Is there any organized crime in Indonesia?

(Not) a political genocide

With a self-organized tribunal on the anti-communist massacres in Indonesia 50 years ago, survivors and activists want to urge the government in Jakarta to come to terms with the crimes
From Anett Keller

from the young world

Unpunished mass murder: In Indonesia, between 500,000 and three million people were murdered by the military and militiamen in 1965 and in the following years when Suharto came to power (an alleged communist sympathizer is taken away by soldiers, no date)
Photo: picture alliance / UPI
Anett Keller is a freelance journalist.

In mid-November in the Nieuwe Kerk in The Hague: under high windows, chandeliers and a carved wooden altar, four women and four men sit at long tables covered with black cloths. They are the judges of the "International Tribunal of the Nations 1965" (IPT 1965), an illustrious group that meets here for four days, from November 10th to 13th. Geoffrey Nice is among them, accuser of Slobodan Milosevic before the "International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia". The Australian Helen Jarvis, Indonesia and Cambodia expert and Vice President of the "Permanent People's Tribunal". The Iranian lawyer and women's rights activist Shadi Sadr, who was awarded the "International Women of Courage Award" in 2010. The former South African constitutional judge Zak Yacoob holds the presidency. The team of plaintiffs, led by the Indonesian star lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis, is supported by the German lawyer Silke Studzinsky, who, as an attorney for the secondary prosecution at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal in Cambodia, ensured that gender-specific aspects of violence were also taken into account.

Model of the Russell Tribunal
The indictment, which will be read on November 10th, the first day of the tribunal, is crimes against humanity and violation of customary international law. The survivors who testify here are victims of one of the greatest crimes of the 20th century: In Indonesia, between 500,000 and three million people were murdered by the military and militiamen in 1965 and in the following years when dictator Suharto came to power. Hundreds of thousands more were arrested, tortured and abused as forced laborers - mostly without trial. The bloodbath was preceded by the kidnapping and murder of seven pro-Western military leaders by left-wing officers who had described themselves as the "September 30th Movement" (G 30 S). They feared a right-wing coup against President Sukarno and wanted to forestall it. With the amateurishly executed »rescue attempt«, G 30 S provided what the Canadian historian John Roosa called the »pretext for mass murder« 1, the template for the counterrevolution by Lieutenant General Suharto, who for the next 32 years - actively supported by the USA and its allies - established its regime in Indonesia.

The 1965 IPT indictment names nine crimes: murder, enslavement, imprisonment, torture, sexual violence, persecution, enforced disappearance, persecution through propaganda and complicity of other states (namely the USA, Great Britain and Australia).

There has so far been no legal appraisal of the crimes of 1965 and the following years in Indonesia. There are laws to protect human rights. The “National Human Rights Commission” stated in a comprehensive report in 2012 that the acts of violence of 1965 constitute crimes against humanity and that the military is responsible for them. But the attorney general, whose job it would have been to initiate investigations since then, keeps returning the report because of alleged formal errors.

That is why the activists and lawyers, coordinated by the Indonesian human rights lawyer Nursyahbani Katjasungkana, simulate a court hearing with the IPT in 1965. The model is the "Russell Tribunal" of 1967, at which the US was indicted for war crimes in Vietnam. It found numerous successors in the 1970s and is continued today by the Permanent People's Tribunal. As an initiative of activists and those affected, the IPT 1965 can of course not pass legally binding judgments. Rather, the aim is to bring the crimes committed to the public and to put pressure on those politically responsible. The dock remains empty. There is also no defense. Again and again the judges ask whether representatives of the Indonesian government are present and want to speak. For four days. Nobody answers.

