Indonesia rejects people's court ruling on 1960s killings

An international panel of judges declared that Indonesia committed crimes against humanity during anti-communist purges in the 1960s, in a move activists hope will put pressure on the government to issue an apology.
An international panel of judges declared that Indonesia committed crimes against humanity during anti-communist purges in the 1960s, in a move activists hope will put pressure on the government to issue an apology.PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA (AFP) - Jakarta rejected Thursday (July 21) the findings of an international panel of judges that declared Indonesia had committed crimes against humanity in anti-communist killings during the 1960s in which it claimed the US, Britain and Australia were complicit.

At least 500,000 people died in the months-long purge across the Southeast Asian archipelago that started after General Suharto put down a coup blamed on the communists on October 1, 1965.

Suharto took power on the back of the killings and then ruled Indonesia with an iron fist for three decades, during which the onslaught was presented as necessary to combat the communist threat.

Even since his 1998 downfall, successive governments have refused to apologise for the killings.

Set up by activists, the International People's Tribunal on 1965 Crimes Against Humanity in Indonesia (IPT 1965) was overseen by seven international judges in November in The Hague and its findings were read on Wednesday.

Chief judge Zak Yacoob, a South African former top justice, announcing the tribunal's findings, described a "systematic attack against the (Indonesian Communist Party)... its affiliate organisations, its leaders, members, supporters and their families".

As well as the killings, he said alleged communists and others suffered imprisonment, enslavement, torture and sexual violence in the tumultuous period.

The court carries no legal weight but activists hope it will pressure Jakarta to do more to come to terms with one of the worst mass killings of the 20th century.

Yacoob urged the Indonesian government - which did not answer an invitation to attend the hearings - to issue an apology, investigate alleged crimes against humanity and compensate victims.

Foreign ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir said Indonesia was under no obligation to follow the recommendations of the tribunal as they were "not legally binding".

Security Minister Luhut Panjaitan criticised its conclusions, saying the killings were "none of their business, they are not our superiors and Indonesia has its own system".

The tribunal also accused the US of being complicit in the massacres by providing lists of alleged communist party officials to the Indonesians, and said Britain and Australia had recycled the Indonesian army's propaganda.

A spokesman for Australia's foreign affairs ministry said the court was "not a formal international court or tribunal, but a human rights NGO" and that Canberra rejected "any suggestion that it was complicit in any way in those events of 50 years ago".

The British embassy in Jakarta declined to respond to the accusation of complicity in the killings and the American legation could not immediately be reached for comment.

President Joko Widodo, seen as a break from a string of rulers with roots in the authoritarian past, has backed public discussions about the killings, but has also refused to apologise on behalf of the state for them.