RECENT NEWS RELATED TO THE FIFTH COMMEMORATION OF
THE TRAGIC MAY RIOT 1998 IN INDONESIA
The following recent articles are compiled by CCEVI. These articles show that despite ongoing effort to pursue justice for the victims of May 1998 riot in Indonesia, the result is far from satisfying.
We are indebted to the May victims
Opinion and Editorial – May 12, 2003, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
Today, the families and the civitas academica of the Trisakti University will hold the fifth commemoration of the heroic death of four Trisakti students on May 12, 1998. Soeharto quit just nine days after Elang Mulya, Hafidhin Royan, Hendriawan Lesmana, and Herry Hartanto lost their lives in their peaceful struggle to end Soeharto’s 31-year dictatorship. Anti-riot troops opened fire on the students as they were retreating to their campus in West Jakarta as demanded by the security forces.
Also this week, the families, friends and relatives of the victims of the bloody riots in a number of cities on May 13-14, which followed the above shootings, may also pray for their loved ones who lost their lives in the national tragedy. According to the official result of a government-appointed fact finding team, at least 66 women, mainly Chinese-Indonesians, were raped during the riots, and many others were sexually harassed. Scores of Chinese-Indonesians have since fled the land of their birth in fear of more barbarism.
Hundreds of people, including youngsters were burned alive, trapped in burning shopping centers. Many had been provoked to loot shops, supermarkets and malls. Most of them could not be identified, and without enough evidence, the government branded all of the victims as looters.
The mourning families can likely hope for little from the state to find and punish those responsible for the tragedy; none of the findings of the above team have been followed up on. Last week, the National Commission for Human Rights announced that the case would be re-opened.
Yet the House of Representatives (DPR) has concluded that the May riots were normal crimes — and had nothing to do with human rights violations.
Many of our top politicians, from President Megawati Soekarnoputri to the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) Speaker Amien Rais would not be in their current positions had it not been for the victims and the students across the country who had bravely risked their lives to end Soeharto’s rule.
Most of the major political parties, excluding Soeharto’s former party Golkar, would also not be in power without the sacrifice of the students and others who will remain unknown. But what have they, including Megawati and Amien, done as an expression of their gratitude for these forgotten heroes? They have hardly even bothered to offer lip service.
After five years, the students’ parents have yet to see justice done for the parties responsible for their children’s murder. Every year, before the commemoration of the Trisakti tragedy and the fall of Soeharto in May, the Attorney General’s Office, the Indonesian Military (TNI) and the National Police repeat their mantra on why they have not been able to accomplish their mission to uphold justice.
We have had three presidents since May 1998, but none of them have been able to show even a little progress to reveal the mystery of the May tragedy. Former president B.J. Habibie declared the four dead students heroes of reformasi (reform) without being able to find their killers. He promised to investigate the cases of the dead alleged looters, as well as those for rape and sexual assault. His promises never came to anything.
His successor Abdurrahman Wahid also could not do much. However, he deserves praise for his strong commitment to reinvestigating and re-opening the mystery of the alleged coup attempt by the Indonesian Communist Party in 1965, in which hundreds of thousands of people were killed, and which led to the succession from Megawati’s father Sukarno to Soeharto in 1967.
Abdurrahman was hampered at every turn by certain parties, but at least he had shown that we are obliged to probe and settle the dark pages of our history.
How about Megawati? We would be wrong to expect her to do anything regarding the May riots — given that she does not even seem to care about the fate of her own supporters who sacrificed their lives to defend their her, their idol, during the July 27 massacre in 1996. She has even promoted those believed responsible for the casualties in the violent takeover of her party headquarters, most notably, the incumbent Jakarta Governor Lt. Gen. (ret.) Sutiyoso.
The nation owes it to the four students and to all the people who have risked their lives and position to bring democracy to our country. Without any intention for revenge, the case of May 1998 must not remain covered up. Yet the facts are bitter. The state is not able, or not willing, to protect its own citizens from injustice. Nevertheless, we believe the fighting spirit of the four martyrs remains and that their death will not merely become a trivia question in our history.
May riot victims yearn for justice after five years
Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
City News – May 13, 2003
Five years is not enough to heal the wounds of the victims of the May 13 and May 14 riots, which paralyzed the capital and other cities and took more than 1,200 lives across the country, as no one has been named a suspect nor has anyone been held responsible for the tragedy.
Although the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) has investigated into the tragedy, has concluded that the state had violated the people’s rights and has declared that it would bring the perpetrators to court, the victims are skeptical.
Santi Parhusip, who was sexually assaulted by a group of men wearing long-sleeved shirts while trying to save her father’s shop in Perniagaan market, West Jakarta, from looters and fire, said she was not optimistic that there would ever be a trial.
“We’ve seen three presidents in the last five years, but we have never heard a formal apology made to the victims. Without the political will of the government, Komnas HAM’s work would come to nothing,” she said on Monday.
Santi, who now works for the Indonesian Justice Fellowship (JFI), which advocates for the victims of violations by the state, including the 1965 massacres, spoke at a discussion on seeking justice for victims of the May riots.
The skepticism is not without reason. Although Komnas HAM has yet to summon military officers in charge of security at that time, the military’s legal officials have already declared that none of the officers would appear.
In the two-day nightmare — which followed the shooting of four Trisakti University students who were taking part in a nationwide rally to demand the resignation of authoritarian ruler Soeharto — hundreds of shops, shopping centers and homes were looted and set ablaze.
No state security officers were around to prevent the crimes, except for those hired by business owners to guard their assets before the rampage even started. This peculiar fact strengthened the suspicions of many that the riots were part of a conspiracy among those in power to quash the people’s movement.
Soeharto eventually resigned on May 21 and was succeeded by his vice president, B.J. Habibie.
The riots, which were fueled by anti-Chinese sentiment, claimed a total of 1,217 lives, according to the V
olunteer Team for Humanity.
The tally was confirmed by a fact-finding team led by former Komnas HAM deputy chairman Marzuki Darusman. The team also discovered that at least 66 women, mostly of Chinese ethnicity, were raped.
Although the team submitted the findings to Habibie’s administration, no measures were taken.
It was during the 2001 World Conference Against Racism in South Africa that Minister of Justice and Human Rights Yusril Ihza Mahendra admitted that the May riots was a violation of human rights.
The same year, the House of Representatives halted its inquiry into who should be held responsible in the Trisakti shootings, arguing that the riots that ensued — which also took place in Medan and Surakarta — were not connected to the incident.
The House later concluded that there was no case of human rights violations in the Trisakti shootings or in two similar incidents involving security forces shooting at student demonstrators and civilians near the Semanggi cloverleaf on Nov. 13, 1998 and Sept. 24, 1999.