Mass murder on the left
Before 1965, the young Republic of Indonesia had the “Partai Komunis Indonesia” (PKI), the third largest communist party in the world. In terms of foreign policy, President Sukarno initially pursued the “Third Way” - Indonesia was one of the founding members of the non-aligned movement. The domestic political concept of the charismatic Sukarno was called Nasakom, an acronym formed from nationalism, religion and communism. But Sukarno's leadership of the heterogeneous alliance, composed accordingly, was increasingly slipping away from him. A land reform law enacted in 1960 was torpedoed to the best of their ability by those whose property it curtailed, so that angry peasants eventually forcibly occupied land, leading to high levels of conflict in society. The PKI, but also farmers' associations and unions, were very popular. In terms of foreign policy, Sukarno turned the West against him with the nationalization of companies and increasing rapprochement with China. US Ambassador Howard Jones informed the State Department in March 1965 that a failed coup attempt by the PKI was "the most effective way of reversing the political trend."

The "reversal" was not long in coming. Suharto's seizure of power brought Indonesia back into the capitalist camp. Although the "red threat" was practically "banished" by the complete smashing of the left, Suharto kept the "specter of communism" alive for three decades. In school books, state-commissioned films, in monuments and in the speeches of military leaders, the population was warned of the alleged godlessness and violence of the communists. The victims were turned into perpetrators and continued to be dehumanized.

Shocking testimonies

The “International Tribunal 1965” meets in the Nieuwe Kerk in The Hague. The charge is crimes against humanity and violation of customary international law. The term "political genocide", however, was not included in the indictment
Photo: International People's Tribunal Media
The survivors of the anti-communist violence came from Indonesia especially for the tribunal. They are old. In The Hague, they met Indonesians in exile who were abroad in 1965 and were expatriated because they were considered enemies of the state. They have all waited a long time for this day when they will report publicly in front of plaintiffs and judges and the public via video conference in several countries about the crimes committed against them.

The anonymous witness, who sits behind a black curtain for security reasons, was 21 years old when he was arrested in 1965. The regime held him prisoner for 14 years, nine of them on the prisoner island of Buru (Moluccas). He reports torture and forced labor. About how the prisoners had to build barracks, create canals and cultivate land. About how they ate rats, lizards and snakes to survive. In August 1969, the first of a total of 12,000 prisoners were brought to the island of Buru by ship. Among them was Indonesia's best-known writer, Pramoedya Ananta Toer, who with his book "Silent Song of a Mute" 3 memorialized the prisoners in Buru. Among them were numerous teachers, artists, journalists - the Suharto regime feared their influence on society, which therefore sent them into exile, just as the Dutch colonial power had already done with their opponents. And it was Dutch scientists who helped the Suharto regime with psychological tests in 1965 and in the following years with the classification of prisoners, emphasizes the Indonesia and gender expert Saskia Wieringa, who helped organize the IPT in 1965 and testified as an expert witness.

There was also a special camp for women, Plantungan in Central Java, a former leprosy station. The women who were brought there from detention centers across the country from 1971 onwards have mostly been through severe torture and mass rapes by the military and militia. So did the survivor, who - also anonymously - testified during the tribunal. She had just started working as a teacher when she was arrested in 1966. “They undressed me and they made me stand on a table. I should admit that I am part of the political resistance. "No," I said. They set fire to my pubic hair. I called Jesus. It only made her angrier. You are an atheist, what are you talking about Jesus! They turned the table so that I fell off. They dragged me to the wall and hit me. "The witness has to interrupt her testimony again and again, a sob can be heard, then silence before she continues:" I was undressed again. Men held me and forced me to put their penises in my mouth. Then they pulled my hair and kicked my body. I passed out and only woke up in my cell. "

Mariana Amiruddin of Indonesia's "National Commission against Violence against Women" confirmed during the hearings at the IPT in 1965 that the testimony did not describe an isolated case. As early as 2007, the commission submitted a report to the government showing that a large number of women were victims of systematic sexual violence in 1965 and in the following years.4 The cruelty of the military and militias was primarily directed against members of the then most progressive women's organization in the country, » Gerwani «. Founded in 1950, the organization fought against polygamy and domestic violence, taught illiterate women to read and write, and founded kindergartens. The Gerwani women campaigned with farmers for land reforms, with trade unionists for workers' rights and were also well networked internationally, for example with the "International Democratic Women's Federation" in Berlin, the capital of the GDR. »Gerwani« had 1.5 million members in 1965, and the number is rising.5

