Indonesia: President’s apology for past rights violations a ‘step on the long road to justice’

Indonesia: President’s apology for past rights violations a ‘step on the long road to justice’

President Joko Widodo reportedly acknowledged “gross human rights violations” during his country’s past, and expressed regret for a dozen past incidents, stretching back more than 50 years.

These included the 1965-1966 anti-Communist crackdown, the 1982-1985 protester shootings, enforced disappearances in 1997 and 1998, and the Wamena Incident in Papua in 2003.

“I strongly regret that those violations occurred”, he said on Wednesday.

“The President’s gesture is a step on the long road to justice for victims and their loved ones”, Liz Throssell, Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told journalists at a regular press briefing in Geneva.

Historical outrage

An estimated half a million people were killed in the anti-Communist crackdown of the 1960s and scores of pro-reform protesters lost their lives in killings during the 1980s, she said. 

The violence was unleashed after communists were accused of killing six generals in an attempted coup amid a struggle for power between Communists, the military and Islamist groups, according to news reports.

Mr. Widodo is reportedly the second Indonesian president to publicly admit the 1960s bloodshed, after the late Abdurrahman Wahid’s public apology in 2000.

Moving forward

The President’s statement came as a result of findings by the Team for the Non-Judicial Resolution of Past Serious Human Rights Violations, which he commissioned last year, fulfilling an election promise from 2014.

“We hope the report will be made public to encourage discussion and debate”, said Ms. Throssell.

While noting that the President’s statement “does not preclude further judicial action and commits to reforms that should guarantee non-recurrence”, OHCHR also urged the authorities to build on the “tangible steps” taken, in order to “take forward a meaningful, inclusive and participatory transitional justice process”.

The OHCHR Spokesperson said this needed to include “guaranteeing truth, justice, reparations and non-recurrence to victims and affected communities, including victims of conflict-related sexual violence.”

She added that a full transitional justice process “will help to break the decades-long cycle of impunity, advance national healing, and strengthen Indonesia’s democracy.”

Click here to watch the press briefing in its entirety.

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