Todung Mulya Lubis, a prominent Indonesian lawyer and activist, is the chief prosecutor at the unofficial International People's Tribunal 1965 in The Hague. (Reuters Photo/Darren Whiteside)

As Lawyer Todung Leads Prosecution, Kalla Says Netherlands Not the Place for '1965' Tribunal


NOVEMBER 10, 2015

Jakarta. It is not appropriate for an activists' tribunal on the 1965-66 anti-communist violence in Indonesia to be organized in the Netherlands, Vice President Jusuf Kalla said on Tuesday, after other senior government officials had already dismissed the proceedings as irrelevant.

Asked how he felt about the International People's Tribunal 1965, Kalla admitted that he didn't know in detail what was going on in The Hague, but he stressed that Indonesia itself had also in the past been affected by human rights abuses committed by the Dutch.

The Netherlands ruled Indonesia for centuries and fought a bloody war to retain the colony after it declared independence in 1945, but the Dutch government has in recent years tried to make amends, for instance by apologizing for war crimes committed by its troops and paying damages to relatives of victims.

But Kalla said that when it comes to human rights abuses, the Dutch are not in a position to speak about Indonesia, proven by the fact that the government of the former colonial power even paid for acts of cruelty committed here.

"So, don't judge Indonesia," the vice president said at his office.

Netherlands-Indonesia ties

Separately, Hikmahanto Juwana, an international law professor from the University of Indonesia (UI) who is not afraid of controversy, said the Netherlands should be careful not to damage its good relationship with Indonesia.

"Even though the results of this trial mean nothing in legal terms and the [Indonesian] government can ignore them, they will spark controversy among the Indonesian public," Hikmahanto said. "This will have an impact on the ties between Indonesia and the Netherlands, which are currently good."

"The Dutch government shouldn't use double standards," the professor added. "When we're talking about atrocities committed by the Indonesian government it is willing to allow an event [like IPT 1965] to take place, but it's not ready [to do the same thing] when the [Dutch] state and its soldiers commit acts of cruelty."

However, other than the location of the event and the nationality of one among the panel of seven judges, Dutch involvement seems to be limited.

The government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte would likely have little to gain from such involvement, especially as it has in recent years tried hard to strengthen its relationship with Indonesia, including by boosting business ties.

No official court

The tribunal is being held from Wednesday till Friday in a former church in The Hague that is currently in use as a concert hall and is not an initiative by the Dutch government. In fact, no state has recognized the tribunal and its findings cannot be enforced anywhere.

The proceedings do follow those of a formal court -- with prosecutors and judges -- but it is a civil society initiative that, according to the IPT 1965's website, "operates outside the mechanisms of government and formal institutions like the United Nations."

The prominent Indonesia lawyer and activist Todung Mulya Lubis acts as the chief prosecutor. Other Indonesian activists and lawyers involved in the prosecution are Agustinus Agung Wijaya, Sri Suparyati, Antarini Arna, Uli Parulian Sihombing and Bahrain Makmun.

A statement on the tribunal's website says it is an initiative of the International People’s Tribunal 1965 Foundation, "which was set up in 2013 by a group of victims in exile and in Indonesia, as well as by human rights activists, intellectuals, artists, journalists and academics, and many other groups."

Valentina Sagala, a commissioner at the Indonesian NGO Women’s Institute and a member of the group behind the tribunal, stressed that it was not an attempt to indict anyone on criminal charges.

She said the tribunal’s outcome, expected to be presented next year at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, would not be legally binding, but would instead serve as a “moral verdict” so that the Indonesian government could formulate its own policies on addressing the massacres of half a century ago.

A difficult discussion

Indonesia's attorney general, H.M. Prasetyo also bristled at the fact that the tribunal was taking place outside the country.

“These are our own problems and we well solve them ourselves," Prasetyo was quoted as saying by Kompas on Tuesday. "There’s no need for involvement from other parties.”

Prasetyo has however repeatedly refused to launch an inquiry into findings of gross violations of human rights -- as detailed by the government's own National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) -- after a failed coup attempt that was pinned on the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI).

Key military leaders where killed in the alleged coup attempt, sparking a wave of violence against suspected communists across the country, which was supported by Western powers like the United States and heralded the start of Suharto's New Order regime.

Until today, however, it remains difficult to discuss the events of 1965-66 in Indonesia from the perspective of the victims and their relatives, or to question the official version of what happened.

At least 500,000, but possibly and more than a million people were killed, and many others were tortured, raped or sent to prison camps. The purges have always been presented as necessary to prevent a communist takeover.

Indonesian authorities recently threatened to close down a writers' festival in Bali if the organizers allowed discussions on 1965 and its aftermath.

Reporting by Novianti Setuningsih & Leonard A.L. Cahyoputra