AKA ‘Pak Harto’ (Father Harto), AKA ‘The Smiling General’, AKA ‘Bapak Pembangunan’ (Father of Development). Suharto can also be spelt Soeharto. Following a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1991, Suharto took the name Haji Mohammed Suharto.

Country: Indonesia.

Kill tally: Up to two million killed following an alleged coup attempt in 1965 (most reports estimate the number at around 500,000). Over 250,000 deaths following the invasion of East Timor in 1975. Thousands more killed in various Indonesian provinces.

Background: The Indonesian archipelago is first exposed to the West in the 16th Century when the Portuguese attempt to monopolise the lucrative spice trade and spread Christianity. The Portuguese are supplanted by the Dutch in the first half of the 17th Century. During the 19th Century the Dutch extend their colonial rule across the archipelago, bringing all the land area of modern Indonesia, with the exception of Portuguese East Timor, under their control.

The country proclaims its independence on 17 August 1945 then fights a war with the Dutch when they attempt to reimpose control. In December 1949 the Republic of the United States of Indonesia (RUSI) is established with independence activist Sukarno as president. When the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) supposedly attempts a coup d’état in September 1965 the army steps in. Sukarno is deposed. Major-general Suharto rises to power, establishing a ‘New Order’ (Orde Baru). More background.

Mini biography: Born on 8 June 1921 in the village of Kemusu Argamulja in Central Java, Indonesia. He is the only child of a peasant couple who divorce soon after his birth. Suharto’s childhood is subsequently destabilised by frequent moves between the households of his extended family. Nevertheless, because of a family connection to low-level Javanese nobility, he receives a relatively good education.

1940 – After working in a village bank, then as a labourer, Suharto enlists for a three-year term in the Dutch colonial army, the KNIL (Koninklijk Nederlandsch Indisch Leger – Royal Netherlands East Indies Army), beginning his service in June.

1941 – Suharto is accepted for training as a sergeant at a military school at Gombong in Central Java. On 9 March 1942, a week after his training begins, the Dutch surrender to the invading Japanese.

1942 – Suharto joins the occupation police force then, in 1943, becomes a battalion commander in the Peta (Defenders of the Fatherland), a Japanese-trained militia.

1945 – On 14 August Japan surrenders unconditionally, ending the Second World War.

Suharto officially joins the Indonesian Army on 5 October, the same day it is founded. He fights against the Dutch during the war for independence, is appointed commander of the Third Regiment, and distinguishes himself during an attack on Yogyakarta on 1 March 1949.

Following independence, Suharto remains in the military. He serves on the island of Sulawesi then returns to Central Java.

Meanwhile, Suharto marries Siti (‘Ibu Tien’) Hartinah, daughter of a minor noble in the Mangkunegaran royal house of Solo, on 26 December 1947. The couple will have six children, three daughters and three sons.

1953 – In March Suharto is posted to Solo as commander of Infantry Regiment 15.

1955 – At Indonesia’s first democratic election held on 29 September no party wins a majority of seats in the country’s single house of parliament, although Sukarno’s Indonesian Nationalist Union (PNI) wins more votes than any other party. The resulting political instability is heightened by the self-serving actions of military officers in some regional areas and by the growth of an Islamic separatist movement.

1957 – In attempt to prevent the new republic from breaking apart, Sukarno proclaims martial law on 14 March and turns to the PKI and the armed forces (ABRI) to assist with his plan for the introduction of a ‘Guided Democracy’.

At the end of the year, PKI-controlled unions lead a movement to nationalise Dutch-owned companies. The Royal Packetship Company (which controls most of the archipelago’s shipping) and Royal Dutch Shell are seized and 46,000 Dutch nationals are expelled from the country. Officers from ABRI are given a role in managing the nationalised firms.

Meanwhile, Suharto is promoted to regional commander in the Diponegoro Division in Central Java, with the rank of full colonel. In this position he begins to engage in business ventures to help fund his command, a practice that is common throughout the Indonesian military.

1958 – Military and Muslim political figures rebel against Sukarno in February, proclaiming the Revolutionary Government of the Indonesian Republic. The rebellion is quashed by the middle of the year. The United States’ covert support of the rebels pushes Sukarno closer to the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China.

