It has been 16 years since Indonesia shook off Suharto’s authoritarian rule, which had lasted over three decades. Hundreds of people were killed in the violence that accompanied the implosion of the New Order regime. Countless women were raped. Many continue to carry scars that may never fade.
Among the first victims were Trisakti University students Elang Mulia Lesmana, 20; Heri Hertanto, 21; Hafidin Royan, 22; and Hendriawan Sie, 23. They were shot at with live ammunition by members of the security forces while protesting against the regime. The deaths of these unarmed activists sparked further protests, ultimately leading to the downfall of Suharto.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in August 2005 posthumously decorated the fallen protesters for their service to the nation. Rightly so. Yet friends and relatives of those who perished are still waiting for justice.
The National Commission for Human Rights (Komnas HAM) has few options, as it can carry out investigations but lacks the authority to bring suspects before a court.
So as long as the Attorney General’s Office remains unwilling or unable to get to the bottom of this case — a turning point in the nation’s history — the killers, just like the rapists, will have nothing to fear but their conscience.
As human rights activists allege, political interests may play a role in this official neglect. Indeed it may be easier for almost all of us to quietly move on and merely pay lip-service to justice.
But this nation did not, at great sacrifice, gain its independence from brutal colonial rule only to have its youths shot dead for standing up against the injustices of another oppressive regime.
Some forgive, others try to forget. But before the nation can truly move on, crimes as heinous as the ones committed in May 1998 must be resolved.