Indonesian President Joko Widodo “regrets” past human rights abuses

the main points
  • The Indonesian president expressed his “deep regret” for killing 500,000 people in the mid-sixties.
  • The violence began in late 1965 when the army launched a purge of communists who it said were planning a coup.
  • Joko Widodo pledged to compensate the victims and their families and vowed that this would not happen again in the future.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo has expressed deep regret over the massive human rights abuses during the nation’s tumultuous post-colonial past, going back to the mass killings of suspected communists and sympathizers in the mid-1960s.
At least 500,000 people were killed, according to some historians and activists, in violence that began in late 1965 when the military launched a purge of communists it said were planning a coup.

A million or more people were imprisoned during the crackdown on suspicion of being communists, and in 1967 General Suharto overthrew President Sukarno, leader of Indonesia’s independence, and went on to rule the world’s largest Muslim-majority country for three decades.

Widodo, better known as Jokowi, recently received a report from a team he had assigned last year to investigate Indonesia’s bloody history, after he promised to take up the issue when he first came to power in 2014.
He cited 11 other human rights incidents, spanning between 1965 and 2003, including killings and kidnappings of students blamed on security forces during protests against Suharto’s authoritarianism in the late 1990s.
“As a head of state, I acknowledge that there have been massive human rights violations in many incidents,” said Mr. Widodo.
I deeply regret that these violations occurred.”

About 1,200 people were also killed during riots in 1998 that often targeted the Chinese community, a minority sometimes resented for its perceived wealth.

Jokowi said the government would seek to restore the rights of the victims “justly and judiciously without annulling the judicial decision,” but did not specify how.
He also cited human rights abuses in the restive Papua region and during the insurgency in Aceh province.
Victims, their relatives, and rights groups have questioned whether Jokowi’s government is serious about holding anyone accountable for past atrocities.

Rights activists point out that the attorney general’s office, which is tasked with investigating rights violations, has often dismissed such cases.

“For me … what is important is that the president gives assurances that gross violations of rights will not happen in the future by prosecuting suspected perpetrators in court,” said retired civil servant Maria Catarina Somarcié, whose son Wawan was shot dead in 1998. while helping an injured student.

Othman Hamid of Amnesty International said that victims should receive compensation and that serious crimes that occurred in the past should be resolved “through judicial means”.

Winarso, coordinator of a group caring for survivors of the 1965 bloodshed, said that while the president’s confession was insufficient it could open up space for discussion about the massacres.
“If President Jokowi is serious about past human rights abuses, he should first order a government effort to investigate these mass killings, to document the mass graves and find their families, to match the graves to their families, and also to create “.

Jokowi’s administration has faced criticism over its commitment to human rights after parliament last month approved a controversial criminal law that critics say undermines civil liberties.

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