1959 – The success of Suharto’s extra-military business activities attracts the attention of the high command. Suharto is implicated in sugar smuggling and other corrupt practices. He is removed from his command and ordered to take a course at the Army Staff and Command School in Bandung, West Java. However, despite this reprimand, Suharto will be promoted to brigadier-general in January 1960.

In July 1959 Sukarno dissolves the parliament and formally introduces Guided Democracy. A new parliament established in March 1960 contains a majority of directly appointed representatives, including blocks from the military (later known as the Golkar party) and from the PKI. The leader of the PKI heads the parliament.

The influence of the PKI expands in the early 1960s. Membership of the party reaches two million. Affiliated unions and peasant organisations have as many as nine million members. The PKI is directly involved in the implementation of land and social reforms encompassed by the Guided Democracy credo and is active in pursuing an independent foreign policy aligning Indonesia with China. By 1964 fears of a communist takeover of the country become widespread.

Sukarno’s policies will also bring the Indonesian economy to the brink of collapse. Inflation will exceed 500% and famine will become a real threat.

1960 – Sukarno breaks diplomatic relations with the Dutch and sets up the Army Strategic Reserve Command (Kostrad), a special military unit formed to recover West New Guinea, which is still occupied by the Dutch. Suharto commands the unsuccessful ‘Operation Mandala’ to drive the Dutch out. Full-scale war is averted by a United Nations (UN) and US-brokered settlement that sees the territory handed to Indonesia in May 1963. However, under the ‘New York Agreement’, the territory will have the right after five years to make an “act of free choice” to determine its future.

1961 – Suharto is posted to Army Headquarters in Jakarta. Following this posting, he embarks on his first overseas trip.

1962 – At the start of the year Suharto is promoted to major-general and placed in charge of the Diponegoro Division.

1963 – On 23 September Sukarno begins a confrontation (‘Konfrontasi’) with the newly formed state of Malaysia, across the Strait of Malacca to the north of Sumatra. The low-level conflict draws in Britain, the US and the Soviet Union and lasts until 1964, the so-called ‘Year of Living Dangerously’.

Suharto is made commander of Kostrad, which now acts as a special alert force.

1964 – Golkar (the Joint Secretariat of Functional Groups) is established by the military and backed financially and organisationally by the government.

1965 – Suspicions that the communists will attempt to take over the country are raised when the PKI, with Chinese backing, proposes to establish a “fifth force” of armed peasants and workers. The military divides into factions, with one group supporting Sukarno and the PKI, and the other opposed. Suharto, who is now army chief-of-staff, sides with the opponents.

On 30 September pro-communist military officers (the so-called ‘September 30 Movement’) attempt to stage a coup d’état, allegedly to prevent a coup by their opponents in the military. Six anti-Sukarno generals and a lieutenant are kidnapped and killed by the pro-communists. Suharto, who had been informed of the anti-Sukarno coup plot but failed to head it off, leads a counter force that puts down the pro-communists and allows him to take control of the army.

The failure of the coup will result in widespread reprisals against the communists, although the role of the PKI in the coup attempt is unclear.

Suharto’s position is formalised on 16 October when Sukarno appoints him as minister for and commander of the army. Suharto subsequently orders the military to “clean up” the PKI.

PKI members and Chinese are targeted by the military, military-backed militias and violent mobs, with up to two million being murdered (most reports estimate the number at around 500,000).

On 17 December, ‘Time’ magazine reports that, “According to accounts brought out of Indonesia by Western diplomats and independent travellers, communists, red sympathisers and their families are being massacred by the thousands. Backlands army units are reported to have executed thousands of communists after interrogation in remote rural jails. Moslems, whose political influence had waned as the communists gained favour with Sukarno, had begun a ‘holy war’ in East Java against Indonesian reds even before the abortive September coup. …

“The killings have been on such a scale that the disposal of the corpses has created a serious sanitation problem in East Java and northern Sumatra, where the humid air bears the reek of decaying flesh. Travellers from those areas tell of small rivers and streams that have been literally clogged with bodies; river transportation has at places been impeded.”

A secret report by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) notes that, “Estimates of the number of people killed in Indonesia in the anti-PKI bloodbath after the coup range from 87,000, the official Indonesian Government estimate, to 500,000.

