Mon, 26 Jun 2000

Tanjung Priok revisited

Sixteen years since the military opened fire on demonstrators on the streets of Jakarta's Tanjung Priok district, the ghosts of the victims continue to haunt the nation. Since the case has never been thoroughly resolved, it is not surprising that the massacre still evokes emotion among many people, evident from the attack on the headquarters of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) on Friday.

There is no justification for the vandalism the Defenders of Islam (FPI) inflicted on the commission's office. Apparently discontented with the commission's report on the 1984 massacre, the FPI members vented their anger by resorting to violence. The attack served no purpose to anyone at all, not even to the relatives of the victims of the Tanjung Priok massacre, who must be anxious by now to bring the matter to a close and allow the spirit of their departed loved ones to rest in peace.

While we let the authorities prosecute the culprits of Friday's attack, Komnas HAM should take the incident as a warning that it must treat the investigation of the Tanjung Priok massacre much more seriously. Its report on the investigation, released last week, failed to live up to expectations.

For one thing, the report did not shed any new light into the massacre, which has been shrouded by mystery. Many unanswered questions remained that way, even as investigators were given a free rein to conduct their work, including unimpeded access to relatives of the victims.

The death toll of 33 people stated in the report simply reaffirmed the official figure. But this does not explain the dozens -- some even say hundreds -- who have gone missing since the night of Sept. 14, 1984. By sticking to the official figure, the commission has ignored the pain and suffering which relatives of the victims have endured these last 16 years.

Investigators made no effort to look into the allegations, strong at the time, that the Tanjung Priok massacre was the work of the military's intelligence arm. Not only was there a strong indication of a political conspiracy, but also solid evidence of an official cover-up after the massacre happened.

The gist of the commission's report hardly departed from the official explanation of the "incident", as the massacre was always referred to by the military. While it recognizes that the military and the demonstrators were guilty of violating human rights, the report refrains from naming any one person in the Armed Forces responsible for the massacre.

Instead, the report proposed that the Indonesian Military (TNI) leadership conduct its own investigation to look into the chain of command at the time of the massacre. While an internal investigation is fine and good, an incident of such political repercussions to the nation should still be conducted by an independent team. The Komnas HAM investigating team should have taken up the matter itself, and not give it back to the military.

The most disturbing aspect of the commission's investigation, however, is the allegation that the investigators met with the TNI leadership, apparently for a consultation, prior to finalizing its report. If this is indeed true, then it suggests collusion at the highest level, and another attempt to cover up the truth.

If the report released last week is the best that the commission could do, then Komnas HAM has squandered a golden opportunity to help bring to a close a dark page in the history of president Soeharto's regime. The report is not likely to serve the cause of justice, the very objective of the whole exercise. On the contrary, it provoked another act of injustice on Friday.

In the meantime, the disappointed relatives of the victims of the Tanjung Priok massacre will continue with their quest for justice in other forms. Until they succeed, the ghost of the victims will not leave the nation in peace.