Yogyakarta/Solo. The national commission for women's protection has called on the government to acknowledge as a national tragedy the mass rape of ethnic Chinese women during the May 1998 riots that preceded the downfall of the late strongman Suharto.
"The victims and families just need the government's affirmation that rape and violence against women on a massive scale occurred 17 years ago, and that most of the victims never got justice," Yuniyanti Chuzaifah, the chairwoman of the National Commission on Violence Against Women, or Komnas Perempuan, told the Jakarta Globe in Yogyakarta over the weekend.
"Let the people today know and recognize it. Never conceal or forget, as we need to learn from the past."
Yuniyanti said she supported Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama's plan to build a memorial in the Pondok Rangon cemetery, as well as a move by Mayor F.X. Hadi Rudyatmo of Solo, Central Java, to conserve Purwoloyo cemetery. Both sites are the final resting places of victims of the outbreak of violence that tore mainly through Jakarta, Solo and Medan, North Sumatra, in early and mid-May 1998 and that targeted primarily Indonesia's ethnic Chinese community.
The rights commissioner said she was worried that this dark chapter in the country's part would eventually be glossed over as part of the price that had to be paid to force Suharto from power, and not as a series of serious human rights violations that warranted its own investigation.
A fact-finding team set up by the government later recorded at least 85 instances of sexual violence targeting ethnic Chinese women during the episode, although independent observers have put the true figure at closer to 500.
The mobs responsible also looted and torched ethnic-Chinese-owned businesses and homes.
Thousands of Chinese-Indonesians fled the country in the wake of the violence, and while many returned, it was to a life that was markedly subdued than before.
Sumartono Hadinoto, a prominent Solo resident and community organizer whose businesses were targeted in the rioting, said that he and other families preferred to forget the tragedy, but acknowledged the need to recognize what happened.
"I and most of the other victims wish we could erase our memory of the tragedy. Remembering the rape and violence will mire the families in misery and despair, and won't give them back their previous lives," he said.