FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Time to End Impunity for Suharto’’s Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste

Indonesia recently held a symposium on the violent events of 50 years ago which brought the Indonesian General Suharto to power. The results were inconclusive as the dictator’s defenders denied the massacres and attacked those who want Indonesia to finally deal with its blood past.

The tragedy of 1965-1966 is part of a long history of massacres by the Indonesian military. As East Timorese, we know very well the brutality of the Indonesian dictator’s regime. I was born after the initial Indonesian invasion in 1975, but grew up under the occupation. As a young student, I saw the Indonesian military intimidate and abuse youth suspected of supporting East Timorese independence. We were not safe anywhere: Suharto’s troops would seize us at home, school or on the streets; many were never seen again. I watched helplessly as soldiers murdered my cousin, Luis Gusmaõ Pereira, in a public market in Triloedae-Laga.

During 1965-1966, the Indonesian military and its militias carried out mass executions of those suspected of involvement or support for the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). Amnesty International estimates that between 500,000 to one million people lost their lives. Others were tortured and imprisoned, some for decades. Members of their families were denied employment and schooling. Many had no option but to live among their persecutors, as shown in the Oscar-nominated documentaries The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence.

Cold War fears often justified U.S.-backed military interventions against democratically-elected governments. Sukarno, the founding president of Indonesia and Suharto’s predecessor, carried out a populist political program linked to social and economic justice, supported by the PKI and many other groups. Sukarno also helped found the Non-Aligned Movement that stood apart from the Cold War blocs. The U.S., believing Indonesia was acting too independently, supported Suharto’s seizure of power and cheered the mass killings.

A decade later, Suharto sought and received U.S. backing for its plan to launch the brutal invasion and illegal occupation of Timor-Leste. Up to 200,000 East Timorese were killed, as the U.S. showered military and other support on Indonesia. Timor-Leste’s Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation final report, Chega!, documented numerous crimes against humanity during Indonesia’s 24-year occupation, including massacres, rape, torture, and forced disappearances. Many died of starvation when the Indonesians forced communities from their farms and gardens and then blockaded food supplies. Declassified documents show that the US government understood that both the invasion and occupation were illegal, yet it still provided military assistance, knowing that it would be used against the people of Timor-Leste.

Justice and accountability for genocide and crimes against humanity

Survivors, the families of victims, and human rights activists have worked to win justice and accountability for the crimes against humanity during the 1965-1966 period. While we’ve seen some light in democratic progress under Indonesia’s current President Joko Widodo, justice and accountability continue to elude us. President Widodo has made some efforts at accountability for the human rights violations during the Suharto years, these efforts have been challenged by members of his own government.

Since we voted for our independence in 1999, there have been several efforts at accountability for the crimes committed in Timor-Leste. However, only East Timorese members of militia that were created and controlled by Indonesia have been convicted and received minimal punishments. Meanwhile, the principal architects of the crimes remain free in Indonesia, some of them still in positions of power. Several have run for President of Indonesia. While the political establishments in both countries are currently determined to ignore them, the people of Timor-Leste and human rights activists continue to push for and demand accountability and justice.

The chains of impunity remain strong in Indonesia; U.S. leaders who supported crimes against humanity in Indonesia and elsewhere continue to avoid accountability and punishment. The U.S. and Indonesia claim they are democratic and law-abiding nations, but they openly resist holding their own officials accountable.

This is not just a matter of dealing with the past. Indonesia’s security forces continue to commit serious crimes in West Papua and elsewhere in Indonesia. In recent months, thousands of West Papuans have been detained while demonstrating for their right to self-determination. Indonesian activists faced intimidation from the state and the military when they dare to speak about massacres or serious crimes of the past. Last October, security officials forced the cancellation of sessions addressing the 1965 massacres at an international writers’ festival in Bali. Recent showings of films about the massacres, including “The Look of Silence,” have been attacked.

Together, we can end impunity. First, the U.S. and Indonesia must release all their records concerning the crimes committed in 1965-66 and 1975-1999. Revealing the truth is necessary for a genuine justice and accountability for these serious crimes.