“The figure of 87,000 … is probably too low. The US Embassy estimated the figure to be closer to 250,000. It would be a mistake to put too much faith in any of the various estimates. … Undoubtedly, vast numbers were killed.

“The killings in Java alone put the Mau Mau massacres and the killings in the Congo in the shadow, although the latter got much more publicity.

“In terms of the numbers killed the anti-PKI massacres in Indonesia rank as one of the worst mass murders of the 20th Century, along with the Soviet purges of the 1930s, the Nazi mass murders during the Second World War, and the Maoist bloodbath of the early 1950s.”

At the same time, the military is purged of pro-Sukarno elements.

Sukarno is now politically and militarily isolated, allowing Suharto to rise to ultimate power.

1966 – On 11 March Sukarno transfers supreme authority to Suharto, who quickly acts to introduce his ‘New Order’ (Orde Baru). The PKI is banned on 12 March. PKI members are purged from the parliament. Labour organisations are banned and controls on the press are tightened. The confrontation with Malaysia is ended, relations with Western powers are reestablished, and ties with China are suspended. All power is centralised on Suharto, who is the final arbiter of all political decisions.

Overall spending on the military is increased, with some financial assistance coming from the US, and the armed forces are given a central and permanent role in civil governance and economic management, setting the ground for the later development of endemic corruption. Two new intelligence gathering agencies are established to prevent the reemergence of the PKI – the Operational Command for the Restoration of Security and Order (Kopkamtib) and the State Intelligence Coordination Agency (Bakin).

The military detains about 200,000 people allegedly involved in the attempted coup, with the detainees being divided into three categories. Those in ‘Group A’ (PKI leaders and associates “directly involved”) are sentenced by military courts to death or long terms in prison; ‘Group B’ detainees (those less actively involved) are sent to prison, in some cases until 1980; those in ‘Group C’ (mostly rank and file PKI members) are generally released. Executions of detainees continue until as late as 1990.

At the same time, however, Indonesia’s economic problems are brought under control. Inflation is stemmed, the threat of famine removed and a platform for future development is laid.

Under Suharto, the economy will grow in excess of 6% per year for 25 years and the percentage of Indonesians living below the poverty line will be reduced from more than half to less than one eight of the population. Per capita income will rise more than tenfold. A “green revolution” will lift rice yields from two to more than six tonnes per hectare, making the country self-sufficient in its major food staple. All Indonesians will be provided with a basic education. The introduction of a voluntary family planning program will cut population growth. Indonesia will become a significant exporter of manufactured goods.

1967 – On 12 March the parliament strips Sukarno of all political power and installs Suharto as acting president. Sukarno is kept under virtual house arrest until his death on 21 June 1970.

Meanwhile, Indonesia joins with Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Singapore to form a new regional and officially nonaligned grouping, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Indonesia’s diplomatic relations with China are broken and most Chinese-language newspapers are closed.

In August Suharto places all the divisions of the armed forces under his control. Full political control is also ensured when the parliament agrees that the government will directly appoint one third of its members. Suharto handpicks judges, the governor of the central bank, the board of directors of each state-owned company and the chairman of the Security and Exchange Commission.

1968 – On 21 March Suharto is formally elected for a five-year term as president. He will remain in the position until 1998, standing unopposed for successive five-year terms in 1973, 1978, 1983, 1988, 1993 and 1998.

1969 – Suharto honours the New York Agreement and allows West New Guinea to vote on the UN-monitored “act of free choice” to determine if it wants to join the Indonesian Republic. The vote is carried but the method of the referendum throws the result into question. Rather than a general plebiscite the vote is restricted to 1025 community representatives. After the UN General Assembly ratifies the vote in November West New Guinea becomes the 26th province of Indonesia and is renamed Irian Jaya (Victorious Irian).

The local resistance, the Free Papua Movement (OPM), rejects the referendum result and begins an ongoing low-level insurgency, operating from sanctuaries along the border with neighbouring Papua New Guinea (PNG). The OPM advocates unification with PNG.

The Indonesian military establish a permanent presence in Irian Jaya to control the indigenous population, who become increasingly concerned by the influx of mainly Javanese immigrants brought in under the government’s transmigration program.

