The truth first, Mr. President
Jakarta | Wed, April 5, 2017 | 08:47 am | Reza Muharam*
Victims and human rights defenders celebrated the International Day for the Right to the Truth concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims on March 24.
The right to the truth, together with the right to justice, and reparation — including rehabilitation and compensation — are the rights of a victim that should be guarded and implemented as guiding principles in all government policies to combat impunity. Without it, every step taken by the government to solve abuses is a mockery of justice. It is the victims, not perpetrators of gross violations of human rights that need to be respected by the state.
Pak Kandi Pargono is one of the survivors of the 1965-1966 witch hunt, arbitrary detention and killings of suspected communists from Maluku — which therefore can be considered “genocide” of a particular group. He is above 70, frail but still spirited. He told me there were many people like him in Ambon, but they were afraid to speak out.
Or to be precise, their families are afraid. And since the state is not taking care of them, they rely on the support of the families in their old age.
We invited Kandi to tell his story in a public meeting in Ambon on March 19, titled “Against Forgetting: Buru and the survivor’s path to justice.” We also screened Rahung Nasution’s film, Buru My Motherland.
The meeting was attended by 51 invited guests and about 10 uninvited guests, intelligence members from the police, the district military command (Kodim) and according to a journalist, even from the State Intelligence Agency (BIN).
Like all fellow detainees Kandi said he was arrested, beaten and imprisoned in various military camps in Ambon, before they eventually sent him to Buru. His only sin was that he was an active and respected citizen in Ambon, a teacher, an artist and at the time of his arrest the chairman of the Maluku branch of the People’s Cultural Institute (Lekra).
He said he had received lots of awards and acknowledgement for his works, among others from then president Sukarno himself. But sadly, he said, the military forced him to burn all those awards himself.
And after that, he became a number without a name. He is the creator of the first statue of Kapitan Patimura, Maluku’s national hero, now conserved in a museum in Ambon.
But no teacher in Ambon has ever mentioned his name in history lessons. His name, like all public figures considered leftists, has been wiped out from the official history books. His life story is one of endurance and survival but also of hope, dignity and gratitude. He said he was chosen with other comrades to work in a lodge, owned by a high-ranking military officer on a small island above Buru Island. There he had to work from dawn, sometimes to late at night, without pay.
There was not enough food for all of them. He recalls that once the military abandoned them and forgot to supply food for them for weeks. Luckily there was a botanist in their company who knew which plants in the jungle were edible and nutritious. He thanks God that he survived the illegal imprisonment and slavery. He even survived all the commanders. He said he had forgiven the perpetrators for their sins. However, he also believes the truth belongs to the Almighty, and therefore it needs to be told.
During the public meeting we also launched “The Final Report of The People’s Tribunal on Crimes Against Humanity 1965” and “From the Tribunal’s Porch,” a collection of personal stories of volunteers behind the People’s Tribunal 1965, held last year in The Hague.
The final report stated that the state was responsible for crimes against humanity, including the unjustified imprisonment and enslavement. These acts were also part of the widespread systematic attack on the members of the banned Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), and all those deemed to be connected with it.
Even arranging a meeting to have the public hear victims’ stories has faced challenges in several cities. Initially we planned to hold this event in a cafe near Pattimura University, but a day before the owner canceled the initial arrangement for unclear reasons. Luckily the Synod of Protestant Church Maluku (GPM) downtown provided the venue, and Rev. Jacky Manuputty, the moderator, helped prevent intelligence officers from banning the meeting.
The story of Pak Kandi, and that of other survivors is ours too — as we all have the right to know the truth. The appropriate first step toward justice and reconciliation is by establishing a presidential committee for truth finding — not the planned Council for National Harmony (DKN). The truth first, Mr. President!
The writer is a member of the international steering committee of the International People’s Tribunal 1965 (IPT’65). The above mentioned public meeting was held by IPT 65 and supported among others by the Maluku chapter of the National Commission of Human Rights, the provincial chapter of the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) and human rights group Humanum.
Reza Muharam, Member of the international steering committee of the International People’s Tribunal 1965 (IPT’65)