forced to resign when mass demonstrations swept Indonesia in 1998 in response to the financial crisis engulfing the country, the political constraints on the population were lifted. But the damaging impact of military impunity and the lack of respect for the rule of law have continued to prevail, while associates of Suharto still exert an influence in many parts of the country’s body-politic. There has been no attempt by post-Suharto governments with the single exception of the 20-month presidency of Abdurrahman Wahid, to remove many of the influences of the Suharto regime. Furthermore, a number of the discriminatory laws and regulations are still on the statute book such as Decree No 25 adopted by the MPRS, the Supreme Legislative Assembly, in 1966, which bans the teaching of Marxism-Leninism and which has made it difficult for parties suspected of harbouring communist teachings to obtain recognition and to operate without being harassed.

It was under Suharto that Indonesia compelled the people of West Papua by force of arms to become a part of the Republic of Indonesia, following the fraudulent Act of Free Choice in 1969. Since then, the West Papuan people have suffered from massive human rights abuses, helpless to halt the unbridled plunder of their natural resources. While the West Papuan people live in abject poverty, the Indonesian state has reaped huge benefits from revenues, royalties and taxes from foreign enterprises such as Freeport which was granted a concession by Suharto to extract copper and gold in 1967, and it will soon start profiting massively from British Petroleum, now renamed Beyond Petroleum, as it starts to exploit West Papua’s natural gas.

It was under Suharto that Indonesia launched an act of aggression against the people of East Timor (now Timor-Leste) in 1975 and occupied the countryfor over 23 years. Up to 200,000, a third of the population, died from killings or from conflict-related causes. During the occupation, the country’s administration and economy were run by the Indonesian military, 100,000 Timorese were displaced from their homes and re-settled in ‘strategic villages’ while thousands were incarcerated on Atauro island or in prison camps throughout the territory

It was under Suharto that the province of Aceh was also subject to military operations for nearly thirty years during which time an estimated 15,000 people lost their lives as rampant human rights violations occurred. This situation continued until August 2005 when a peace agreement was signed between the Indonesian government and the resistance movement, GAM.

Although Suharto was forced to resign in 1998, he never faced charges for the many crimes against humanity that were perpetrated under his New Order regime. The billions of dollars that were plundered by Suharto and his family have still not been accounted for and returned to the state while the former dictator and his offspring continue to control many of the businesses and facilities which they acquired by virtue of the privileges they enjoyed during the New Order. A few months before his death, the World Bank and the UN’s Stolen Assets Recovery initiative named Suharto as the worst head-of-state embezzler in the world.

Now that the man who caused so much suffering, bereavement and death in Indonesia and Timor-Leste has died, it is beholden upon all of us to keep alive the memory of his crimes and to support the efforts of people in Indonesia to seek justice and redress for the immense damage he inflicted politically and economically on their country.

TAPOL which was set up in 1973 to campaign for the release of the tens of thousands of political prisoners then being held, will to continue to campaign for human rights, peace and democracy in Indonesia until the legacy of Suharto has been completely erased.

Contact Carmel Budiardjo on +44 208 771 2904END