Wed, 22 Mar 2000

Investigating past events crucial

While it requires a great deal of courage for Indonesia to reinvestigate the controversial events that occurred under former president Soeharto, it is an essential process in providing a solid basis for the development of democracy and society in Indonesia. It is heartening to see that those who are supportive of such moves include Indonesian political observers, historians and President Abdurrahman Wahid himself.

However, the 1965 overthrow of Sukarno and the subsequent massacre will be a particularly thorny issue to tackle, not least because it was the New Order's distorted version that provided Soeharto's government with legitimacy and because there is now much evidence to show that the United States was heavily involved in the murderous affairs. Given Indonesia's great need for foreign investment and assistance at this present time, it will be tempting for the Indonesian government to yield to U.S. pressure not to delve into the United State's complicity in these events.

There are, however, direct parallels between the U.S. support of Soeharto's Army faction in the 1960s and the Indonesian military's support of the pro-Jakarta militias in East Timor in 1999. In the 1960s, the U.S. was Soeharto's patron, providing, inter alia, money, arms training and even hit lists, in the same way elements within the Indonesian Military seem to have done for pro-Jakarta militias in East Timor last year. The resulting death toll in Indonesia in the 1960s was between 500,000 and one million people and, in the case of East Timor in 1999, at least 600.

It would send an empowering, edifying and galvanizing message to the people of "developing" countries if both these heinous series of crimes against humanity were thoroughly investigated with equal zeal. It would also help to create a healthier and more balanced world view that, in turn, would lead to much needed further growth in the level of understanding and respect by "developed" countries for the "developing" world.

Perhaps, the outspoken and courageous Mary Robinson, the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, is just the person to ensure international justice will be meted out fairly and that no country, however powerful, will be granted special privileges and remain above the law.