Jakarta. Mounting support to grant former president Suharto the official title of "national hero" has been rejected by the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims, or Kontras, saying the move strips justice for many victims of human rights abuses.
The plan sparked national debate this month after newly-elected Golkar Party chairman Setya Novanto promised he will do his best to secure the national hero title for Suharto — the founder of Golkar who ruled the country for 32 years — saying, “Suharto pioneered this country's development.”
Kontras coordinator Haris Azhar voiced his concerns that the former dictator must not be given a national hero title, saying it is inappropriate and contradicts justice.
“During Suharto's era, the state has been transformed into an effective machine with authoritarian character that ran the country with violence approaches, such as extermination, violent appropriation of natural resources, uniformity and [massive government] control, maintaining conflicts between citizens, violence against women, legal impasse, restricted press — even critical press was banned — and restricted political parties,” Haris said in Jakarta on Wednesday (25/05).
The rights group noted Suharto had abused civilian and political rights in 18 cases during his three authoritarian decades, including military operations in Aceh and Papua, mysterious shootings known as the "Petrus case" across the country from 1981 to 1984, the Trisakti Tragedy in May 1998 and most notably the anti-communist purges in 1965-66.
Violations of economic, social and cultural rights were also recorded in Suharto's list of abuse mostly comprised of deprivation of people's land, such as in Kedung Ombo, Yogyakarta, Bulukumba and Dongi in South Sulawesi.
Kontras data also showed Suharto misused the state budget to benefit himself through nine of his foundations which cost the country approximately $35 billion. In late 2015, one of Suharto's foundation, Supersemar, were asked to return $ 325 million to state after the supreme court found them guilty of misusing education funds for Suharto personal business.
“Somebody deserves national hero title if there were no disgraceful acts in his memoirs that could damage the value of the struggle. Suharto is a controversial figure,” Haris said.
He also pointed out that a People’s Consultative Assembly Decree (Tap MPR) released in 1998 declared that Suharto was involved in many corruptions cases.
“Suharto was never charged — it is not because he wasn't proven guilty, but the cases were shut down due to his worsening health,” said Haris.
Haris said if President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo approved the national hero title, it will be "an illegal amnesty" for the crimes and violations Suharto did in the past.
Suharto, nicknamed the “Smiling General” while president, died after a long illness in January 2008. He was brought down from power in 1998 by massive student-led protests after ruling the country for 32 years, during which time Indonesia was celebrated for its economic development. But dissent was muffled during his reign and many people disappeared when his family’s wealth and iron-fisted rule was questioned.
On May 23, Social Affairs Minister Khofifah Indar Parawansa said that the plan to bestow Suharto a national hero is still being discussed with the Titles, Decorations and Honors Council, led by the Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu.