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Indonesia: President’s acknowledgement of historic abuses is ‘nothing without accountability’

Victims/survivors of the Aceh conflict demonstrate for the establishment of a truth commission outside the regional Parliament, Banda Aceh, Aceh, December 2010 © Koalisi NGO HAM Aceh

President Widodo refers to multiple cases dating back to 1960s anti-communist crackdown

Not a single member of Indonesia’s security forces has yet been held accountable

‘Merely mentioning the name of several tragic events is far from enough’ - Usman Hamid

Responding to Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Coordinating Political Legal and Security Minister Mahfud MD’s statement today acknowledging gross historic human rights violations during Indonesia’s past, Usman Hamid, Amnesty International Indonesia’s executive director, said:

“While we appreciate President Widodo’s gesture in admitting the occurrences of human rights abuses since the 1960s in Indonesia, this statement is long overdue considering the suffering of victims who have been left in the dark without any justice, truth, reparation and redress for decades.

“But acknowledgement without efforts to bring those responsible for past human rights abuses to trial will only rub salt into the wounds of victims and their families.

“Put simply, this statement is nothing without also addressing accountability and bringing an end to impunity.

“Merely mentioning the name of several tragic events is far from enough.

“If the president is truly committed to preventing a repeat of gross human rights violations, the Indonesian authorities should immediately, effectively, thoroughly and impartially investigate everyone suspected of criminal responsibility in past human rights abuses, wherever they have occurred, and if there is sufficient admissible evidence, prosecute them in fair trials before an ordinary criminal court.

“Ending impunity is crucial to preventing the recurrence of human rights abuses and to provide victims and their families with genuine truth, justice and reparation.”

Government-commissioned report

The Indonesian president’s rare statement admitted that “gross human rights violations did happen in many occurrences” and that he “strongly regrets” them. He made this remark after receiving a report from a government-commissioned team formed by presidential decree last August to formulate recommendations to help with victims’ reparations.

The president acknowledged 12 events as gross human rights violations from 1965 to 2003, dating back to an anti-communist crackdown in the mid-1960s in which an estimated half a million people were killed. Other cases included 1998-1999 shootings, in which at least 32 people - including university students - were killed in protests demanding reform in Jakarta, as well as the murder and torture of civilians in April 2003 after the military raided 25 villages in Wamena, Papua.

A number of key abuses were omitted from the president’s statement, including the systematic use of sexual violence from 1965-1966; the May 1998 Riot Tragedy and the Aceh military operation while it was under martial law during 1989-1998; and violations carried out by the Indonesian security forces and militia groups during the occupation and invasion of East Timor from 1975 to 1999.

The president said the Government would seek to provide proper redress for victims and prevent future such violations. To date, Indonesia has failed to hold a single member of its security forces accountable for acts of sexual violence and other gross human rights violations which have occurred in the past.

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