by Martha Meijer
Severe and massive human rights violations have occurred in Indonesia, with a peak in the years 1965-1966, but also in many years after that. Those responsible for the thousands of killings, torture, disappearances and forced labour have never been prosecuted or punished. This impunity in Indonesia is a continuing suffering for the victims and their relatives, and a threat to the rule of law, because it facilitates perpetrators to feel above the law and it may strengthen possible perpetrators in carrying out their abuses. This paper analyses the opportunities to break the cycle of impunity based on existing legal mechanisms – both Indonesian and international. It points to possibilities to realize the rights to the truth, to justice and rehabilitation, in the context of the initiative of the International People’s Tribunal 1965 (IPT) which was started in 2014, in an effort to come to terms with the events of 1965 and the years after.
In 1965 an alleged human rights violations have taken place. None of these violations have been prosecuted; on the contrary, victims and survivors have been subject to intimidation and discrimination until today. Perpetrators are being held in high esteem or are still considered heroes.
The internationally agreed concept of impunity offers opportunities to start a process to deal with the past. Still, the initiative has to come from within Indonesia. In 2014 and 2015 the documentary films “The Act of Killing” and “The Look of Silence” broke the taboo around the 1965 human rights violations. Legal instruments can now be used to try and cope with the accumulation of emotions and fears within Indonesian society. Therefore the analysis of legal and internationally agreed ways to approach the struggle against impunity is a tool to start a discussion about the violations, the victims and the perpetrators, the reasons for impunity and the consequences.
This paper tries to present an analysis of international and Indonesian legal mechanisms in support of the struggle against impunity, considers possible obstacles and ways to address these and draws conclusions that hopefully can contribute to the effort by the International People’s Tribunal 1965 in dealing with the past.