Thu, 03 Apr 2003

'Gross human rights abuse took place in May riots'

Tiarma Siboro, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The National Commission on Human Rights declared on Tuesday that gross human rights violations had occurred during massive riots in Jakarta in May 1998, which preceded the fall of long- time ruler Soeharto.

After carrying out an investigation for about two months, the commission's ad hoc team, led by Solahuddin Wahid, concluded that "security authorities at that time failed to curb the widespread riots that took place simultaneously."

The team also found that the riots erupted as a result of a specific policy, because of "a similar pattern at almost all places where the riots took place, which began with provocation, followed by an attack on civilians".

During three nightmare days in the nation's history, between May 12 and May 14, around 1,200 people were killed. Thousands of people attacked or looted shops, markets and housing estates during the violence. Mass rapes reportedly targeted ethnic Chinese.

The rioting followed mass demonstrations demanding the resignation of Soeharto, which were marked by the shooting dead of four Trisakti University students. He fulfilled the demands on May 21.

Solahuddin said that, during the last two months, his team had examined reports of a government-sanctioned, joint fact-finding team investigating the riots, which, until now, remains unheeded by law enforcers.

Solahuddin, also a younger brother of former president Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid, said the team planned to collect more evidence by questioning several witnesses mentioned in the previous report, including the then Jakarta Military commander and Jakarta Police chief.

The team plans to submit the report to the House of Representatives.

Accompanying Solahuddin during the media conference were team deputy chairman Hasto Atmodjo and member M.M. Bilah.

Under the administration of president B.J. Habibie, also Soeharto's hand-picked successor, the government established a joint team to investigate the May riots and, if possible, reveal the perpetrators and masterminds of the riots.

The 18-member team, which comprised representatives of the Indonesian Military (TNI), government institutions, the rights body and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), presented its report to the justice ministry, office of the state minister of women's affairs, security and defense ministry, foreign ministry and the Attorney General's Office.

The team confirmed that at least 66 women, mostly Chinese- Indonesians, were raped during the riots.

Former Jakarta Military commander Maj. Gen. Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin was the first official to testify to the investigative team. The team also questioned several military officers in charge at the time, including former Army's Strategic Reserves Command chief Lt. Gen. (ret) Prabowo Subianto, former city police chief Maj. Gen. Hamami Nata and former TNI Intelligence Agency chief Maj. Gen. Zacky Anwar Makarim.

The team told the House in 2000 of its belief that there was a link between the unrest, the abduction of political activists and the killing of Trisakti University students by police officers.

But the House rejected public demands and declared no gross human rights violations had taken place in the incidents in Trisakti, Semanggi I in November 1998, and Semanggi II in September 1999. Consequently the House did not recommend the establishment of an ad hoc court to prosecute the suspects in the incidents.

The House further recommended the trial of civilian suspects at the district court and military and police suspects at the military tribunal.