Subject: For Women Victims of New Order Atrocities, Justice Is Still Out of Reach

The Jakarta Post

Thursday, March 29, 2007


Healing the Past Atrocities Against Women

Galuh Wandita, Jakarta

Back in the late 70s, sixth-year schoolchildren in Jakarta often visited the Lubang Buaya Memorial in East Jakarta, a historical site which marked the birth of the New Order.

When I went with my class, I remember looking at the images of Gerwani (Indonesian Women's Movement) members dancing in front of the stricken generals who were later murdered. My teacher moved me briskly along. Those are bad women, she said.

Another time, a teacher interrupted class to announce that we had a new addition to our country. East Timor was now the 27th province of Indonesia. We were told to applaud, which we did enthusiastically.

More than two decades later, the fall of Soeharto in 1998 has provided Indonesia with the opportunity to right the wrongs of the past. But this task has yet been taken to heart by the Indonesian government and people.

The New Order regime was marked by carnage and widespread repression. The events of September 1965 are still clouded by uncertainty. To date, the number of those killed remains unclear, estimated between 500,000 and a million. More than one million were incarcerated and subjected to torture and ill-treatment without any legal recourse or trial.

Some violations targeted women, particularly those suspected of affiliation with Gerwani. Gerwani was established in 1950. In the context of the revolutionary zeal of that time, it aimed to achieve "equal labor rights for women and ... equal responsibilities with men in the struggle for full national independence and socialism." The group later aligned itself with the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), marking a period of intense organizing, literacy training, and campaigning for land reform and women's political leadership.

During the violence of 1965, Gerwani members were targeted for killing, illegal detention and sexual violence. The extent of the abuse is still unknown, as survivors continue to face discrimination and are reluctant to speak out.

By the mid-1970s, Indonesia had re-established itself as a reliable ally of the Western Block. The defeat of the United States in Vietnam and the rise of Communist regimes in Cambodia and Laos brought a palpable fear of the continued spread of communism in Southeast Asia.

Under the same anti-communist fervor it had shown a decade before, the Indonesian military invaded East Timor in December 1975, unleashing countless atrocities against civilians.

The recent findings of the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR), an independent commission established in East Timor, are harrowing. Using statistical projections, the CAVR estimated 80,000-100,000 excess deaths as a result of the conflict during Indonesia's 24 years of rule, including 18,600 killings and disappearances.

The CAVR also found evidence which depicted "the widespread and systematic nature in which members of the Indonesian security forces openly engaged in rape, sexual torture, sexual slavery and other forms of sexual violence". The CAVR took statements and interviewed more than 1,000 victims of rape and other forms of sexual abuse during the period of conflict, particularly after the UN-administered popular consultation in which East Timorese voted for independence.

Nine years after the fall of Soeharto, much of the bureaucracy of the New Order has remained intact. What is most disconcerting is that none of the individuals who were involved in the commission of international crimes have been brought to justice. For victims of gross human rights violations, not much has changed.

Public acknowledgement of past atrocities and the victims' suffering is almost non-existent. The two dozen discriminatory laws and regulations against ex-political detainees and their families enacted by the New Order are still in place. The way we teach our history to schoolchildren remains contested, with little regard to the true lessons of the past.

The 2004 law on the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was struck down by the Constitutional Court in December 2006 because a number of articles were inconsistent with international human rights standards. The court ruling has left a vacuum that upholds impunity.

Ironically, the Truth and Friendship Commission was formed by an MoU between the Indonesia and Timor Leste. The MoU derives its powers from the now-defunct 2004 law. The memorandum provides the Commission with the power to recommend amnesty and to rehabilitate the names of those wrongly accused.

There was little consultation and transparency in the establishment and the work of this Commission, which is now conducting hearings more than a year after its establishment. Many fear the Commission will produce a watered-down and "compromised" version of the truth about what took place in East Timor in 1999.

On April 19, 2005, the UN Commission on Human Rights adopted the "Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law." It stipulates the rights of victims to justice, to knowledge and to reparations. These three rights overlap and together form the essence of a return of their dignity.

For women victims of atrocities committed during the New Order, the fulfillment of these rights is still out of reach. As a nation, in order to reclaim our humanity, after being mute observers during the decades of blood-letting, we must look at the past honestly. This means genuinely listening to the voices which were violently suppressed, acknowledging our mistakes, and participating in repairing the damage.

As a first step, the Truth and Friendship Commission must be true to human rights principles and listen to the voices of victims, beyond narrow political interests.

The writer is a senior associate at the International Center for Transitional Justice and expert advisor to the National Commission on the Elimination of Violence against Women.

------------------------------------------ Joyo Indonesia News Service

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