1970 – On 22 January student protests are banned following a series of demonstrations against corruption. In July a Suharto-appointed commission finds that corruption is widespread throughout government. The commission is shut down.

1971 – Golkar wins 62.8% of the vote in general elections held in July. It becomes entrenched as the dominant political force in Indonesia, winning 62.1, and 64.3% of the popular vote respectively in the general elections of 1977 and 1982. Other parties are marginalised, have their activities restricted, and are forced to amalgamate.

By 1973 there are only three political parties allowed to operate in Indonesia – Golkar, the United Development Party, and the Indonesian Democratic Party. Suharto directly appoints over 20% of the members of parliament. All Indonesia’s public servants are required to join a Golkar-controlled association and are compelled to vote for Golkar at elections.

1974 – A military coup in Portugal sees the installation of a new Portuguese Government determined to sever the ties with its colonies, including East Timor and the small enclave of Oecusse on the north coast of Timor. The decision divides the East Timorese population.

The Timorese Democratic Union (UDT) initially favours a continued association with Portugal. The Marxist Revolutionary Front for East Timor’s Independence (Fretilin) calls for full independence. When the UDT shifts its position the two groups join in an independence campaign. The Popular Democratic Association of Timor (Apodeti) favours integration with Indonesia and receives backing from the Indonesian Government, which also wants to see the province integrated.

Indonesia’s policy on East Timor hardens following a meeting in September between Suharto and Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, who acknowledges that it may be best if the province joins Indonesia, if the East Timorese so wish.

1975 – The rise in the influence of Fretilin causes concern in Indonesia, which fears that East Timor may turn communist. On 28 November Fretilin proclaims the Democratic Republic of East Timor. The UDT and Apodeti call on Jakarta to intervene.

Indonesia invades on 7 December, landing forces at the capital Dili and at Baukau, 100 kilometres to the east, and installing a puppet government composed of members of UDT and Apodeti.

The occupation takes place with the blessing of US President Gerald Ford and US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who meet with Suharto in Jakarta on 6 December, the day before the Indonesian troops are mobilised.

“I would like to speak to you, Mr President, about another problem, Timor. … Fretilin is infected the same as is the Portuguese Army with communism … We want your understanding if we deem it necessary to take rapid or drastic action,” Suharto says to his visitors.

Ford replies, “We will understand and will not press you on this issue. We understand the problem you have and the intentions you have.”

Kissinger says, “You appreciate that the use of US-made arms could create problems. … It depends on how we construe it; whether it is in self-defence or is a foreign operation. It is important that whatever you do succeeds quickly. We would be able to influence the reaction in America if whatever happens, happens after we return.”

It is estimated that 60,000 East Timorese or 10% of the population are killed in the first two months of the invasion. All told, up to 250,000 of East Timor’s 1975 population of about 650,000 will die as a result of the occupation, which will last for 24 years.

1978 – Widespread student demonstrations against the regime result in a tightening of control over university campuses and the press.

1980s – Political and economic corruption emerges as a major issue. Ties to Suharto are seen as an essential prerequisite to doing business in Indonesia, with those in favour being given lucrative government contracts often at the expense of economic efficiency.

Suharto’s cronies use their positions for personal enrichment and to enhance their political power. His six children wield their influence to launch questionable business ventures. His wife comes to be known as ‘Madam Ten Percent’ in reference to the commission she allegedly demands from business deals.

Nevertheless, the number of Indonesians living in absolute poverty drops from 60% to 14% between 1970 and 1990.

1980 – On 5 May a group called the ‘Petition of Fifty’, composed of former generals, political leaders, academics, students and others, calls for greater political freedom. The petition is not reported in the Indonesian media. Restrictions are placed on the signatories to the petition. The government takes no action on the concerns they have raised.

1982 – In September a new press licensing scheme is introduced that allows the government to close down an entire publishing house for an unfavourable article published in a single newspaper or magazine.

1983 – A cease-fire agreement is signed between the Indonesian Government and Fretilin on 23 March. However, the Indonesian Army resumes its offensive on 31 August.

