Mon, 12 May 2003

We are indebted to the May victims

Today, the families and the civitas academica of the Trisakti University will hold the fifth commemoration of the heroic death of four Trisakti students on May 12, 1998. Soeharto quit just nine days after Elang Mulya, Hafidhin Royan, Hendriawan Lesmana, and Herry Hartanto lost their lives in their peaceful struggle to end Soeharto's 31-year dictatorship. Anti-riot troops opened fire on the students as they were retreating to their campus in West Jakarta as demanded by the security forces.

Also this week, the families, friends and relatives of the victims of the bloody riots in a number of cities on May 13-14, which followed the above shootings, may also pray for their loved ones who lost their lives in the national tragedy. According to the official result of a government-appointed fact finding team, at least 66 women, mainly Chinese-Indonesians, were raped during the riots, and many others were sexually harassed. Scores of Chinese-Indonesians have since fled the land of their birth in fear of more barbarism.

Hundreds of people, including youngsters were burned alive, trapped in burning shopping centers. Many had been provoked to loot shops, supermarkets and malls. Most of them could not be identified, and without enough evidence, the government branded all of the victims as looters.

The mourning families can likely hope for little from the state to find and punish those responsible for the tragedy; none of the findings of the above team have been followed up on. Last week, the National Commission for Human Rights announced that the case would be re-opened.

Yet the House of Representatives (DPR) has concluded that the May riots were normal crimes -- and had nothing to do with human rights violations.

Many of our top politicians, from President Megawati Soekarnoputri to the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) Speaker Amien Rais would not be in their current positions had it not been for the victims and the students across the country who had bravely risked their lives to end Soeharto's rule.

Most of the major political parties, excluding Soeharto's former party Golkar, would also not be in power without the sacrifice of the students and others who will remain unknown. But what have they, including Megawati and Amien, done as an expression of their gratitude for these forgotten heroes? They have hardly even bothered to offer lip service.

After five years, the students' parents have yet to see justice done for the parties responsible for their children's murder. Every year, before the commemoration of the Trisakti tragedy and the fall of Soeharto in May, the Attorney General's Office, the Indonesian Military (TNI) and the National Police repeat their mantra on why they have not been able to accomplish their mission to uphold justice.

We have had three presidents since May 1998, but none of them have been able to show even a little progress to reveal the mystery of the May tragedy. Former president B.J. Habibie declared the four dead students heroes of reformasi (reform) without being able to find their killers. He promised to investigate the cases of the dead alleged looters, as well as those for rape and sexual assault. His promises never came to anything.

His successor Abdurrahman Wahid also could not do much. However, he deserves praise for his strong commitment to reinvestigating and re-opening the mystery of the alleged coup attempt by the Indonesian Communist Party in 1965, in which hundreds of thousands of people were killed, and which led to the succession from Megawati's father Sukarno to Soeharto in 1967.

Abdurrahman was hampered at every turn by certain parties, but at least he had shown that we are obliged to probe and settle the dark pages of our history.

How about Megawati? We would be wrong to expect her to do anything regarding the May riots -- given that she does not even seem to care about the fate of her own supporters who sacrificed their lives to defend their her, their idol, during the July 27 massacre in 1996. She has even promoted those believed responsible for the casualties in the violent takeover of her party headquarters, most notably, the incumbent Jakarta Governor Lt. Gen. (ret.) Sutiyoso.

The nation owes it to the four students and to all the people who have risked their lives and position to bring democracy to our country. Without any intention for revenge, the case of May 1998 must not remain covered up. Yet the facts are bitter. The state is not able, or not willing, to protect its own citizens from injustice. Nevertheless, we believe the fighting spirit of the four martyrs remains and that their death will not merely become a trivia question in our history.