Sat, 15 Jan 2000

New inquiry into alleged 1998 rapes draws mixed reactions

JAKARTA (JP): The government decision to start a fresh investigation into alleged widespread sexual abuse during the May 1998 riot received mixed reactions from female activists concerning the relevance of the inquiry.

Feminist and human rights activist Rita Serena Kalibonso said a new inquiry was a waste of time, as the government should now be concentrating more on concrete actions to fulfill its political responsibility for the riot.

"The case does not necessarily have to be settled inside the courtroom. The government should carry out rehabilitation and compensation programs as a legal and political solution for the riots," Rita told The Jakarta Post on Friday.

A joint ministerial meeting led by State Minister of the Empowerment of Women Khofifah Indar Parawansa announced on Thursday its decision to begin a new investigation into the matter as past inquiries had not uncovered concrete evidence to support claims of sexual violence.

She revealed that the inquiry could not find a single victim or witness who saw the alleged mass rapes.

Khofifah asked the general public to cooperate, particularly victims and witnesses, if the case was ever to be resolved. The government also decided to draft a law for witness and victim protection.

Rita seemed to reject the idea that the inquiry had not been able to discover concrete evidence.

"The fact-finding team has already admitted the presence of various violence, including sexual abuse, during the three-day outbreak so what's the point of collecting the testimony again?" she said.

Rita argued that the most important thing now is to set up legal instruments to prevent a recurrence of such violence.

"If the government is really concerned about the case, they should open a registration for those who suffered from the riot," she said, citing that during the riot many innocent people died and lost their home.

Separately, female activist Tini Hadad said she supported the reopening of the investigation, stressing that a legal closure should prevail by naming people responsible for the violence.

"The case should be unraveled legally and the guilty parties should be brought to justice," Tini said.

She noted that such a thorough investigation, like the one being conducted on human rights abuses in East Timor, should also be undertaken in the May riot case.

Tini stressed the importance of legal action to settle the case once and for all.

"If there are victims then the guilty one should be brought to justice," she argued.

When asked, Tini also fired back at Rita's suggestion that it was more important to provide a rehabilitation and compensation program.

"How can you offer rehabilitation and compensation without first knowing who the victims are," she said. (04)