1984 – The Petition of Fifty accuses Suharto of attempting to establish a one-party state. After riots against the regime break out in September, a high profile member of the Petition of Fifty is put on trial for antigovernment activities and sentenced to 10 years in jail.

1985 – In August hundreds of alleged PKI supporters are removed from government jobs. Many PKI members imprisoned since the coup attempt of 1965 are executed.

At the same time about, 5000 criminals are summarily murdered during a government campaign to reduce crime in Java.

1987 – Golkar wins the general elections held in April with an increased majority.

1990 – Resistance to Indonesian rule begins to resurface in the staunchly Islamic province of Aceh, in the westernmost part of Sumatra, spearheaded by the Free Aceh (Aceh Merdeka) separatist movement. The military are unsparing in their efforts to crush the separatists, with the number killed estimated to be about 5,000. The conflict continues throughout the 1990s, as does that in Irian Jaya.

1991 – On 12 November, at the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili, Indonesian troops shoot and kill 271 unarmed Timorese attending the funeral of a young Timorese killed during an earlier demonstration. The so-called ‘Dili Massacre’ receives worldwide coverage.

The international community responds to the incident by suspending or threatening to suspend aid to Indonesia, prompting Suharto to appoint a national investigation commission to look into the incident.

The commission finds the army guilty of “excessive force”. The senior officer in East Timor and his superior in Bali are replaced, three officers are dismissed from the army, and at least eight officers and soldiers are court-martialled. Four junior officers are sentenced to jail terms of between eight and 14 months. However, the punishments are relatively light compared to the harsh sentences meted out to the Timorese accused of instigating the incident.

1992 – At the general elections held in June Golkar is again returned with a massive majority.

1993 – In March the US begins to support critics of Indonesia’s rule in East Timor. The UN Human Rights Commission adopts a resolution expressing “deep concern” at human rights violations by Indonesia in East Timor. In May the administration of US President Bill Clinton places Indonesia on a human rights “watch” list. When Suharto meets Clinton in Tokyo in July concerns are raised about the East Timor human rights issue.

1994 – Talks between senior Indonesian Government figures and some Timorese resistance leaders are reported to take place in September. Talks between Indonesia and Portugal about East Timor also resume.

Towards the middle of the year Suharto indicates that he may not stand for a seventh term as president at the elections scheduled for 1998.

1996 – Rioting breaks out in Jakarta on 27 July after security forces seize the headquarters of the Indonesian Democratic Party, occupied since June by supporters of former party head Megawati Sukarnoputri, Sukarno’s daughter, following her ousting in a government-engineered takeover of the party.

Meanwhile, Suharto’s wife, Siti Hartinah, dies on 28 April.

1997 – In February Suharto visits Burma to finalise a deal on the construction of toll roads by a company run by his eldest daughter, Siti (‘Tutut’) Hardiyanti Rukmana. Most of the cars imported into Burma are manufactured by a company controlled by Suharto, whose second and youngest sons are also involved in business ventures in Burma.

Golkar wins general elections held on 29 May, increasing its majority. An atmosphere of violence surrounds the poll. Over 250 die in clashes, including at least 17 in East Timor, where the military clamps down on protesters following the vote.

According to the US State Department, “Parliamentary elections are tightly controlled by the Government of Indonesia. The electoral system severely limits political competition; Indonesian citizens do not have the ability to change their government through democratic means.”

Towards the end of the year a financial and economic crisis in Asia sends shockwaves through Indonesia. Conditions attached to a multi-billion dollar International Monetary Fund aid package result in price rises, causing widespread social discontent. The floating of the currency sees the value of the rupiah plummet. Inflation and unemployment soar and the flight of capital accelerates.

Meanwhile, a World Bank report estimates that at least 20-30% of Indonesian’s development budget over the previous two decades has been embezzled for personal and political benefit.

By the middle of 1998 the bank will conclude that “Indonesia is in deep economic crisis.”

“A country that achieved decades of rapid growth, stability and poverty reduction is now near economic collapse,” a study by the bank will find.

“No country in recent history, let alone one the size of Indonesia, has ever suffered such a dramatic reversal of fortune.”

In September, Burmese dictator Ne Win travels to Indonesia for talks with Suharto, who complains that the level of corruption in Burma is affecting his investments.

