Fri, 14 Jan 2000

Govt starts fresh investigation into May 1998 riots

JAKARTA (JP): Almost two years after the May 1998 riots, government officials said on Thursday it was starting a new investigation, as past inquiries had uncovered scant evidence to support claims of sexual violence.

Government officials admitted the earlier investigation into the riots, which concluded that at least 66 women were raped, was based on secondhand information.

The team was apparently only able to gather details from "third party informants" who themselves were not witnesses to the events.

State Minister of the Empowerment of Women Khofifah Indar Parawansa and Attorney General Marzuki Darusman, who headed the earlier investigation, revealed the team had been unable to interview a single victim of the alleged rapes.

"We are facing difficulties because we cannot find actual victims or witnesses," Khofifah said.

Jakarta and several major cities were rocked in mid-May 1998 by severe riots following the shooting of four Trisakti University students.

The riots culminated in mass demonstrations which led to president Soeharto's resignation on May 21.

In the weeks that followed there were numerous claims of rapes and abuses of Chinese-Indonesian women. These claims prompted a mass exodus of many ethnic Chinese abroad.

The initial government-appointed team -- known as TGPF and comprising members of the government, Armed Forces and nongovernmental organizations -- to investigate the mid-May riots in Jakarta and other cities reported in November 1998 that 66 women, mostly Chinese-Indonesians, were raped.

The team's report, whose preparation was reportedly marked by dissent among team members, linked the riots to an alleged conspiracy between various parties seeking to create an emergency situation which would justify the introduction of "extra- constitutional powers."

Speaking after a coordinating meeting, which was also attended by Minister of Home Affairs Surjadi Soedirdja and State Minister of Human Rights Affairs Hasballah M. Saad, Marzuki said the team was hopeful that witnesses would now come forward as the political climate was more conducive.

"The government is reopening investigations and invites the general public to provide information, directly or indirectly, to the Office of the State Minister of the Empowerment of Women or to the National Police," Attorney General Marzuki Darusman told reporters.

He pledged that the government would take transparent and concrete legal measures to resolve the case.

Khofifah appealed for public cooperation, particularly from victims and witnesses, if the case was ever to be resolved.

"Only with their testimony can we bring cases to justice," she said.

"I will be very glad if someone can come and arrange a private meeting between myself and the victims," she added.

One of the first steps undertaken would be for Khofifah and police chief of detectives Maj. Gen. Da'i Bachtiar to requestion the third party "informants", which included nongovernmental organizations.

As an overall effort to protect witnesses and victims who come forward with testimony, the government will draft a law on their protection.

"We will develop and even amend the criminal code to insert articles on sexual abuses and violence," Marzuki said.

Khofifah added that the establishment of a rehabilitation program for victims of sexual abuse was under the responsibility of her office, the National Police and the Ministry of Health.

"We guarantee these victims will receive good treatment, if only if they would come forward," she added. (04)