President Indonesia Joko Widodo, who is nearly ending his term in 2024, suddenly announced that the government of Indonesia has acknowledged “gross human rights violations” in the country’s history.
He also vowed to prevent any repeat and said (the government) would compensate the victims of these abuses with social and psychological aid to the victim, including scholarships.
“With a clear mind and an earnest heart, I, as (Indonesia’s) head of state, acknowledge that gross human rights violations did happen in many occurrences,” President Widodo said.
Apparently, Widodo is not the first president who admits gross domestic violence in Indonesia. The late President Abdurrahman Wahid also made a public apology in 1999, including an effort to end discrimination against Chinese minorities. Then, why would Widodo admit it now? He promised in his presidential campaign in 2014 to resolve past human rights violations, but he ‘just’ acknowledged and apologised for the crimes only before he ended his second term.
Relieved, but not enough
It is confirmed that 12 incidents announced by President Widodo have been discussed internally with National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) and the non-judicial settlement team for past gross human rights violence or Tim Pelaksana Penyelesaian Nonyudisial Pelanggaran HAM yang Berat di Masa Lalu (PPHAM).
Among the 12 incidents was the destruction of the Indonesia Communist Party (Partai Komunis Indonesia, PKI) in 1965-1966, where the massacres began after the failure of a ‘coup’ attempt by dissident army officers who kidnapped and killed seven senior Indonesian army generals on the night of September 30 and October 1, 1965. Other cases, such as human rights abuses in the conflict zones in Timor Leste and Aceh, are mentioned.
Some raise questions about why some crucial cases are not included. For instance, the Tanjung Priok massacre occurred in 1984 when civilians clashed with military enforcement due to a ‘political view’ in the New Order Era (Era Orde Baru), with casualties of up to 23 people. Hundreds of people were arrested, and some even ‘disappeared.’ Although the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) has made an investigation, the perpetrators remain on the loose. Widodo also did not mention violations that targeted Chinese Indonesians.
Paragraph 30 of the 1993 U.N. Vienna Declaration and Program of Action provides constitutes of ‘gross violation’ by stating that the gross and systematic violations include as well as torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, disappearances, arbitrary detentions, all forms of racism and apartheid, xenophobia, etc. There is still a number of incidents that should be included on the list.
Rights of Gross Human Rights Violation Victims
One of the main references for international human rights law is the Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victim and Abuse of Power, adopted by General Assembly Resolution 40/34 of 29 November 1985. In the victim declaration, there are some victims’ rights that the government needs to ensure and protect; firstly, the availability of justice mechanisms and immediate compensation.
Second, the right to information on their rights in pursuing compensation and the progress of the legal process; third, the right to express their views. Fourth, the right to receive aid in the process of punishment; fifth, the right to protection from intimidation; and sixth, the right to a speedy and simple justice mechanism without delay. In addition, there are steps to eliminate impunity by adopting universal human rights basic principles to be implemented in the working of legal mechanisms in domestic law.
The function of PPHAM is fairly limited to compensation for victims only. Other rights, such as legal process and eliminating impunity, may not be implemented as the non-judicial body has no punitive powers, so they can not effectively confront the perpetrators of past human rights violations. On the other hand, it might be a way to ‘strengthen impunity’ as there would not be accountability for perpetrators.
Although Mahfud MD, the coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, said there would be a judicial process for the settlements of past human rights violations. However, doubts are rising as, so far, the government has yet showed effort to create concrete steps in maximising judicial mechanisms.
Although we should appreciate President Widodo’s effort to acknowledge the gross human rights violations, it can not be denied that there will be no other steps taken to bring those responsible for past human rights abuses to trial. Either he can not do much or is not willing to do much about the past human rights violations, but a mere acknowledgement from Widodo, just before he ended his term, is nothing without more accountability, transparency, and an end to impunity. These are crucial to provide the victim and their families a fair treatment to protect human rights.