PLEASE ASK Rudolf Butar Commander, District Military Command in North Jakarta ” ABOUT TG PRIOK TRAGEDY”. HE KNEW ALOT OF SECRET. Journal of Contemporary Asia
Publication Date: 01-FEB-07
Delivery: Immediate Online Access
Author: Sulistiyanto, Priyambudi
Full Article:
This article aims to examine the politics of justice and reconciliation in post-Suharto Indonesia with particular focus on the reinvestigation of the Tanjung Priok killings that occurred in 1984. It suggests that the complex issue of dealing with past abuses needs to be examined in the context of the growing literature on the constraints and possibilities faced by new democracies in dealing with past human rights abuses, thereby locating the Indonesian case in a broader comparative analysis. It shows that a variety of strategies such as trials, amnesties, and truth commissions have been adopted by new democracies when dealing with past abuses. Indonesia is one of a growing number of new democracies that have sought to address past human rights abuses. The case study of the Tanjung Priok killings in 1984 that will be presented here illustrates the level of complexity involved in understanding the politics of justice and reconciliation in post-Suharto Indonesia. Through a critical examination of this case it becomes clear that it is important to develop a strategy which combines the elements of prosecution and reconciliation in dealing with the past human rights abuses. This article poses several questions. What strategies to deal with past human rights abuses have been adopted since the fall of Suharto in 1998? What have been the constraints faced by Suharto’s predecessors in dealing with past abuses? What stories can be told about the complexity of dealing with the past?

Transitional Justice and the Indonesian Case

Scholars have argued that for the sake of protecting and maintaining political stability and of pursuing the reconciliation process, a new democratic regime has to deliver what is known as “transitional justice” (Kritz, 1995; McAdams, 1997). Transitional justice refers to the need for new democratic regimes to develop strategies which incorporate the elements of prosecution, reconciliation, reparation and rehabilitation in dealing with past human rights abuses. Trials, amnesties, and truth commissions are the strategies that have been suggested developed and implemented elsewhere (see Huyse, 2001; Amstutz, 2005). The strategy of pursuing trials is based on the idea that for the purpose of upholding the principle of “rule of law” and delivering “justice” and of gaining the public support which is needed during the democratic transition period, new democratic regimes must punish the perpetrators of past human rights abuses. Trials are a useful strategy for ending the culture of impunity that these perpetrators enjoyed in the past. Trials have a deterrent effect, reducing the likelihood that similar things will happen in the future. In other words, they symbolise a break with the past. However, they can only be adopted in circumstances where the new regimes are stronger politically than their predecessors, enabling the new regime to impose a new set of rules upon the old one. Both the Nuremberg trials for the Nazi war criminals and their collaborators and the Tokyo trials of Japanese war criminals in the post-World War II period are good examples of the use of trials. Recent examples are the ad hoc tribunals dealing specifically with the perpetrators of crimes against humanity in former Yugoslavia and Rwanda (Neier, 1999). (1)

The strategy of providing amnesties is based on the idea that for the sake of protecting the political stability of new democracies, new leaders may choose not to prosecute the perpetrators, instead granting amnesties. This strategy is adopted when the political cost of prosecuting the perpetrators would be so high that it could endanger the survival of the new democratic regime. The Spanish experience is a good example. Following the death of General Francisco Franco in 1975, new democratic leaders opted not to investigate the atrocities committed during the Franco period as a way of maintaining national unity. The Spanish experience is interesting because amnesties were offered primarily because the Spanish democratic transition occurred as a result of a pact or negotiated agreement among the old and new power holders. In this context, the decision not to investigate past abuses (or to forget the past) was made in order to protect the interests of the elites and to prevent the Spanish population from embarking on a “witch hunt” (Rigby, 2001; Aguilar, 2001).

