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Issue #1729      May 4, 2016

Justice call

Observers of Indonesian politics over the past 50 years must have received a great surprise to read the story released by the Antara newspaper on April 25, 2016 that Indonesia is going to investigate human rights abuses committed by its military (TNI) and its police (POLRI) in West Papua and settling the crimes committed by the TNI in 1965 when the CIA helped it to overthrow the Sukarno government and replace it with the Suharto dictatorship.

A march on the opening of the Free West Papua Campaign office in the Netherlands.

Many will find it hard to believe Luhut Panjaitan, Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, is being serious when he makes this claim.

After its 24 year reign of genocide, terror and human rights abuses in East Timor, Indonesia refused to cooperate with the UN and the Timor-Leste Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR) when they attempted to bring the TNI and POLRI perpetrators to justice. It must be remembered that this illegal occupation caused the death of nearly a third of the East Timorese population.

In 1991, the TNI under the leadership of General Sintong Panjaitan , carried out a massacre of East Timorese at the Santa Cruz Cemetery in Dili. About 270 civilians were shot down by machine gun fire and other follow-up killings were carried out to wipe out observers. There was an international outcry and the Suharto dictatorship sacked Panjaitan. In 1994, while he was studying in the US, the mother of one of the victims of the massacre took out a civil court action against him. The finding was that Panjaitan should pay an amount of several million dollars to the estate of the deceased. He hurriedly left the US.

Neither the US nor the Indonesian government have taken action to apprehend him since.

West Papua has been occupied by Indonesia since 1962 when the US intervened in the then Dutch government’s decolonisation process to give the West Papuans their freedom. It is well known that the US intervention was carried out to purloin West Papua’s copper and gold. Today, the US corporation Freeport-McMoRan makes huge profits out of the gold and copper at West Papua’s Grasberg mine and that the taxes on the profits provide the Indonesian Republic with a sizeable part of its income. The TNI is hired by the corporation for “security” purposes.

West Papuans are understandably upset by the agreement between the corporation and the Indonesian government as they receive precious little out of the huge profits being made out of their resources.

Human rights observers estimate that at least 400,000 West Papuans have perished at the hands of the occupying TNI and POLRI and sickening, gross human rights abuses have occurred since 1962 and are still occurring. The crimes include torture, rape, evisceration, poisoning and extrajudicial killings of those who express the desire for independence. No attempt has ever been made to bring those responsible for these crimes to justice.

Following the CIA assisted overthrow of the Sukarno government in 1965, Amnesty International estimates that between 500,000 to a million people were slaughtered by the TNI and their civilian gangs. Some Indonesians tell us that the total number is nearer 3 million. This was one of the worst slaughters in the 20th century and is in the same league as the crimes committed by the Nazis or the Pol Pot regime. Some Indonesians claim that the rivers ran red.

To this date, no Indonesian government has sought to bring those responsible for this period of terrorism to justice.

The US Copenhagen-based film maker, Joshua Oppenheimer, has produced two documentaries about this period – The Act of Killing (2012) and The Look of Silence (2014). Both films include interviews with those who took part in the 1965 indiscriminate killing of Indonesians suspected of being left wing. Some even re-enacted how they went about killing their victims. What is obvious to the viewer is that these murderers are very proud of the crimes that they committed and that they had no fear of ever having to face justice for them.

What many do not realise is that CIA personnel in Indonesia gave lists of names of people to be eliminated to the TNI. This is a very shameful period of history – shameful to both those involved in the mass killings and the western leaders who were implicated or ignored what was happening.

If the statement by Luhut Panjaitan in the Antara report is true, then it should be welcomed. However, past history tells us that this might well be another ruse by an Indonesian government to shut up its critics and that little will come from it.

It is very disappointing that President Widodo has chosen Luhut Panjaitan, a former senior TNI officer, to have carriage of the portfolio that he does. Expecting such an officer to seriously pursue TNI alleged criminals is not very credible.

The only way for the victims of the TNI and POLRI to obtain justice is for this matter to be taken up by the International Criminal Court as were the mass murderers involved in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.

*Andrew (Andy) Alcock is Information Officer Australia East Timor Friendship Association

Next article – Royal Commission 25 years on – Repeal the laws

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