HRW calls for 1965-66 massacre reconciliation

Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch. Source: Wikimedia

Increasing demands are being made for Indonesia to hold truth and reconciliation hearings to address the deaths of around half a million suspected communists in the 1960s. A planned government-funded discussion of the atrocities is being held next week.

Rights activists want the two-day symposium in Jakarta on April 18-19 to result in the removal of a decree banning citizens with any relatives associated with the former Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) from government, military and police jobs.

The 1981 regulation excludes an estimated 40 million Indonesians from the state sector.

“These are people who haven’t done anything wrong. They might have had a grandparent or a great-grandparent who was allegedly affiliated with the PKI,” said Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch. “Ending this process of blacklisting … is obviously an important step and frankly is something that is the sooner the better.”

Last September saw the 50-year anniversary of the start of the 1965-66 killings. Fuelled by the Cold War and fears of the global spread of communism, the slaughter was largely ignored by the western media.

Before the murders, Indonesia had the world’s third-largest communist party, after China and the Soviet Union, with around 3 million members.

Activists say the scheduled talks in Jakarta are a step in the right direction and could kick-start a broader reconciliation process.

Roth said: “What is needed is to begin with a truth-telling process … an opportunity for the survivors, perhaps for some of the participants, for the descendants to speak publicly, so that the Indonesian people can hear these first-hand accounts.”

Jakarta has repeatedly resisted attempts to reopen the debate. It has censored and shut down public discussions of the subject and rejected the results of a 2012 probe by Komnas HAM, the National Human Rights Commission, which catalogued violations from the era.

Last year a 77-year-old Swede was deported and blacklisted from further visits for trying to visit a mass grave on Sumatra, where his father and 40 other suspected communists were buried.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, elected in 2014 promising to prioritise human rights and tackle corruption, had so far failed to change official attitudes, said Haris Azhar of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence.

“Nothing really has come from Jokowi as president, and nothing impressive has come from his government or cabinet on how to address this,” said Azhar.

Indonesia’s human rights commission, based in the US, has asked Washington to release archived records of the CIA’s covert involvement in the massacres.

At the time, the US viewed Indonesia as a bulwark against the Soviet Union and China.

“We want to know the working level involvement between the US government and the killers in 1965,” Roth told the media. “Who knew what and what were the channels of communication? Were there names [of suspected communists] conveyed by the US government to the Indonesian government and what happened to those people?”

Washington said it was reviewing the request, after previously releasing documents on atrocities in Chile and other countries.

The killings began in October 1965 shortly after a failed coup in which six right-wing generals were murdered. The late dictator Suharto, an obscure major general at the time, filled the power vacuum and blamed the assassinations on the PKI.