It may not be legally binding, but the International People’s Tribunal on Indonesia’s mass violence carries enough moral and political weight to warrant action. Saskia Wieringa, the Tribunal’s Chair, outlines why.
On July 20, 2016 a video of presiding judge Zak Yacoob reading out the major conclusions of the International People’s Tribunal on the 1965 Crimes Against Humanity in Indonesia (IPT 1965) was shown in five places across the world — Jakarta, Amsterdam, Melbourne, Frankfurt, Phnom Penh and Stockholm. At the same time the video was accessible on the Tribunal’s website.
The original plan of the coordinators was to hold an event in Jakarta in which the final statement would be read out live in the presence of the witnesses who had attended hearings in The Hague from 10 to 13 November 2015. However in light of Indonesia’s present campaign against the so-called ‘revival of the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI)’ this was considered to be too risky. While it is only the army and related militias who are claiming this ‘revival’, the threat they pose to anybody they associate with it, is only too real.
The Tribunal found Indonesia guilty of crimes against humanity in the systematic killing of between 400,000 and 600,000 people. Those killed were not only leaders and members of the Communist Party in 1965, but also belonged to affiliated associations or were strong supporters of President Sukarno. In addition, the tribunal found that Indonesia was guilty of other crimes against humanity including slavery, involuntary disappearances, sexual violence and a campaign of hate propaganda inciting such crimes. These crimes are not only punishable under international customary law and other conventions, but also under Indonesia’s domestic laws, including the Human Rights law No. 26 of 2000.
The simultaneous launch of the Tribunal’s finding in various locations also signals that Indonesia can no longer claim that the mass murders and other crimes against humanity committed by, or with the help of, the army in 1965 and subsequent years are just internal affairs in which the outside world should not meddle. Indeed, the judges decided that this was a case of genocide, as a national group had been exterminated in part, with a great social impact upon society as a whole. Genocide is a global affair, and countries are required to prevent and punish such actions, whether carried out in war or in peacetime.
This is exactly what did not happen when the extermination campaign of leftist people in Indonesia was underway. While the army was slaughtering hundreds of thousands of innocent, unarmed people the rest of the Western world looked on with approval. There is abundant proof, and the final report of the IPT judges cites some of this, that embassies reported on the mass killings. Foreign reporters too denounced the Indonesian killings; CL Sulzberger, writing in The New York Timesreferred to it on 13 April 1966 as ‘one of history’s most vicious massacres… rivalling in scale and savagery … Turkey’s Armenian massacres…Hitler’s Jewish genocide…’ and other such atrocious events which have received much more international attention.
The judges thus considered whether several states could be seen to have acted complicity with the Indonesian military. The research report presented to the judges and the prosecutors provided evidence of the complicity of three states – the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. In all three cases the judges concluded that the government of these states were fully aware that mass killings were being carried out, and that in various ways they supported the army in their extermination campaign. The US provided lists of people who had to be killed, as well as small arms and communication equipment. The UK and Australia, already engaged in a low intensity military conflict with Indonesia, extended their propaganda in support of the hate propaganda spread by the Indonesian army inciting the mass killings.
It is likely that many more countries were fully aware of what was going on in Indonesia, but their cases were not considered. Researchers in Austria, Germany and The Netherlands are at present searching their countries’ archives to determine their governments’ level of awareness of the mass killings in Indonesia.
As a non-formal process staged by human rights activists, the International People’s Tribunal can impose no sanctions nor start criminal proceedings. Yet it does carry political and moral weight. The governments of Indonesia and the three countries mentioned above pointedly ignored the invitations extended to them to attend the hearings in November 2015. But it is a blemish on the moral standing of the international order that cannot be erased. Subsequent documents and research reports will continue to focus attention towards it.
The findings of the IPT 1965 are already having an impact in Indonesia. The former coordinating Minister for Security, Luhut Panjaitan, reacted as if stung by a foreign wasp and declared that Indonesia has its own domestic mechanisms. It does indeed.
Apart from the Human Rights Law mentioned above, it has two national commissions, on women’s rights and on human rights in general, which produced reports in 2007 and 2012 respectively. However both reports were ignored. The IPT 1965 final report calls for the full implementation of its recommendations.
Minister Luhut Panjaitan reacted to the IPT hearings in November 2015 by calling a national symposium in April 2016, where for the first time victims of army brutality could speak out in safety, surrounded by generals defending the atrocities of the Suharto Regime. This again sparked the present army campaign against the supposed revival of the PKI. But the genie is out of the bottle. All eyes are now on the President. Will he apologise in his Address to the Nation on 16 August?
After all a promise in his presidential campaign was to deal with the ‘events of 1965’.
This article is published in collaboration with New Mandala, the leading website for Southeast Asia analysis.