Thirty-eight years since the events that propelled General Suharto to power, and five years since his downfall, Indonesians are still subjected to a version of history conceived and propagated by the New Order regime. That version served as both the pretext and justification for one of the largest and least known crimes against humanity of the twentieth century: the 1965-66 massacre of some half a million to a million alleged communists. In addition to those killed, hundreds of thousands more were tortured and imprisoned. The families of those accused were also victimized through a programme of institutional ostracism that denied them the opportunity to engage in normal economic and social life.
To this day, September 30 is officially commemorated in Indonesia by mourning the six generals killed during the purported leftist coup attempt that Suharto used as the means to seize state power. By contrast, nothing is as yet officially said of the millions murdered afterwards. However, an increasing number of individuals and organizations are coming forward to publicly recall and document this massive atrocity. Graves are being opened, data is being collected, and more officials are breaking their silence. Many are doing this despite attacks on their lives and property by the army and paramilitary groups.
This year, some concerned persons and organizations came together to commemorate the massacre in a two-day event entitled “Lift the veil on the 1965 case”. The gathering noted in particular that to the present day Indonesian students are learning the same lessons of history as they did under the New Order. They learn that the country was threatened by communism and saved by quick army intervention. They learn a mythological account of the events surrounding September 30. They learn nothing of the millions murdered in the bloodbath that followed.
If there is any hope of the massacre being addressed publicly, it must begin with revision of school textbook contents. The people of Indonesia cannot afford to delay or delimit this rewriting of history. The country’s future depends upon a full and complete accounting of past crimes, with a view to the prosecution of those responsible, and the rehabilitation of victims and their families. While much of the onus lies on the government, civil groups must redouble their efforts to bring about change, and pressure the authorities to act. International organizations too must as a matter of policy make their engagement with the government of Indonesia dependent upon steps taken to these ends. This is, after all, the only way that Indonesia will achieve a democratic and open society. Attempts otherwise will be sheer folly. Worse, they will leave the door open to admit the continued stream of human rights abuses that the citizens of Indonesia experience daily in their streets, police stations, offices and prisons, which-like the massacre of thirty-eight years earlier-are denied by those responsible.
— Asian Human Rights Commission – AHRC