Tue, 09 May 2000

Solution to Priok tragedy

The tragic case of human rights violations which ended in the killing of innocent people and those protesting against the military during the Soeharto era about 16 years ago has only now surfaced in a very dramatic fashion.

Already appearing before the commission on human rights violations in the tragic Tanjung Priok affair were a number of retired Army and police generals, including former armed forces commander L.B. Moerdani and former Jakarta Military commander Try Sutrisno.

None among those called to testify so far before the commission has openly admitted their guilt, contrary to the testimony of witnesses who claimed they witnessed their presence at the scene and their involvement in the suppression. Families of those who disappeared have insisted on punishment for the guilty. Bodies were exhumed to determine the identities of the victims, often an impossible task.

The charges were mainly directed against the military, who at the time was ordered to restore law and order by all means, which implied violent methods. The demand for justice has been strongest from religious groups, who feel the military trampled on basic human rights even as victims were in houses of worship.

I have a feeling that the case will drag on and on and if it ever comes to a court trial -- civil, military of human rights court -- it will be a never-ending process or made to appear so, with defense lawyers further delaying the proceedings. After a lapse of sixteen years the defense may question the memory of the witnesses, calling for the exhumation, like in Kosovo, of more graves.

True and real justice will not be found to everybody's satisfaction. It would, therefore, be preferable that the whole affair be considered and handled as a national tragedy of the past, under a regime for which the nation's political leadership as a whole must admit their common guilt and consider a joint apology and offer compensation to the victims' families.

Those who have suffered mentally, mostly Muslims, surely would be willing to forgive, though not forget, the brutal killings.

There are too many influential personalities involved in the case and will likely succeed in escaping through legal loopholes, and the relatives of the victims will continue to suffer without certainty about when the case will end.

I think the state minister of human rights affairs should take the initiative, while the compensation money should come from Soeharto's funds.