Killing Times: Indonesia grapples with legacy of government-organised mass murder

Jan 20, 2023
Joko Widodo

When is a purge a genocide? When a young Australian researcher finds solid evidence that’s long eluded international scholars, proving the minds of millions have been poisoned with lies.

Dr Jess Melvin is an award-winning academic at Sydney Uni. In 2018 she published The Army and the Indonesian Genocide using official Indonesian documents.

Her book – since released in Indonesian – conclusively showed that the mass slaughter across Indonesia of real or imagined Communists in 1965 and 66 was not an impulsive uprising of angry peasants, but government-organised mass murder.

Almost six decades after the mutilated bodies of at least half-a-million were thrown in rivers and shallow graves, relatives and friends of the victims have often been too frightened to speak. That’s because the official version has become embedded as the one truth ensuring all other accounts are heretical.

Now the deceived may find the courage to condemn as President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo has spoken: ‘With a clear mind and earnest heart, I as Indonesia’s head of state admit that gross human rights violations did happen in many occurrences. I have sympathy and empathy for the victims and their families.’

The apology follows recommendations made by a team he set up to look into severe cases of human rights violations and suggest non-judicial resolutions. There are 11 others, but the post-coup killings are the worst. Significantly he included West Papua where a prolonged and poorly reported insurgency continues.

In Indonesia the President’s statement has been getting applause, but the clappers forget that 23 years earlier the late fourth president Abdurrahman (Gus Dur) Wahid had already publicly apologised to victims and survivors of the massacres and detentions.

Some background:

During his 1945-1965 rule, founding president Soekarno ran an anti-imperialist Jakarta, Beijing, Pyongyang axis’ policy terrifying the West. When he started Konfrontasi with Malaya as the former British colony moved towards independence, Western strategists feared a second front would weaken the war in Vietnam.

Not all were on Soekarno’s side. The military imagined a peasants’ revolt as the Partai Komunis Indonesia (PKI) cracked its knuckles, so aroused the West. General Soeharto ousted Soekarno after the coup, consolidating his position by declaring martial law, banning free media and launched saturation promotion of only one narrative.

A crude film Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI (Treachery of G30S/PKI) was regularly telecast on the state channel TVRI. Viewing was compulsory at schools every October, though the graphic scenes would rate it R in the West.

Hundreds of thousands of intellectuals, artists and writers were exiled on remote Buru island for years. None faced court.

Although the coup is still officially labeled Communist, it was long suspected the military was involved, covertly aided by UK MI5 and US CIA operatives.

Following the putsch, a massive slaughter of real and imagined reds began. The army said the killings were spontaneous, driven by the people’s anger at the generals’ deaths. In reality soldiers were handing lists of suspects to civilian militias, and supplying machetes and guns to the vengeful.

A secret CIA report claimed the massacres ‘rank as one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century, along with the Soviet purges of the 1930s and the Nazi mass murders during the Second World War.

That didn’t concern Australian PM Harold Holt who told the New York Times: ‘With 500,000 to 1 million Communist sympathisers knocked off, I think it’s safe to assume a reorientation has taken place.’

In 2017 a US National Security Archive release of Jakarta Embassy papers showed diplomats ‘were documenting tens of thousands of killings by the military, paramilitary groups, and Muslim militias’.

Most visitors don’t know Bali’s sands are blood-soaked. The death squads were brutally active on the so-called isle of peace and harmony where Australians love to frolic. Few of the 80,000 victims, including women and children, were active PKI members but targeted in revenge killings often involving land and community disputes.

On the island of Flores, Catholic priests stood back while their parishioners were chopped and shot.

Overseas historians reckoned – but couldn’t prove – the slaughter was engineered by the military. That assumption is now concrete, thanks to Melvin collecting 3,000 pages of original army documents during a field trip to Aceh.

During the 2014 presidential campaign Widodo promised an investigation into the genocide. That was wiped from his agenda. Instead he’s been photographed watching and approving the ghastly film.

In 2012 a Komnas HAM ( the National Commission on Human Rights) report to the Attorney General recommended a full legal investigation to bring the perpetrators to account. The Attorney General refused, claiming ‘not enough evidence’.

“This is simply a lie,’ Melvin told this column. ‘I think it’s hard to see the President’s announcement as anything other than a cynical attempt to salvage his legacy ahead of next year’s general election.

‘He came to power with the promise of resolving Indonesia’s past human rights abuses and yet he has done very little in this regard. This latest announcement is further evidence of just how hollow these attempts have been.

‘My greatest concern is that the latest charade may actually make the situation more difficult for survivors. Similar promises were made in 2020 to provide ‘urgent assistance’ to civilian conflict victims in the province of Aceh (North Sumatra) but not a single rupiah has been received. (An intermittent independence campaign between 1976 and 2005 took an estimated 15,000 lives and displaced thousands. In 2006 the World Bank gave US $20 million to 1,724 ‘conflict affected villages.’)

‘If Jokowi is serious about salvaging his legacy, he should begin by accepting Komnas HAM’s recommendations and launch a judicial investigation into the events of 1965-66. At the same time, he should concentrate of ensuring that promised assistance is actually delivered to human rights victims and their families.’

(Some background info first appeared in Pearls & Irritations in 2020).

Indonesia: keeping the communist myths flying

Share and Enjoy !

Subscribe to John Menadue's Newsletter
Subscribe to John Menadue's Newsletter


Thank you for subscribing!