The dirty hands of the USA
After the general murder by the "September 30th Movement", the military media spread the rumor that "Gerwani" women had cut off the generals' penises and gouged out their eyes and then danced naked around their corpses. This dehumanization campaign resulted in unimaginable cruelty towards Gerwani women and those who were believed to be. In doing so, the military and reactionary civil forces in the country eliminated the enemy who had long been a thorn in their side. “Persecution with the help of propaganda” reads point eight of the 1965 IPT annex. “Propaganda and hate speech were very systematic. The military controlled everything. Civilians had no room for expression. The result of the propaganda was a culture of fear. That is why we have included this as a separate charge, ”said Chief Prosecutor Todung Mulya Lubis. The evidence shows the role played by a psychological warfare, actively supported by Washington, that prepared the regime change in Indonesia and continued to be used afterwards.

Wijaya Herlambang is invited as an expert witness, who in his doctoral thesis examined the "cultural violence" 6 with which the Suharto regime legitimized itself. The American Guy Pauker played a decisive role in the history of the state. As an employee of the Rand Corporation, Pauker advised the Indonesian historian and later Minister of Education Nugroho Notosusanto on the writing of his book “The Coup Attempt of the September 30th Movement in Indonesia”, which became the main historical narrative of Suharto's “New Order.” 7 “It was the ›holy script‹ of the ›new order‹ and the basis for indoctrination of the entire population that communism must be expelled from Indonesian society, «Herlambang told the judges of the IPT in 1965. There is a clear connection between the culturally mediated Discrimination, marginalization and intimidation and the hatred and violence (including by civilians) directed against the left.

Library of Resistance
Nugroho Notosusanto's book formed the basis for the almost four-hour propaganda film »The Treason of the September 30th Movement«, which was broadcast on October 1st every year from 1984 until the end of the Suharto dictatorship and which is part of the curriculum for schoolchildren in elementary school was. Herlambang names other cultural products that were essential for the legitimacy of Suharto, such as the anti-communist Pancasila monument and the adjoining »Museum of the betrayal of the communists« in the south of the capital Jakarta, to which multitudes of school children still make pilgrimages today

In his book, Herlambang also refers to the long-term strategy of the USA, which from the 1950s onwards trained the Indonesian military and awarded scholarships to pro-Western intellectuals. 1950 saw the birth of the "Congress for Cultural Freedom" (CCF) in West Berlin, an anti-communist association of "liberal" artists and intellectuals who called for art and culture to be de-ideologized and financed by the CIA through the Ford Foundation. The CCF also played a decisive role in Indonesia in preparing the intellectual "elite" for the takeover under Suharto.

IMF is also there
During the 1965 IPT, the American historian Bradley Simpson provided further details on Washington's “Schützenhilfe”. “The greatest fear of Western governments was that the army would not crack down on the Communists,” said Simpson. Washington supported Suharto's military with weapons, communications equipment, medicine, food and cash. In return, at Washington's request, they ensured that the income from the companies nationalized by Indonesia ended up in Swiss bank accounts, i.e. withdrawn from the Sukarno government (which was still in office at the time). "A large part of the economic collapse was caused by the army itself, with the help of Western governments," Simpsons concludes. "The material we have shows sufficiently that Western governments actively supported the army in the massacres and that they did so knowing that the army was killing unarmed civilians in large numbers." He had viewed thousands of documents that have since been released and "not found a single statement from Western officials that there were too many murders."

