An international tribunal of experts in human rights law and Asian history has been established to examine the largely forgotten episode of the 1965-66 mass killings and other crimes against humanity in Indonesia. Hundreds of thousands of civilians are believed to have been killed, imprisoned, tortured or have otherwise suffered during this period. The International People’s Tribunal on 1965 Crimes against Humanity in Indonesia (Tribunal) will meet at The Hague 10-13 November 2015, when the judges will hear detailed evidence presented by the prosecution.
The Tribunal is an initiative of the International People’s Tribunal 1965 (IPT 1965) Foundation (Stichting), which was set up in 2013 by a group of victims in exile and in Indonesia, as well as by human rights activists, intellectuals, artists, journalists and academics, and many other groups. The Tribunal follows the long and distinguished record of peoples’ tribunals, beginning with the Russell Tribunal in 1966.
The prosecution case alleges that crimes against humanity were committed on a large scale during the mass killings, and that crimes and injustices arising from them have continued to be committed. The case is based on extensive enquiry carried out by a large team of researchers. Material to be brought forward will include documents, audio and visual materials, witness testimonies, victim impact statements, and other forms of evidence.
As a people’s tribunal, the Tribunal derives its moral authority from the voices of victims, and of national and international civil societies. The Tribunal will have the format of a formal human rights court, but it is not a criminal court. It has the power of prosecution but no power of enforcement. The essential character of the Tribunal will be that of a Tribunal of Inquiry.
Individual members of the Tribunal have extensive knowledge of international and human rights law and of this period of Indonesian history. The judges of the Tribunal will examine the evidence presented by the prosecution, develop an accurate historical and scientific record and, applying principles of international customary law, public international law and Indonesian law to the facts as found, will deliver a reasoned judgment. They will seek to establish, without fear or favour, the truth about these historical events, in the hope that this will contribute to justice, peace and reconciliation.
The Tribunal arises out of a burning concern that, half a century later no serious effort has been made within Indonesia to investigate the nature and extent of the alleged crimes. No perpetrators have been brought to justice, and these alleged incidents remain relatively unknown internationally. Further, none of the victims has received an apology or any form of redress. At best there have been limited attempts at fact-finding and reparation in a few localities. Most of these have met with opposition, sometimes violent, from political forces apparently hostile to any attempt to establish the truth.
This unwillingness or failure to act has persisted in spite of repeated demands made, especially since the end of the Suharto government in 1998. This is notwithstanding the clear statement made in May 2000 by then President Abdurrahman Wahid that “to achieve true reconciliation we need to have an in depth enquiry by the legal apparatus, if we can still get clear proof….”.
The findings of a 2012 report by the Indonesian National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) on crimes against humanity during 1965-66 have been ignored by the Indonesian government. While the report does not attempt to extrapolate numbers of victims nationwide, overwhelming evidence is given about “widespread and systematic” killings, exterminations, enslavement and forced labour, forced eviction and banishments, arbitrary deprivation of freedom, torture, rape and other forms of sexual violence and enforced disappearances. These crimes are defined as crimes against humanity according to Indonesia’s Law No. 26/2000 establishing its Human Rights Court. Komnas HAM recommended further investigations by the Attorney General, and that the government consider forming a non-judicial truth and reconciliation commission, as provided in that Law.
The government of Indonesia has been invited to present its own view of these events to the Tribunal, and the Tribunal will consider carefully all requests for representation by any interested party. After its formal session in The Hague, the Tribunal will continue to work towards producing a verdict based on the materials and evidence presented there, and if necessary it will seek further evidence or clarification. It will present its findings in a public forum some time in 2016, and will communicate the outcome to the State of Indonesia in the expectation that this will lead to serious consideration and, if or where necessary, judicial or other action.
17 October 2015