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INDONESIA: Pressure for human rights abuse cases to be re-opened

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The Indonesian President is under mounting pressure to re-open investigations into several prominent human rights abuse cases.

The National Commission on Human Rights, the Law Commission, and now the Head of the Parliament, are calling for an ad hoc court to hear evidence into the killing of 21 student protestors in 1997 and 1998 by the country’s military.

As Rebecca Henschke reports from Jakarta, it is part of a seven-year-long battle for justice by the victims’ families.


In the twilight hours of May 12, 1998, four student protesters were shot dead at Jakarta’s prestigious Trisakti University. Within 24 hours, the killings by security forces had sparked savage riots that turned Jakarta into a war zone and forced out President Soeharto after 30 years of dictatorship.

I am here in a small park in the University of Trisakti with Ibu Hendrick who is the mother of one of the boys who was killed. She has taken me here to see a small memorial in the place where her son was shot dead. She says he was trying to leave the demonstration when he was killed by security forces.

Last year her son and the three others were named by President Yudhoyono as heroes of the 1998 democratic revolution. Yet those responsible for his murder have not been brought to justice.

“The President just makes empty promises. He told us we will get justice but he told us to be patient that it would happen slowly. But where is the evidence that he is doing anything! Promises, Promises are all we received. The Parliament says one thing, the Attorney-General says another thing. We, the parents, feel incredibly disappointed, hurt and betrayed by the government. For how long must this go on for?

Ibu Hendrick breaks down and cries, saying she has had to struggle through life alone after losing her only child. The case is highly political and controversial. The Attorney-General’s office has over the past four years ignored a report from the National Commission on Human Rights implicating senior military generals in the murders.

But now there is mounting pressure coming from the House of Representatives for an ad hoc human rights court to be formed to finally try the cases.

“Commission three of the parliament has recommended that an ad hoc court be set up. They have agreed with a recommendation by the National Human Rights Commission that these cases are gross violations of human rights. It’s my job to push this recommendation to the President and hopefully it will be dealt with quickly.

However, the House, he says, must meet to make a united decision on supporting this recommendation. That debate is scheduled to take place on the 13th of March.

Back at the Trisakti University campus, Idoy, one of the student leaders, tells me they are planning large demonstrations for that day to make sure the Parliament doesn’t back down this time.

Iboy, stands on the memorable built for his friends who were killed. Vases filled with flowers M mark the places where they were shot.

“They were our brothers and sisters, they were our friends, our love ones. They were killed in their youth for no reason. If this case is not dealt with, if the families don’t get justice this will happen again, that’s for sure. It sets a terrible precedent for a country undergoing democratic reform.

Asmara Nababan, the ex-Secretary-General of the National Commission on Human Rights and veteran rights activist, is pessimistic about things changing soon. He says the Parliament can make recommendations but when it comes to the crunch it’s the President’s decision.

“The problem is he doesn’t want to do it. The Attorney-General reflects the position of the President. I don’t think the President will change his position on these human rights cases. Maybe in 2009 when we have a new President, things will change.

Those responsible, he says, are still in powerful positions. The Former Indonesian Military Chief, General Wiranto, and former Army Special Forces Commander, Prabowo, have been named as key suspects by the National Commission on Human Rights. Wiranto recently confirmed he would be seeking nomination for the Presidential election.

“Those generals right now still have power and influence not only in the executive branch but also in Parliament. They are active in politics. Also the President, as a former general, he doesn’t want to get into conflict with his former colleagues. Politically he has decided it could not be good for him to irritate them. They are powerful enough to make him think twice about it. Asmara Nabanan says, with the President’s weak position, impunity for Indonesia ’s military will continue.



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