Indonesia: Victims of human rights abuse break silence

“It was late at night in 1968 when a group of men barged into my boarding house and pointed their guns at me. They shouted that I was a member of the PKI [Indonesian Communist Party],” Yogyakarta native Christina Sumarmiyati, 68, said.

Christina’s voice broke as she went into the details of what she endured before an audience gathered at the National Library in Central Jakarta on Monday.

She talked about being locked up for 10 years without trial during which she suffered sustained sexual abuse in different prisons from Yogyakarta to Buru Island in Maluku.

Christina was not the only survivor of human rights abuse to finally speak up about injustices they suffered. On Monday, seven of 32 victims of past rights abuses opened up about their terrible past in the hope that the government will one day finally acknowledge their plight and apologize for the abuse.

Some of the victims were women who survived torture as well as sexual abuse during Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor, which lasted from 1975 to 1999, years of military operations in Aceh and Papua, and those who were victims of social and agrarian conflicts in different parts of the country.

A Papuan woman, who wished to remain anonymous, told of being left by her husband and children because of the “shame” she brought on the family as a victim of repeated sexual abuse by members of the Army soon after she was arrested for joining a ceremony to raise the Papuan separatist Morning Star flag in July 1998.

“I’m grateful that I survived that horrible incident even though I’ll never forget the soldiers smacking my head until it bled or when they mutilated my genitals,” she said. “Many female friends lost their lives in terrible and inhumane conditions”.

Also joining the 32 survivors were victims of religious discrimination as well as the families of rights campaigners who were murdered for their activities, including the widows of human rights activist Munir Said Thalib and leftist poet Widji Thukul.

Kamala Chandrakirana, coordinator of the Coalition for Justice and Revelation of Truth (KKPK), said 47 rights groups had linked up to support the victims and give them the platform to air their grievances.

“This event is also important to remind the public of what happened in the past while at the same time telling our younger generation, who might have very limited knowledge, about our dark history,” Kamala said.

The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) has declared a number of past rights abuses gross human rights violations after years of investigation.

The commission declared the 1965 massacre of communists a gross rights violation in 2012. In August this year, Komnas HAM also declared the military operation in Aceh a gross human rights violation.

Survivors and relatives of victims of the rights violations must wait for the government to act upon any findings from Komnas HAM as well as civil society groups.

Sinta Nuriah Wahid, the widow of late former president Abdurrahman Wahid, who attended the gathering on Monday, called on the government to immediately act upon the mounting public calls for justice.

Sinta, who specifically highlighted religious discrimination in her speech, said that politics could be behind the government’s reluctance to bring closure to past rights abuses. “Politics must not sacrifice the people. The cries for justice will only grow louder until the government acts,” she said.