News & Updates 14 January 2014

Indonesia: Survivors Share their Stories at Public Hearing in Jakarta

“I was 30 years old when this happened. I prayed to God to give me strength so that one day I can testify for the truth to be known…”  

These were the words of “MM” from Kupang, in West Timor.  Identified under her pseudonym, MM spoke of the horrific events of 1965 –  of her imprisonment, of the false accusations, of her struggle to free others, of family members ‘disappearing’, and of her long journey to uncover the truth in the face of the ensuing humiliation from friends and neighbours.

MM was one of more than thirty victims from across Indonesia who came to Jakarta to share her story of pain and suffering before a public audience at the National Library last month.  This was a five-day hearing organised by the Indonesian Coalition for Justice and the Revelation of the Truth  (KKPK), a group of 47 NGOs, institutions and individuals working to promote social justice in Indonesia, to establish the truth on violations committed by the Indonesian authorities between 1965-2005 . The event entitiled, “Speaking the Truth, Breaking the Circle of Violence,” (‘Bicara Kebenaran, Memutus Lingkar Kekerasan’) scheduled the hearings according to subjects that are at the core of Indonesia’s targeted human rights violations: violations against women, violations in the name of national security, religious intolerance, the exploitation of natural resources, and the protection of perpetrators of human rights violations under the reigning climate of impunity.  Galuh Wandita, Director of Asia Justice and Rights (AJAR), set the scene: “Fifteen years into reformation, there is still no official recognition of our violent past and victims continue to face discrimination. This civil society initiative is a response to the vacuum created by the state.”  

Indeed, the public hearing is part of a wider civil society initiative in the context of the “Year of Truth, a year-long campaign led by the KKPK to bring these issues to the fore.  KKPK spokesman, Dodi Yuniar, highlighted its importance, “The year particularly resonates as it marks 40 years of violence in Indonesia, beginning in 1965, when the communist purges took place in the early stages of the Orde Baru regime, and ending in 2005 with the use of Munir case and the peace agreement between Indonesia and the Aceh Free Movement as momentum.” This is not the first public hearing to be held. So far, other public hearings within this context have been held in Solo, Palu, Kupang and Aceh.

At the entrance of the National Library, an exhibition of photos and artefacts lined the pathway to the ampitheatre, a stark reminder of the horrors of the past, and a prelude for the members of the public for what they were about to hear. Testifying before a “Citizens’ Council”, a committee of 22 prominent national figures and experts who strongly believe in the recognition of Indonesia’s violent history as the keystone for the nation’s transition to democracy, the victims’ accounts were both chilling and moving.  Preferring to considered as ‘survivors’ rather than ‘victims’, all of them highlighted a common hope – that speaking out the truth will pressure the government to finally acknowledge their pain, recognise their plight, and apologise the years of injustice, discrimination, and psychological trauma that they have had to undergo.  

Indeed, Indonesia has made various attempts over the years to mask its dark history of human rights violations, largely through the use of propaganda, and by tailoring history lessons at schools nationwide. But the five days of testimonies evaluated by the expert witnesses seemed to weave together a patchwork of calculated events that revealed a direct trajectory from a past that is tarnished by mass human rights abuses and impunity, to an open road to the power-thirsty present.  The statements revealed how the purges against the left in 1965 became the foundation for the ensuing climate of terror and impunity, giving the green light for the extermination of any groups thought to be extremists, and paving the way for mass corruption, the illegal extraction of natural resources, and the abduction and killing of anyone brave enough to speak out against the regime.  Speaking at the opening session in central Jakarta, former First Lady, Sinta Nuriyah Wahid said,“Politics must not sacrifice the people. The cries for justice will only grow louder until the government acts. The government must act to provide legal, physical and cultural protections for victims of these human rights abuses, and must give human rights defenders a voice.”

The public were clearly engaged. Between 150-300 people filled the ampitheatre at the National Library each day, and while the audience shed tears of sympathy and pain, young Indonesians were busy tweeting the breakthrough of the silence.  “These public hearings are just a first step – a gesture to the survivors.”, said KKPK Coordinator Kamala Chandrakirana. “We can’t bring back their losses, but bringing out the truth can help to heal their wounds, and can push us to stand tall in front of the truth.”