After the PKI and all related organizations had been removed as the main obstacle to the reintegration of Indonesia into the western economic system, the "International Monetary Fund" (IMF) returned to Indonesia in 1966, this time without being confronted with mass protests as it was in the early 1960s. The "structural adjustment" of Indonesia consisted of new economic laws under the leadership of US-trained economists (the "Berkeley Mafia") and US consultants, which reopened Indonesia's lucrative raw materials sector to private investors. Suharto established his "development dictatorship", which lasted more than 30 years and with which the Federal Republic also maintained excellent relations (which, however, was not the subject of the tribunal's remarks) .10

The pattern of violence from 1965 continued, said Dianto Bachriadi of the Indonesian Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM). "If people resisted taking over land for government projects or private investors, they were branded as communists." However, the tribunal refrained from naming companies and individuals who have benefited or are benefiting from the Indonesian state's forcible enforcement of their economic interests .

A necessary step
This is one of the criticisms of Indonesian activists, especially since the chief prosecutor of the IPT 1965, Todung Mulya Lubis, is also a lawyer in the service of multinationals such as Exxon, Newmont and Freeport in Indonesia. Some activists in Indonesia who have long been dealing with the 1965 reappraisal also criticize the fact that the tribunal did not take enough time to build up a more stable chain of evidence. It was also criticized that the term "political genocide", which many historians were already using in connection with Indonesia and in 1965, did not find its way into the indictment, even though the debate about the previous exclusion of political persecution from the genocide criminal offense would provide new impetus can give.

In the end, one Indonesian activist sums up, the whole thing has to be seen as one of many steps.In fact, in Indonesia, many people are taking many small steps in grassroots initiatives, at universities, in artistic projects to anchor a culture of remembrance of the suffering of the victims of 1965 in society and to move the government to a policy of the past that a country that calls itself "democratic" would be appropriate.

The judges of the 1965 IPT came to the conclusion after four days that the material presented showed that serious human rights violations had taken place in Indonesia in 1965 and the following years. The military and police carried out these human rights violations "systematically and widespread" and encouraged them to do so. According to the judges, the "detailed and moving" testimony of victims and relatives as well as the evidence presented by experts are apparently "only the tip of the iceberg." After reviewing the extensive evidence, a judge’s verdict will take place in Geneva next year and will be presented to the United Nations.

"It's an exciting political theater, but what it will bring remains to be seen," was the sober conclusion of an expert witness. The fact that the tribunal took place on the soil of the former colonial power Holland was used by "old school" politicians in Indonesia to raise the mood against it. The Indonesians performing there would not think and act like Indonesians, said the coordinating minister for politics, law and security, Luhut Panjaitan. Attorney General HM Prasetyo said Indonesia knew best how to solve its problems.

Anyone familiar with such arguments should be reminded of what Der Spiegel once called a "sham trial against our country" in which "two dozen foreigners, including socialists and communists", were preparing to "condemn the Federal Republic". That was 1978. The occasion was the third Russell Tribunal, which the FRG had accused of the radical decree.


1 For more information on the "September 30th Movement", the political balance of power in Indonesia before and the "active foreign policy" of Western states in John Roosa: Pretext for mass murder, University of Wisconsin Press, 2006

2 Roosa, p. 190

3 Published under this title by Horlemann Verlag 2000

4 Gender Based Crimes Against Humanity. Listening to the Voice of Women Survivors of 1965, Komnas Perempuan, 2007

5 I Gusti Agung Ayu Ratih: The effects of 1965 on the Indonesian women's movement, in: Anett Keller: Indonesia 1965ff. The Presence of a Mass Murder, Regiospectra, 2015, and Saskia Wieringa: Sexual Politics in Indonesia, Palgrave Macmillan, 2002

6 Wijaya Herlambang: Cultural Violence: Its Practice and Challenge in Indonesia, VDM, 2011

7 Wijaya Herlambang: Film as a means of propaganda, pp. 123-136 in: Keller (2015)

8 Anett Keller: Defender of the Old Power, in: Südostasien 3/2011,

9 Bradley Simpson: Economists with Guns. Authoritarian Development and US-Indonesian Relations 1960–1968, Stanford University Press, 2008

10 Rainer Werning: Armored Friendships, jW March 21, 2013; Jörg Kronauer: Friendly leadership power, jW October 14, 2015