Chega! recommends that countries like the U.S. that armed and trained Indonesia’s military provide reparations to the people of Timor-Leste. The U.S. knew very well that its weapons– from military aircraft to M-16 rifles – would rain death and destruction on many thousands of innocent people.

Since Indonesia has proved unable to credibly prosecute its own, international tribunals are needed if those responsible for the crimes of 1965-66 and the crimes in Timor-Leste from 1975-1999 are to be brought to justice.

50 years of silence and repression must end. The cycle of impunity must be broken.

Celestino Gusmao is a member of ANTI (Timor-Leste National Alliance for an International Tribunal) and a researcher with La’o Hamutuk, the Timor-Leste Institute for Development Monitoring and Analysis.

More articles by:
July 17, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Trump & The Big Bad Bugs
Robert Hunziker
Trump Kills Science, Nature Strikes Back
John Grant
The Politics of Cruelty
Kenneth Surin
Calculated Buffoonery: Trump in the UK
Binoy Kampmark
Helsinki Theatrics: Trump Meets Putin
Patrick Bond
BRICS From Above, Seen Critically From Below
Jim Kavanagh
Fighting Fake Stories: The New Yorker, Israel and Obama
Daniel Falcone
Chomsky on the Trump NATO Ruse
W. T. Whitney
Oil Underground in Neuquén, Argentina – and a New US Military Base There
Doug Rawlings
Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War” was Nominated for an Emmy, Does It Deserve It?
Rajan Menon
The United States of Inequality
Thomas Knapp
Have Mueller and Rosenstein Finally Gone Too Far?
Cesar Chelala
An Insatiable Salesman
Dean Baker
Truth, Trump and the Washington Post
Mel Gurtov
Human Rights Trumped
Binoy Kampmark
Putin’s Football Gambit: How the World Cup Paid Off
July 16, 2018
Sheldon Richman
Trump Turns to Gaza as Middle East Deal of the Century Collapses
Charles Pierson
Kirstjen Nielsen Just Wants to Protect You
Brett Wilkins
The Lydda Death March and the Israeli State of Denial
Patrick Cockburn
Trump Knows That the US Can Exercise More Power in a UK Weakened by Brexit
Robert Fisk
The Fisherman of Sarajevo Told Tales Past Wars and Wars to Come
Gary Leupp
When Did Russia Become an Adversary?
Uri Avnery
“Not Enough!”
Dave Lindorff
Undermining Trump-Putin Summit Means Promoting War
Manuel E. Yepe
World Trade War Has Begun
Binoy Kampmark
Trump Stomps Britain
Wim Laven
The Best Deals are the Deals that Develop Peace
Kary Love
Can We Learn from Heinrich Himmler’s Daughter? Should We?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Franklin Lamb, Requiescat in Pace
Weekend Edition
July 13, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Brian Cloughley
Lessons That Should Have Been Learned From NATO’s Destruction of Libya
Paul Street
Time to Stop Playing “Simon Says” with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: In the Land of Formula and Honey
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s Intellectuals Bow to the Queen of Chaos 
Michael Collins
The Affirmative Action Silo
Andrew Levine
Tipping Points
Geoff Dutton
Fair and Balanced Opinion at the New York Times
Ajamu Baraka
Cultural and Ideological Struggle in the US: a Final Comment on Ocasio-Cortez
David Rosen
The New McCarthyism: Is the Electric Chair Next for the Left?
Ken Levy
The McConnell Rule: Nasty, Brutish, and Unconstitutional
George Wuerthner
The Awful Truth About the Hammonds
Robert Fisk
Will Those Killed by NATO 19 Years Ago in Serbia Ever Get Justice?
Robert Hunziker
Three Climatic Monsters with Asteroid Impact
Ramzy Baroud
Europe’s Iron Curtain: The Refugee Crisis is about to Worsen
Nick Pemberton
A Letter For Scarlett JoManDaughter
Marilyn Garson
Netanyahu’s War on Transcendence 
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail