A step back in democratic development


Matt Easton: We have tired of violence

A true story of murder, and the fight for justice in Indonesia. The New Press, New York, London, 2022.

This factual and non-fiction story gives all the details on the murder of Munir in 2004. Very pleasant reading if it were'nt so realistic!

Drawing on interviews, court observations, leaked documents and police files, this book uncovers the dramatic murder plot and the titanic struggle to bring the perpetrators of Munir's death to justice. A powerful work of narrative nonfiction, We Have Tired of Violence tells the story of a shocking crime that serves as a window into a nation struggling to shake off a terrible legacy.  

The concept of "statute of limitations" is wellknown and well-accepted in nearly all legal systems around the world. The more serious a crime the longer the period that prosecution can be implemented. For murder this period is 18 years. Only serious human riths violations such as crimes against humanity cannot be limited in time. That is the reason this this seemingly formal condition is so decisive.

The murder of human rights defender Munir is a serious human rights violation, said Amnesty International this morning at a meeting commemorating that Munir died 18 years ago. “All evidence is available that this was an attack against  a human rights defender such as Munir.

Matt Easton: We have tired of violence. The New Press, New York – London. 2022.

The sad history of the murder of human rights activist Munir Said Thalib in 2004 has now been documented in this book by human rights expert Matt Easton. The impunity since that moment, 2004, is an example of how in Indonesia those in power remain out of reach for accountability.

This book is a monument, a monument for human rights commitment of the persons described in it, a monument for the victim, Munir, and a monument for the perseverance of those around him to get justice done. During the past 18 years the friends of Munir have tried all legal ways to have all those responsible to account for their deeds in court. The book is the more impressive as we know beforehand that all legal experts, Indonesian and foreign, who tried to turn the line of history, did not succeed.

To be murdered without accountability has turned into a new vocabulary. In Indonesia people call it “dimunirkan” – to be murdered before the eyes of all involved without repercussions. It is also an example of how a “puppeteer”, “dalang” in Bahasa Indonesia, is known but not responsible. With the 2024 presidential elections coming near it is also good to be aware that the history of Munir’s impunity took place under different presidential leadership, from Megawati, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to Djoko “Jokowi” Widodo. The rise of dynasties in Indonesian politics may draw lines of being dependent into the next generation. The book is limited to the legal saga and leaves the analysis of power relations to a further unravelling.

Aspinall, Edward and Ward Berenschot: Democracy for sale : elections, clientelism, and the state in Indonesia. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 2019

Democracy for Sale is an on-the-ground account of Indonesian democracy, analyzing its election campaigns and behind-the-scenes machinations. Edward Aspinall and Ward Berenschot assess the informal networks and political strategies that shape access to power and privilege in the messy political environment of contemporary Indonesia.

With this book Andreaas Harsono presents an in-depth analysis of regional differences throughout Indonesia, based on religious and ethnic tensions. Early in the first decade of the 21st century the idea came up that after the fall of President Suharto in 1998, long suppressed causes might show that unity is not such an Indonesian feature after all. Harsono has aimed at writing a travelogue combined with inspiring background reading and personal interviews in 7 provinces. 

In each of them he has selected one or two violent ethnic "incidents", some quite recent (a 2008 meeting with Filep Karma in Abepura), some from the early years of Indonesia's independence (the 1950's Permesta in Sulawesi), that give an insight in the continuity of the ethnic, racial and religious tensions. Another feature that  returns in nearly all regional analyses is the role of militias during the struggles for power. 

The long-term perspective Harsono applies by his backgaround reading has a great advantage of more deliberate comparison throughout times and regions. He quotes the late LIPI (Indonesian Academy of Sciences) researcher, Muridan Widjojo as saying "If it was possible to negotiate a resolution in Aceh, then it is possible to negotiate on Papua". In hindsight one may doubt whether the costs (sharia legislation in Aceh and mining profits in Papua) do find an even balance. Food for thought.

Harsono is well-known for his independent views. During the presentation of the book in Leiden, the Netherlands, in May 2019, he told how people in Aceh had called him "a Javanese puppet", while in Java he was called "a Chinese dog".  Indonesia still has a long way to go before it achieves real "unity in diversity". Harsono's analysis is a very useful contribution.

killing season 9780691161389The Killing Season explores one of the largest and swiftest, yet least examined, instances of mass killing and incarceration in the twentieth century—the shocking antileftist purge that gripped Indonesia in 1965–66, leaving some five hundred thousand people dead and more than a million others in detention.

