INDONESIA: Termination of Komnas HAM Massacre Investigations Will Only Exacerbate Indonesia’s Culture of Impunity

Due to harassment by militia gangs and political elites connected to the Soeharto military rule, Indonesia’s first preliminary investigations into the 1965-66 Massacre and the 1998 May Riot by the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) are both in danger of being shelved.  The Commission was given a limited six-month timeframe to complete these inquiries.  The period, which comes to a close on 15 May 2003, itself should be extended as it would be impossible for the execution of a proper and credible investigation; however, both of these inquiries have come under immense pressure to be terminated.  Furthermore, the Commission has been pressured to make compromising recommendations calling for amnesty-based reconciliation efforts.  Failure of the continuation of the inquiry will only reinforce and exacerbate the culture of impunity that continues to cloud the Indonesian government since the Soeharto regime.

Under the direction of General Soeharto, between 1965-66 approximately 500,000 to two million people alleged to be communists were murdered, tortured, detained and abused by military order.  In May 1998, 1,217 unarmed Indonesians, most of whom were Chinese Indonesian, were killed and 66 raped in riots organized by the military its final attempt to maintain Soeharto’s power.

Though both these military instigated massacres are well known in the domestic and international community, none of those engaged in the crime, including Soeharto and his cohorts, have been prosecuted.  Authorities have ignored evidence compiled by families of the victims, eyewitness reports and the uncovering of dozens of skeletons from mass graves.  In particular to the 1965 Massacre, for years AHRC and other organizations have been calling for a thorough investigation, as the Massacre constitutes a crime against humanity, impunity for which completely undermines the entire Indonesian justice system.  AHRC has also noted that unless there are serious and persistent efforts towards truth, justice, reconciliation regarding this massacre, there can be no hope for human rights, rule of law or democracy in Indonesia.

AHRC commended the initiation of the overdue investigation process overdue of this essential preliminary investigation, but there is concern that threats will undermine or even terminate the inquiry process.  Investigators have received threats via phone and General Wiranto demanded that the investigation into Soeharto-era be ended.  A 500-strong militia gang protested at the Komnas HAM headquarters, threatening grave violence if the investigation into the 1965 case continued.  Top-level professors from the University of Indonesia have lobbied the Commissioner to keep silent about the massacre.  Furthermore, there are concerns that some of the commissioners themselves have a personal interest in stopping the investigation because of their personal relationship to the Soeharto years, and as some of them were selected by Soeharto himself.  Termination of the inquiry, however, is not an option if justice is to be achieved.  Even from the beginning of the investigation, anonymous persons were threatening the Commission, but the Commission must persevere and complete the inquiry if it seeks to be seen as credible.

AHRC has also noted the difficulty the team would face to do a credible job in exhuming the many mass graves identified by the late human rights activist for the disappeared in Indonesia Ibu Sualmi and other human rights defenders within the limited few month timeframe.  The 1966 mass grave unearthed in November 2000 in Wonosobo, Central Java and the 1968 mass grave exposed in August 2002 in Blitar, East Java have yet to be investigated by the Commission.  In fact only two locations – Buru Island prison camp and in Semarang, Central Java – were investigated by the team, leaving countless mass graves untouched.  Even this minuscule part of the crime should be enough to warrant a much deeper investigation, as necessary for any gross violation of human rights.  In addition to the inadequate timeframe, resources necessary for a proper investigation were not provided.

For years AHRC has continued to raise concern over how failure to bring the person and agencies responsible for the 1965-66 Massacre has resulted in a culture of impunity in Indonesia.  The failure of the state to investigate or prosecute perpetrators has resulted in their enjoyment of de facto impunity, no redress to the victims, and general loss of public faith in the administration of justice in Indonesia.  If the National Human Rights Commission is to fulfill its mandate to encourage the promotion and protection of human rights, in spite of threats, the Commission must take all the necessary time and measures to investigate the November 2000 and August 2002 mass graves, in addition to the dozens of mass gravesites identified by human rights defenders.

Asian Human Rights Commission – AHRC, Hong Kong

Unit 4, 7th Floor, Mongkok Commercial Centre
16 Argyle Street, Kowloon
Hong Kong SAR, CHINA
Tel: +(852) 2698-6339
Fax:+(852) 2698-6367
Web site:

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-16-2003
Countries : Indonesia,