A Papuan woman, who wished to remain anonymous, told of how she was forced to leave her husband and children because of the “shame” she brought on her family as a victim of repeated attacks, sexual abuse and even mutilation by Indonesian military personnel, following her arrest for partaking in a ceremony to raise the Papuan separatist Morning Star flag in July 1998. Her voice tremoured as she told her story. “We gave birth to children who have been slaughtered like cattle. Our wombs cannot bear children anymore. Where is the justice?” she asked.   

Pat Walsh, former senior adviser for Timor-Leste Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR) spoke on behalf of the 80,000 people who died in the famine in Timor-Leste that was architected by the occupying Indonesian forces. He spoke alongside two other survivors, as well as a young woman who was taken from her home in Timor Leste when she was just 6 years old, and transported by boat with other East Timorese children to be placed into abusive families of an Indonesian soldiers for a gruelling period of thirty years.

Others spoke of marginalisation and state-sponsored persecution that had forced them to conform to Indonesia’s six officially-endorsed religions. They spoke of  being evicted from their homes for adhering to the “wrong” Islamic beliefs, of being humiliated in their communities, and of being denied basic administrative rights, such as birth and marriage certificates that would qualify them as citizens of Indonesia. ‘DK’, a member of the indigenous Agama Djawa Sunda religion, told the audience how his community had fought for Indonesia’s independence. “We welcomed outside religions into Indonesia, and now we are being betrayed, pushed out,  and denied our space”. Another Ahmadi, known only as N, said his family had undergone serious persecution for years, “We are currently refugees in our own country,” the 44-year-old said.

The testimonies on the subject of illegally confiscated land for the exploitation of natural resources were equally heart-wrenching, calling for justice for many  cases of vicitmisation relating to unresolved land disputes. One victim spoke of his land dispute with a mining giant in South Sulawesi.  He said could never again sing the Indonesian national anthem, “The Indonesia Raya speaks proudly of our home of land and water. I cannot sing this anymore – I have nothing”. Many of the victims were resilient that they would continue their fight for the right to their lands “until their deaths”.

Perhaps the most repeated plea at the hearings was the call to break the chains of impunity, a culture that is engrained into Indonesia’s politics, and one which opens the path for violence and threats against those who speak out. Citizens and human rights defenders alike –  journalists, labour activists, poets, human rights activists and peace workers – all become the targets of impunity.  A very moving statement was given by Marsini, sister of the reknowned Javanese labour activist, Marsinah, who was kidnapped by the army and brutally murdered in 1993 because of her advocacy for labour rights laws, and her involvement in strike action at her workplace. Her murderers have never been bought to justice, but her sister gave a message of hope.  “I thought that the we had been forgotten, said Marsini, “but I am hopeful that we can work towards obtaining truth and justice.” 

Attendees of the public hearing were also able to witness the powerful artistic messages of some of the survivors, including a moving poetry recital from poet and playwright, Putu Oka Sukanta, a performance from Nani Nurani, the 71-year old former royal palace dancer who was unlawfully imprisoned for seven years (1969-1976) without trial, and songs written by the Yogyakarta women survivors’ group, Kiprah Perempuan Yogyakarta, who sang about their prison experience through tales of desperation and humour.  “Iki piye iki piye iki piyee […]” began one tune, “What to make of this / all repeated promises/ from Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono […]”

The Citizen’s Council praised the survivors for their determination, strength and courage, both in facing up to trauma in their everyday lives, and in speaking out to shake the climate of collective amnesia.  Speaking on behalf of the Citizens’ Council in their closing remarks, veteran women’s rights activist, Saparinah Sadli, said, “It is our responsibility as members of civil society to continue to encourage the government officials to implement a variety of platforms as well as legal provisions to amend the 1945 Constitution to ensure that every citizen feels protected and fulfills a sense of peace and well-being”.   She ended, “We, as a nation, must strengthen the foundations of our constitution by being tolerant and respectful of differences in order to achieve a just and civil society, and to obtain social justice for the children of our nation. 

The hearings were closed by the Vice-Chair of the Indonesian House of Regional Representatives, the Right Honourable Mrs. GKR Hemas.  The KKPK has vowed to pursue its cause of bringing the truth to light, and will publish a final report on the testimonies in March 2014.