ICTJ: The Struggle for Truth and Justice. A Survey of Transitional Justice Initiatives Throughout Indonesia by Hilmar Farid and Rikardo Simarmata, 2004.
On September 30, 1965, seven high-level Indonesian military officers were assassinated in an attempt to destabilize the country. General Soeharto took advantage of the ensuing chaos to overthrow President Soekarno. In order to insulate himself from opposition, Soeharto entrenched the military in the running of the country. The emergence of the military as essentially a “state within a state” was the beginning of systematic violence and human rights violations in the region. The military regime established power by eradicating one of the largest leftist movements in Asia, killing hundreds of thousands of people, and imprisoning tens of thousands in detention camps for more than 10 years. No one was held responsible for these horrifying crimes, and thus began the continuing impunity for abuses committed by the government and military. Soeharto’s New Order regime used terror and violence to control the people and oppress various social layers and sectors that opposed it.
The fall of Soeharto in May 1998 did not transform Indonesia into a democratic state. Political power largely remained in the hands of those who had been part of or supported the New Order, and the mechanical workings of the structure remained the same. The agenda of reformation, which the civil society opposition movement supported, seemed powerless to address the economic crisis and poverty. Communal conflicts broke out in numerous regions and created unprecedented chaos throughout Indonesia.
Similar to other countries experiencing the transition from authoritarianism to democracy, one major challenge was addressing the history of violence and legal impunity. The corrupt and ineffective judicial system made ineffectual efforts to bring violent perpetrators to justice. The new state leaders also evaded confrontation with the former authority elite and, as such, they never encouraged any investigation of past violence.
In the midst of this deadlock, the human rights movement and the victim community continued to develop various strategies and alternative frameworks to help people deal with past abuses. Such endeavors were widespread at the national and local levels, comprising efforts to disclose the truth, prosecute perpetrators, promote legal and institutional reform, provide support and other services to victims, and encourage peace and reconciliation.
Closely following such developments, the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) undertook a mapping exercise project on transitional justice in Indonesia. This initiative is intended to support the local and international civil society movements and the donor communities to develop appropriate strategies, avoid repetition, and achieve synergies. For the civil society movements, this exercise may promote ongoing dialogue in addressing the difficulties in the current transitional situation.