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Presidential call for action on rights abuses met with caution

Jakarta (UCAN): “To the attorney-general, I call on you to deal with the heritage of past human rights (abuses) so that there will be no problems for all of us,” Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, said at a January 5 meeting in Jakarta.

The government has said it is committed to resolving seven past human rights violations, including the climactic period in May 1998 when properties and businesses owned by Indonesian Chinese were targeted by rioters and more than 1,500 people reportedly killed. Security forces also killed 18 students at universities across the country including Atma Jaya Catholic University of Indonesia in Jakarta in a bloody week of crackdowns by the state. 

The unrest led to the resignation of the country’s second president, Suharto, who died in 2008.

Father Antonius Benny Susetyo, secretary of the Jakarta-based Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace’s national council, said solving past injustices may prove difficult with suspects of past abuses serving in top government positions.

“There is tension among themselves. A number of ministers—especially those who were once in the security forces—are connected to past human rights issues,”  he said.

Indonesia’s attorney-general, Muhammad Prasetyo, said that he has been working intensively with the National Commission on Human Rights as well as related parties in dealing with the issue.

News outlet reported him as saying, “We’ve agreed to sort out past gross human rights abuses where it is still possible (for us) to find evidence, witnesses and perpetrators. Of course, they’ll be resolved through the judicial process. But if we can’t, what can we do then?”

Prasetyo said he believed reconciliation would be more effective if cases could be immediately resolved so that the country would not be weighed down by past guilt.  

A member of the commission, Roichatul Aswidah told UCAN that the government should meet international standards on human rights and added, “The government should also guarantee such cases won’t reoccur in the future.”

Maria Catarina Sumarsih, whose son Bernardus Realino Norma Irawan, an Atma Jaya student, was killed in the 1998 crackdown, said she would continue to seek justice.

She plans to continue protesting outside the presidential palace every Thursday as she has for the past nine years until justice is served.

“My struggle is not based on revenge, but in love. I do hope that that the violence that afflicts us does not happen again to other people,” Sumarsih added.


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