'Front Pancasila' activists protest against a national symposium on the 1965-66 massacre held in Jakarta on Monday (18/04). (Antara Photo/Rivan Awal Lingga)

Tensions Flare at Jakarta Discussion on 1965-66 Massacres

BY :JAKARTA GLOBE

APRIL 18, 2016

Jakarta. Tensions flared during a discussion on Indonesia's 1965-66 anti-communist purges on Monday (18/04), with the major point of contention revolving around how the government should address what has been dubbed the worst mass killing of the 20th century.

The military-backed massacre resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands of suspected communist sympathizers across that archipelago and saw millions more imprisoned without trial.

More than 200 people, ranging from senior government officials, retired generals, academics, human rights activists, and survivors of the massacres gathered for the two-day National Symposium on the 1965 Tragedy in Central Jakarta.

"This symposium will hopefully put an end to the 50-year-old controversy [on what happened in 1965]," chief organizer Suryo Susilo said in a statement. He said the discussion would try to reveal what happened from all perspectives, including those of the survivors and those accused of orchestrating the killing.

"It is now time to dissect all [the different views] together," Suryo said. "So we can view the past proportionally [...] A great nation must formulate ways to move on based on truth and justice."

President Joko Widodo has promised to resolve past cases of gross human rights abuses, including the 1965-66 massacre, but activists pointed out that the so-called reconciliation efforts his administration are seeking could derail that promise and provide yet further impunity to the perpetrators in the tragedy.

Joko's administration has also refused to issue a formal apology for the millions of people imprisoned for years without trial simply for being suspected of sympathizing with the now defunct Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) and for the countless cases of discrimination they have had to endure upon their release.

During the discussion, Coordinating Legal and Security Minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan defended the government's move to settle the case out of court, saying that prosecuting people responsible for the killings, some of whom are now the country's top political elites, "is not easy." "But the government realizes that we need to resolve past human rights cases. We see the 1965 tragedy as a gateway to resolving other cases," he said, as quoted by Tempo.co.

Luhut praised the importance of this week's discussion, promising that the event would not suffer the same fate as countless other discussions and movie screenings that have been forcibly banned due to security concerns and "pressure from members of the public."

Luhut also downplayed the scale of the massacre, which according to some estimates resulted in the death of between 500,000 and 1 million people.

"There weren't that many victims," the minister said.

Retired general, Sintong Panjaitan, who was a member of the Army's Commando Regiment (RPKAD) in 1965, tasked with hunting down PKI leaders, also disputed the figure saying that only 80,000 people were killed.

"It's true that the RPKAD was deployed to Central Java and that we were assisted by [the Muslim groups] Ansor Youth and Muhammadiyah. But we were only after [PKI] figureheads," he told the same discussion, as quoted by Antara news agency. The retired general claimed that those who were not communist leaders were released.

The remark was immediately met with jeers from activists and survivors of the tragedy.

Human rights lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis said disagreement over the true number of casualties must not overshadow the fact that such atrocity did occur.

Todung also highlighted the fact that many people fled the country in fear of being targeted, while students sent abroad to study by former President Sukarno, a socialist, were barred from returning to the country for years. Millions of former prisoners and their families also endured discrimination and were prevented from holding certain jobs.

"These are gross human rights violations," he said, as quoted by Tempo. "It doesn't matter that [the case] is resolved through judicial process or not, history will be history. The truth must be revealed and then we can talk about reconciliation, rehabilitation or compensation."

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