1998 – Riots break out across the Indonesian archipelago in February. In March Suharto stands for and wins a seventh term as president, despite earlier indications that he would step down. Students take to the streets in massive and sustained demonstrations calling on Suharto to resign and demanding political change.

On 5 May the Government hikes the cost of fuel by 70%. The demonstrations escalate. On 12 May security forces shoot six student protesters at Trisakti University in Jakarta. Fresh riots shake the capital, with looters targeting Chinese businesses. About 500 people are killed in Jakarta. Around 700 die in other towns. The riots are quelled by the military but the largely peaceful student demonstrations are allowed to proceed.

With the pressure mounting and his political allies jumping ship, Suharto finally relents, announcing his resignation on 21 May. He is replaced by his deputy, Jusuf Habibie.

From now on Suharto will rarely emerge from his family compound on Cendana Street in the exclusive Jakarta district of Mentang.

1999 – In May Time Asia reports that the Suharto family fortune is worth an estimated US$15 billion in cash, shares, corporate assets, real estate, jewellery and fine art. US$9 billion of this is reported to have been deposited in an Austrian bank. The family is said to control about 3.6 million hectares of real estate in Indonesia, including 100,000 square metres of prime office space in Jakarta and nearly 40% of the land in East Timor. Over US$73 billion is said to have passed through the family’s hands during Suharto’s 32-year rule.

Meanwhile, Jusuf Habibie announces that the East Timorese will be allowed to vote on self-determination. A referendum is scheduled for 30 August.

The poll takes place in a tense atmosphere but without a major violent incident. However, when it is announced on 4 September that 78.5% of the voters have chosen in favour of independence, chaos breaks out as antiseparatist militias go on a murderous rampage.

During the weeks of violence that follow more than 1,000 die, the territory’s infrastructure is destroyed and 500,000 of the entire population of 800,000 are forced to flee their homes, either to the country’s interior or to neighbouring West Timor.

A secret Indonesian Government report later finds that officers in the Indonesian military directed the militia violence and that top generals were aware of the situation but did little to prevent it.

On 19 October the Indonesian Government ratifies the referendum result and revokes East Timor’s incorporation into Indonesia. The UN officially assumes control of the territory on 25 October.

2000 – Suharto comes under investigation for the corruption that occurred during his presidency. On 29 May he is placed under house arrest. In July it is announced that he will be charged under a 1971 anticorruption law. He is accused of embezzling US$571 million of government donations to one of a number of foundations under his control and then using the money to finance family investments. The trial is set to begin on 31 August but the case collapses on 28 September when a panel of court-appointed doctors find him permanently physically and mentally unfit to stand trial.

2002 – On 4 June it is reported that Indonesian state prosecutors will check on Suharto’s health with a view to possibly reopening the corruption case against him. Suharto had been spotted walking unaided and talking animatedly at a wedding in Jakarta.

A team of physicians examines Suharto on 18 June. They say they need to run more tests. On 12 August the doctors announce that Suharto is suffering from a non-specified “brain disease” that leaves him barely able to speak. A state prosecutor says it is now unlikely that Suharto will ever go to trial.

Meanwhile, on 26 July, Suharto’s youngest son, Hutomo (‘Tommy’) Mandala Putra, is found guilty and jailed for 15 years for organising the murder of the judge who in September 2000 sentenced him to 18 months for his role in a land scam. He is the first member of the Suharto family to be found guilty and jailed for any offence.

The young Suharto maintains his innocence but says he will not appeal the verdict or the sentence. He is incarcerated in Cipinang Penitentiary in a well-appointed three-room cell and is granted protection by his own bodyguards and the services of a personal secretary.

His wife, family and friends are allowed to come and go as they please and he makes frequent trips to Jakarta for health checks, reportedly spending at least a week of every month in the capital from December 2004 on. Later, he is permanently transferred to a jail in Jakarta, supposedly to allow easier access to medical care. It is also reported that he continues to conduct his business affairs while behind bars.

2003 – In January the Indonesian National Commission on Human Rights announces that it will conduct a wide-ranging inquiry into violations committed during Suharto’s reign, beginning with an investigation into the massacre of communists that followed the alleged coup attempt in 1965. The 15-strong team will determine whether human rights violations took place; whether state policies provided a basis for rights violations; and whether Suharto was directly involved. The investigation is expected to take five months and could result in prosecutions.

