The 1965 Act of Killings Unjustified, Questionable


By: Sri Lestari Wahyuningroem

“… if the Jews were not exterminated at that time, then the German people would be exterminated for all time by the Jews”.

Those are the words of Heinrich Himmler, a Nazi commander who was said to be the main architect of the Holocaust. This statement was mentioned in testimony during prosecution at the Nuremberg Tribunal, the international trial for those who murdered millions of people, mainly Jews, during World War II.

When Coordinating Political, Law and Human Rights Minister, Djoko Suyanto, commented on the 1965 killing of the communists, I didn’t see an image of the Indonesian government.

Instead, I saw Himmler, for Djoko justified the killings as necessary to defend the nation. Thinking in the same vein is demonstrated in documentary movie The Act of Killing.

How horrible our country has become, that a state official confirms that mass killings and human rights abuses are allowed and justified.

Our society has become so horrible because most of us, for generations, affirmed such sentiments and pretended that such a horrible event did not happen in our own backyard.

No wonder most of us were quiet when Ahmadis were hunted and killed, when Papuans were shot dead, when students killed other students for the sake of youthful exuberance. That’s because the state ignores this, even worse, justifies it.

It was the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) report that triggered this reaction from some political elites who then mobilized mass organizations to oppose the findings of the report.

The report found that the mass violence that occurred from 1965 met the criteria of crimes against humanity. Those who opposed it argue that the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) started everything, and similarly to Djoko, that the killings were “necessary to save this country”.

I do not intend to exaggerate the Komnas HAM report; there’s nothing new about it. It’s something we’ve already known for so long that millions of people were killed and detained systematically throughout Indonesia.

It is not about the tragic events per se, but the fact that this is the first official report and acknowledgement of injustices that happened in the past to a large number of Indonesian citizens.

The President responded quite positively, saying there would be an investigation to follow up the report. Therefore, it seemed very awkward and strange when his aide defied his policy by rejecting the report.

The argument denying such human rights violations goes further by proposing hypothetical questions: What if the PKI had won? What if they ruled this country? Wouldn’t it have been the Muslims who were slaughtered? Wouldn’t we have become a communist state?

First, the founding fathers made it clear when declaring Indonesia’s independence — and it is explicitly stipulated in the Constitution — that this country stands on the rule of law. Any acts against the law, including those who commit violence, shall face justice according to the law.

The violence PKI perpetrated in the past should have been resolved through legal and judicial mechanisms, rather than persecution of its members and those who were suspected of being communists.

Second, the killings are about abuse of power and the role of the state. The state is responsible for protecting its citizens.

When the state exercises its power and deploys apparatus to harm citizens, the state obviously commits violence and thus should be held accountable for that.

It is very simple logic, yet many states deny their roles in crimes and refuse to bear any responsibility. In the Indonesian context, this type of state condones perpetrators who commit violence because they know they can do so with impunity.

Third, to put it in a bigger context, Indonesia is part of the world system. Ever since the UN adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, human rights have been adopted as an international concern, requiring all member states to respect and protect human rights.

Moreover, we definitely cannot detach the context of the tragedy from the ideological war between the East and West at that time.

Had the PKI ruled this country then, it would not have lasted for long because, as happened to other countries in Asia, western countries would not just stand idly by. Documents have shown that the US acted to prevent communism from flourishing. That is exactly why the whole story of this tragedy occurred in the first place. So why bother proposing the hypothesis?

All is said and done. And here we are still debating our history almost five decades after the tragedy took place. We once hoped for truth through a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), minus amnesties of course.

Now, we don’t know what will happen to the new TRC draft since it was no longer in the 2012 list of proposed legislation in the House of Representatives. Shall we wait for another five decades until truth and justice prevails?

For our President, five decades can be another justification for not doing anything, considering that he only has two more years left to lead this country.


Footnote: This opinion article was displayed in an online newspaper, The Jakarta Post, in Jakarta, Indonesia: Saturday, 27th October 2012. In the paper edition, it was printed in page:7 and for searching the full text in online, it is available also at: [accessed in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia: 30th October 2012].

The writer is a PhD researcher at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, Australia.



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