An expert in modern Indonesian history, genocide, and human rights, Geoffrey Robinson sets out to account for this violence and to end the troubling silence surrounding it. In doing so, he sheds new light on broad and enduring historical questions. How do we account for instances of systematic mass killing and detention? Why are some of these crimes remembered and punished, while others are forgotten? What are the social and political ramifications of such acts and such silence?

Challenging conventional narratives of the mass violence of 1965–66 as arising spontaneously from religious and social conflicts, Robinson argues convincingly that it was instead the product of a deliberate campaign, led by the Indonesian Army. He also details the critical role played by the United States, Britain, and other major powers in facilitating mass murder and incarceration. Robinson concludes by probing the disturbing long-term consequences of the violence for millions of survivors and Indonesian society as a whole.

Based on a rich body of primary and secondary sources, The Killing Season is the definitive account of a pivotal period in Indonesian history. It also makes a powerful contribution to wider debates about the dynamics and legacies of mass killing, incarceration, and genocide.


Geoffrey B. Robinson is professor of history at the University of California, Los Angeles. His books include The Dark Side of Paradise: Political Violence in Bali and “If You Leave Us Here, We Will Die”: How Genocide Was Stopped in East Timor (Princeton). Before coming to UCLA, he worked for six years at Amnesty International’s Research Department in London. Robinson lives in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter.

Newly Declassified U.S. Embassy Jakarta Files Detail Army Killings, U.S. support for Quashing Leftist Labor Movement

Washington, D.C., October 17, 2017 - The U.S. government had detailed knowledge that the Indonesian Army was conducting a campaign of mass murder against the country’s Communist Party (PKI) starting in 1965, according to newly declassified documents posted today by the National Security Archive at The George Washington University.  The new materials further show that diplomats in the Jakarta Embassy kept a record of which PKI leaders were being executed, and that U.S. officials actively supported Indonesian Army efforts to destroy the country’s left-leaning labor movement.

suharto 1965

The 39 documents made available today come from a collection of nearly 30,000 pages of files constituting much of the daily record of the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, from 1964-1968. The collection, much of it formerly classified, was processed by the National Declassification Center in response to growing public interest in the remaining U.S. documents concerning the mass killings of 1965-1966.  American and Indonesian human rights and freedom of information activists, filmmakers, as well as a group of U.S. Senators led by Tom Udall (D-NM), had called for the materials to be made public.

Book Reviewsoe tjen marching end of silence

Soe Tjen Marching: The End of Silence, Accounts of the 1965 Genocide in Indonesia. Amsterdam University Press BV, Amsterdam, 2017.

How could one better commemorate the victims of the human rights violations of 1965/66 and the years after (up till now), than by reading their accounts that have been gathered over the last few years by Soe Tjen Marching. The book has been structured according to the distance from the factual abuses in 1965: the oral history by victims themselves, their wives, their children and finally even their grandchildren. That makes very clear that the violations still continue in third generation taboo and discrimination.

The very informative introduction reveals the mechanism of using fear during the Orde Baru (1966-1998), that was one of the instruments Suharto used to stay in power. It still works today. In her introduction. Marching argues both with a detached scientific view and personal experiences. It makes clear why the fear still is there.

The victim’s accounts and those of their relatives are thus even the more courageous. But strangely enough they also make good reading. People become individuals with their own emotions and reflections. Very moving are the grandchildren of the forced labour prisoners on Buru, who were born in that exile. They end the silence in their families by adding an acronym to their name Svj (after one of the prisoners’ villages, Savanajaya). The man is proud to be born and raised in the exile of his grandfather.

It is difficult to choose one history as the most impressive. All have their own merits. The language is authentic and in no way sentimental. The photographs by Angus Nicholls do really add a dimension, to give a face to the story-teller. But also the other way round: they look into the lens and know they make themselves known to “the outside world”, and thus break the taboo for their fellow-survivors who not yet had the courage. As such this book is a monument for the author, a woman who has the courage to stand up even against the fear of her own mother, to end the silence. We can only hope that an Indonesian translation will make these accounts available to a broader Indonesian public soon. (Martha Meijer)

final reportIn a strong voice Judge Zak Yacoob spoke the words so many victims of the 1965 tragedy had been waiting for, for so long. The Verdict of the International People's Tribunal 1965 (IPT 1965) considers the State of Indonesia responsible for crimes against humanity committed in the period 1965/1966 and the years after. These crimes include killings, enslavement, imprisonment, torture, sexual violence, persecution, enforced disappearances and hate propaganda. The Verdict also considers foreign states, specifically USA, UK and Australia complicit of these crimes. The verdict notes that possibly those crimes can also be considered to fall within the definition of genocide. The report is available at: http://ultimus-online.com/index.php/toko-buku/terbitan-ultimus/product/160-final-report-ipt-1965.