Activists pressing for a full accounting of the killings in Indonesia in 1965-66 on Monday handed the government a list of 122 mass graves, asking that the sites and witnesses to those deaths be protected.
The list delivered by the Foundation for the Research of 1965/66 Massacre (YPKP 65) included sites in Java and Sumatra but not other regions where killings occurred, such as Bali, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, East Nusa Tenggara and West Nusa Tenggara.
“YPKP 65 officially handed over a summary of records of mass graves that exist in Indonesia. We have found 122 mass graves and believe they contain 1,999 bodies. These mass graves are located in Sumatra and Java,” said Bedjo Untung, head of YPKP 65.
The handover took place in a meeting with top security minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan. In late April, he demanded that civil society groups reveal the locations of alleged mass graves so that the number of people killed in the anti-communist purge could be confirmed.
“All this time, for decades, we have been force-fed the information that several hundred people died. Yet until now we have not seen one mass grave,” Luhut told reporters at the time.
In October 1965, following an attempted military coup in which six generals were killed, the Indonesian government gave free rein to soldiers and civilian militias to kill anyone they considered a communist.
At least 500,000 people died over the next few months, activists say. The victims included members of the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI), ethnic Chinese, trade unionists, teachers, activists, and artists, according to Human Rights Watch.
Last month, in an unprecedented move, the government hosted a two-day seminar in which people involved in the purges were invited to speak about their experiences.
Activists campaigning for victim rehabilitation and compensation dismissed the event as a mere “confession session.”
NGOs involved in collecting data on the killings initially declined to disclose the locations of graves, saying the government should first guarantee legal protection of the sites and people who know about them.
Still under surveillance
In the meeting Monday, Luhut guaranteed that security, according to Bedjo of YPKP 65.
“‘This is a great country and therefore safety will be guaranteed. I will order it and telephone military command,’” he quoted Luhut, who is coordinating minister for politics, legal, and security affairs, as saying.
Bedjo urged the government to guard the graves from being destroyed by those who would prevent a full accounting of the tragedy that unfolded during the transition between Sukarno, Indonesia’s first president, and Suharto, its second.
“I requested that YPKP 65 and witnesses from both sides be guaranteed safety in order to show the mass graves,” Bedjo said.
Some members of his victims’ organization in Central Java are still being monitored as they carry out their daily activities, he added.
Luhut said the meeting with YPKP was a starting point for clarifying data for the purposes of reconcilation.
“We already formed a team at this ministry that is gathering information abut the mass graves. I’m not convinced the tally of victims will reach 200,000,” he told BenarNews.
Asked if the investigation could lead to legal proceedings, he answered: “We’ll wait for the outcome of the investigation. The spirit of this is reconciliation. Let’s forget the past and walk forward together towards the future.”
He said the team staffed by members of his ministry and the national human rights commission, Komnas HAM, would go to Pati and Wonosobo in Central Java to take samples, then proceed to other locations.
Asked if he would request the United States to open its files pertaining to the atrocities 50 years ago, Luhut said he would gladly receive any evidence shared with his government.
He further said he did not agree with discrimination against descendants of former PKI members, who for years have been subject to social stigmatization and denied government jobs.
“In my opinion, this is no longer relevant currently. It is unjust that the grandchildren still have to bear responsibilitiy for what their parents or grandparents did.”
Human rights activist Reza Muharam, who participated in the meeting, said he hoped the truth of 1965-66 could finally be told.
“Komnas HAM has data, the Indonesian military has data, history institutes also have data on victims. I hope the truth-seeking institutions look at all this data so that the number of victims can be clarified,” Reza said.