Indonesian president acknowledges past human rights abuses
JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Wednesday admitted serious human rights violations had occurred across the country in recent decades and vowed to compensate victims and prevent such abuses from happening again in the future.
In televised comments, Widodo acknowledged “with a clear mind and sincere heart” a total of 12 incidents categorized as gross human rights violations that occurred from the northernmost province of Aceh to the easternmost province of Papua between the 1960s and early 2000s.
Widodo’s remarks came a day before Human Rights Watch was to release its annual world report on human rights conditions in more than 100 countries and territories.
“I deeply regret it,” Widodo said, flanked by Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Muhammad Mahfud and members of a group of academics, former military generals and activists that Widodo formed in August last year to seek non-judicial resolutions to help relieve the nation of its historical burdens.
The group aims to help support physical rehabilitation, social assistance, health care, scholarship and other aid for victims of violence — or their families — that mostly occurred under the dictator Suharto’s regime.
“We are trying to recover the rights of victims in a fair and wise manner, without negating a judicial settlement,” said Widodo, adding that he hopes the government’s efforts “can heal the wounds of the nation.”
Southeast Asia’s largest and most populous country has a long, checkered history on human rights that includes mass killings in 1965-1966, also known as the Indonesian communist purge. The killings and civil unrest primarily targeted members of the Indonesian Communist Party, known by its Indonesian acronym PKI.
Widodo also acknowledged the kidnapping and disappearance of anti-government activists between 1997-1998, which was later discovered to be the work of the Army’s Special Force Command, known as Kopassus, led at the time by Lt. Gen. Prabowo Subianto, who currently serves as Widodo’s defense minister.
Subianto was dismissed from military service for his role. After years in exile abroad, Subianto returned in 2004 to begin a political career.
Widodo also acknowledged a shooting campaign against criminals in Jakarta and other big cities between 1982-1985, the torture of suspected rebels in Aceh in 1988-1989, a deadly raid on an Islamic community in Lampung in 1989, the killing of students and anti-government protesters in 1998, anti-Chinese attacks and alleged mass rapes in Jakarta and other big cities in 1998, and deadly raids against civilians in Wasior and Wamena in Papua province between 2001-2003.
Human rights groups said they hoped Widodo’s move would not pave the way to close these cases or give impunity to their perpetrators.
“The protracted settlement of cases of past serious human rights violations has not only caused prolonged suffering for the victims, but has also become a stumbling block for national political reconciliation for the government,” the Asian Human Rights Commission said in a statement.
The group urged Widodo to continue to pursue truth and justice in all the cases.