2004 – In January the prospect that Suharto will face prosecution is rekindled when Indonesia’s attorney-general orders that new medical tests be conducted to determine whether the former dictator is healthy enough to stand trial for corruption.

The development is reported to be a reaction to public concerns following the naming of Suharto’s eldest daughter, Siti (‘Tutut’) Hardiyanti Rukmana, as a candidate for upcoming presidential elections, and to perceptions that Suharto is currently in good health.

On 10 February the attorney-general’s office confirms that Suharto will made to undergo further examinations by a special medical team. “Recently, he (Suharto) met (former Malaysian leader) Mahathir and people received an impression that he was healthy,” says spokesman Kemas Yahya. “We don’t know whether he is physically fir or not. That’s why he must be examined.”

Suharto’s lawyer says that while his client is in good health physically, “His disease becomes apparent when he is asked to speak, especially when he is asked to remember something.”

Meanwhile, on 25 March, the international anticorruption organisation Transparency International (TI) places Suharto at the top of a list of the world’s most corrupt political leaders of the past two decades.

According to TI, Suharto is alleged to have embezzled between US$15 billion and US$35 billion.

2005 – Suharto is admitted to the Pertamina Central Hospital in Jakarta on 5 May with “massive digestive bleeding” caused by diverticulosis. On 11 May he is allowed to return to his home, although he still requires intensive medical treatment.

Meanwhile, Tommy Suharto’s sentence for the murder of a judge is reduced by the Indonesian Supreme Court from 15 to 10 years. Remissions prune the sentence by a further 41 months. Tommy Suharto is released on parole on 30 October 2006. He has served less than five years of the original 15 year sentence.

On 28 November 2005 the East Timor Parliament is presented with a report by the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor, an independent group set up in 2002 to investigate the killings committed during the Indonesian occupation.

According to reports in ‘The Australian’ newspaper and other media outlets, the 2,500-page report finds that 18,600 East Timorese civilians were murdered or disappeared during the Indonesian occupation and between 84,200 and 183,000 more died as a direct result of Indonesia’s policies. Indonesian police or soldiers were to blame for 70% of the 18,600 murders and disappearances.

The report is based on interviews with almost 8,000 witnesses from East Timor, statements from refugees in West Timor, Indonesian military documents and intelligence from international sources.

“The crimes committed in 1999 were far outweighed by those committed during the previous 24 years of occupation,” the report says.

The Indonesian security forces “consciously decided to use starvation of East Timorese civilians as a weapon of war.”

“The intentional imposition of conditions of life which could not sustain tens of thousands of East Timorese civilians amounted to extermination as a crime against humanity committed against the East Timorese population. …

“Rape, sexual slavery and sexual violence were tools used as part of the campaign designed to inflict a deep experience of terror, powerlessness and hopelessness upon pro-independence supporters. …

“The violations were committed in execution of a systematic plan approved, conducted and controlled by Indonesian military commanders at the highest level. …

“Members of the civil administration of Timor and national-level government officials, including (Indonesian) ministers, knew of the strategy being pursued on the ground, and rather than taking action to halt it, directly supported its implementation.”

The report finds that the violence surrounding the 1999 independence vote was also part of a systematic plan approved, conducted and controlled by Indonesian military commanders to the highest level.

The report calls for reparations for victims of torture, rape and violence. It also recommends that this compensation be paid by Indonesia, Portugal and foreign nations that sold weapons to Indonesia and supported the annexation of East Timor.

According to the report, the mandate of the UN special crimes unit should be renewed to allow it to investigate and try human rights violations. The UN Security Council should also set up an international tribunal “should other measures be deemed to have failed to deliver a sufficient measure of justice and Indonesian persists in the obstruction of justice.”

2006 – At the end of April, following Suharto’s appearance at a relative’s wedding, Indonesia’s attorney-general calls for another medical examination to determine Suharto’s fitness to stand trial.

However, on 4 May, Suharto is admitted to Pertamina Central Hospital with intestinal bleeding. On 7 May he has surgery to stop the bleeding and remove 65 centimetres of his colon. It is the fourth time he has had to seek hospital treatment for intestinal bleeding since May 2004.

