Unanswered Questions: the 1965 Tragedy

Tempo Magazine
No. 23/VIII
February 05-11, 2008
Cover Story

Attempts to bring to trial cases of human rights violations during the 1965 tragedy still have a long way to go. Suharto somehow managed to remain out of the justice system’s reach.

SVETLANA, the eldest child of Nyoto, said she wanted to see Suharto prosecuted for the 1965 tragedy. The daughter of then-Deputy Chairman II of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) Central Committee, has never joined groups of G30S (September 30 Movement) victims’ families who are fighting the government. “I know these charges are important, but I’m pessimistic about the outcome,” she said.

According to Svetlana, her mother, Sutarni, also expects the same. But Ibu Nyoto, now 79, harbors no grudge against Suharto. In fact, she added: “Some of mother’s friends are so angered that they get sick when they hear Suharto’s exemption from prosecution.” The Nyoto family is an example of a G30S victimliving without any of the traumatic scars. Sutarni recalls how she was forced to carry her children, moving from one detention house to another, trying not to lose her sense of humor. They have no idea when and where Nyoto was killed, let alone his burial place.

Not all the G30S injured parties share the attitude of the Nyotos. Perhaps it is because the tragedy which took place 43 years ago involved a great number of people. Around 3 million people died, over 10,000 were exiled to Buru Island and millions more received discriminating treatment. The New Order, led by Suharto, created instruments that legitimized atrocities against suspected communists at that time.

Exiling over 10,000 people to Buru, for instance, was meant to safeguard the newly established regime in order to win the 1971 general elections, the first of the New Order era. The provisional government replacing President Sukarno should have organized the elections in 1968. But since Suharto, who was then responsible for security, ­was unprepared, the elections were postponed.

Banishing those classified as Group “B” prisoners to Buru Island was validated by a letter from the Security & Order Restoration Operation Commander, No. KEP 009/KOPKAM/2/1969, signed by Maraden Panggabean on behalf of Suharto. The Attorney General complemented it by issuing another rule to “legalize” the detention on Buru from 1969 to 1979.

Meanwhile, the Group “C” prisoners, or those seen to have been influenced by leftist ideology, received additional ‘punishment’ after they were released into society. For instance, they were banned from becoming civil servants, legislators, and even from taking part in elections. The government made standard rules to justify the discrimination, such as the Home Affairs Minister’s Instruction No. 32/1981, prohibiting people directly or indirectly involved in the G30S from serving as civil servants, soldiers, the clergy, and teachers.

The question that remains unanswered: was Suharto guilty of the 1965 tragedy? After the reforms began, victims of this political tragedy actually made legal attempts to prosecute the government, rather than Suharto directly,­ to seek redress, rehabilitation and compensation. But all these attempts went nowhere.

The National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) also formed a team to investigate the forced exile of thousands to Buru as a serious violation of human rights. M.M. Billah, a member of Komnas HAM, set up a team and submitted a proposal. But it turned out that the methodology of inquiry Billah offered was not approved by the House of Representatives (DPR) in mid-2004.

According to Billah, the charges against Suharto in the rights infringement case on Buru Island can be revived if seven out of Komnas HAM’s 20 members agreed.

“But it doesn’t guarantee that the investigation will proceed because the approval of the DPR again has to be sought,” said Billah. He acknowledged that it was very difficult to bring cases of serious rights abuse on Buru Island to court. “All relevant parties have their own self-interest,” he added, trying to explain. It is, in fact, such a portrayal that leads people
like Svetlana to be pessimistic.