Suharto undergoes corrective surgery on 19 and 24 May. He is released from hospital on 31 May.

Meanwhile, on 12 May, Indonesian Attorney-general Abdul Rahman Saleh announces that his office has closed a graft case against Suharto because “Suharto’s health is not good, his condition deteriorates.” The final decision on whether the case will be completely dropped rests with Indonesian President Suslio Bambang Yudhoyono.

However, at the start of June, Judge Andi Samsang Nganro rules that the Attorney-general’s office has acted illegally and orders that the case against Suharto “be reopened and continued.”

An appeals court overturns the ruling at the start of August. A spokesman for the court says “the decision to drop the Suharto case was legally valid. … One of the considerations is that former President Suharto is suffering from non-fluent aphasia, which prevents him from communicating orally and in writing.”

2007 – On 9 July Indonesian prosecutors lodge a US$1.5 billion civil lawsuit against Suharto to recover funds allegedly siphoned from the Supersemar educational foundation set up in 1974.

According to prosecutor Dachmer Munthe, “The suit was filed because evidence has been found that the funds gathered by Suharto and the foundation he chaired were not only used for scholarships … but in reality the funds were also used for other purposes.”

The prosecutors allege that, beginning in 1978 and continuing until Suharto’s ouster, 85% of the money sent to the foundation was embezzled.

It is reported that Suharto will not need to appear in court for the proceedings.

The case begins on 9 August. On 27 March 2008 the court acquits Suharto of personal responsibility but orders Supersemar to pay the government US$110 million in compensation.

At the end of August 2007 Indonesia’s Supreme Court orders ‘Time’ magazine to pay Suharto US$106 in damages for allegedly defamatory accusations contained in the May 1999 issue of Time Asia.

‘Time’ announces that it will appeal the ruling.

Meanwhile, Suharto is named as the worst embezzler in modern times by the Stolen Assets Recovery Initiative, a joint venture of the World Bank and the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime. A report by the Initiative quotes the 2004 estimate by Transparency International that Suharto embezzled between US$15 billion and US$35 billion during his reign.

In October Suharto grants a rare media interview. Asked how he reacts to accusations of corruption, Suharto replies, “Let it go. Let them say what they want. It is all empty talk. Let them accuse me. The fact is I have never committed corruption. Then I got one trillion.” (One trillion is the amount in Indonesian rupiah that ‘Time’ was ordered to pay.)

2008 -Suharto returns to Pertamina Hospital on 4 January. He is suffering from low blood pressure, a weak heart, anaemia and swollen internal organs. His condition deteriorates, improves briefly, then falls back again. Suharto dies in hospital at 1:10 p.m. on 27 January from multiple organ failure. He is buried next to his wife at the family mausoleum on Mount Mangaten near Solo in Central Java the following day.

President Yudhoyono declares a week of mourning for his dead predecessor.

Comment: There is no doubt that the nascent Republic of Indonesia required strong and stable leadership to set it on a path of progress and development. And there is no doubt that this was always going to be difficult.

The country was catapulted from what was basically a feudal society to a democratic state in a matter of years. There was no tradition of multiparty, participatory government and no great familiarity or understanding of democratic institutions. There was, however, a legacy of brutal colonialism and a tradition of political corruption overlying a pervasive and ongoing cultural fatalism.

Someone like Suharto was necessary to ensure social cohesion in Indonesia, but that does not excuse his excesses – the mass killings, the breathtaking corruption, the refusal to step aside until his position became untenable, the suffocating paternalism that brought a nation to its knees.

Suharto is an embodiment of all that is worst in Asian despots of the 20th Century. He combines the bloodthirstiness of Cambodia’s Pol Pot and the greed of the Philippines’ Ferdinand Marcos.

More information
Indonesia – A Country Study (Library of Congress Country Studies Series)

Sejarah Indonesia: Indonesian Time-Line 24 May 1999 – The Family Firm

Suharto News – The New York Times Indonesia

Page created on 21 October 2001. Reviewed 22 February 2008. Updated 6 May 2008.
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Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan · 2000-2008 site design by thelab


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