The strategy of establishing truth commissions reflects the concern of some new democratic regimes to strengthen the reconciliation process and rebuild the country, through giving both the victims and the perpetrators the opportunity to meet, to speak publicly, and to exchange accounts of the past abuses. This strategy is also known as a “third way” or a supplementary strategy outside the trials and amnesties options. A truth commission is useful during the democratic transitional period, because it has advantages over an ordinary court especially in dealing with past human rights crimes, including that it helps to avoid the costly and prolonged legal battles which often happen in an ordinary court. There are four important components in a truth commission: it should focus on the past; it should endeavour to find the truth by clarifying the whole episode of the past human rights crimes; it should have power to access information in every government institution; and it should have specific mandates and end its existence after publishing the final report (see Bronkhorst, 1995; Rotberg and Thompson, 2000). Although a truth commission is not a legal institution, it has several important legal functions such as recommending or rejecting amnesties for the perpetrators and addressing issues related to the rights of the victims in the form of compensation and rehabilitation. In this respect the establishment of a truth commission has been seen as an important component of transitional justice (Hayner, 2001).

In the light of the complexity of dealing with past human rights abuses, we need to look at various factors such as the nature of democratic transitions and the balance of power, the politics of memory, external factors, and the strengths and weaknesses of a civil society (see Roht-Arrizia, 1995; Skaar, 1999; Teitel, 2000; De Brito, Gonzalez-Enrique, and Aguilar, 2001).

Aguilar and colleagues (2001: 305) argue that choice of strategy for dealing with past human rights crimes will also be determined by the shifting of the balance of political power between the elites of the old regime and those who favour democratisation and accountability. The balance of power among contending elites may shift from time to time, influenced by the uncertainty and unpredictability of the democratic transition period. In a country where the incumbent elites retain some political power, democratic leaders and human rights groups will often face difficulties in establishing mechanisms for dealing with the human rights crimes of the previous regime, as the elites and other loyalists of the old regime will endeavour to undermine any moves towards the investigation and prosecution of their past wrongdoings. But the balance of power can also shift to those who favour human rights issues and democracy. In this situation, victims and human rights groups will pressure the elites to establish mechanisms for dealing with past human rights crimes.

The capacity of a new democratic regime to come to terms with the past without creating a traumatic situation for the nation is very important. Differences in interpreting and understanding past human rights abuses have the potential for causing division within society. Aguilar and colleagues (2001: 37-8) suggest a new democratic regime should endeavour to close the gap between an official or public memory which refers to the government’s version of the past and the social memory which, in contrast, deals with the society’s version of the past (also see Osiel, 1999). Linking up two sides is no easy task, especially in a country which has been torn apart by ideological conflicts and wars in the past. Closing the gap between official and social memories must be seen as a collective project of the nation and its people. In other words, the spirit of “putting the past in its proper place” is a necessary step for everyone in this respect (Rigby, 2001: 188).

The role of external or international factors is also significant for new democratic regimes’ searching for the right strategy for dealing with past human rights abuses. External factors include international pressure, the adoption of international laws and conventions, technical and financial support from the developed countries, and also international advisers (Roht-Arrizia, 2001). For instance, the emergence of a new international justice “architecture” especially with the adoption of the Rome Convention of 1998 and with the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) will likely strengthen international legal jurisdiction over an individual countries such as Indonesia. (2) Pressure from the international community has been apparent in the legislation process of the Law on Human Rights Court and also the establishment of the Ad Hoc Human Rights Court on East Timor. External influence can have both positive and negative effects. For those countries (such as Indonesia) with a strong spirit of nationalism, external pressures can create problems domestically. But they can also enable pro-reform and human rights groups to increase their bargaining at a domestic level.

It has been argued elsewhere that civil society and non-state actors are independent and autonomous organisations outside of formal political institutions. They belong to or represent their members who come from various backgrounds, including lawyers, students, activists, professionals, public intellectuals and also academics (Crocker, 2000). The role of civil society is very important because it often acts as a pressure group during the democratic transitional period when the power struggles between old and new power holders are intense. Of course, the strengths and weaknesses of civil society vary between countries, this variation reflecting their different historical, social, and political backgrounds. A flourishing civil society can substantially influence the balance of power among the elites, especially those who support the formulation and implementation of pro-human rights and democratisation strategies. Civil society influenced the debate on the establishment of the human rights court and the future truth and reconciliation commission in Indonesia (Gorjao, 2001; Sulistiyanto, 2002). For instance, the Commission for Disappearances and Victims of Violence (Komisi untuk Orang Hilang dan Korban Kekerasan or Kontras, which was led by the late Munir) not only took the issue to the public, but put pressure on the Indonesian government to deal with the Tanjung Priok killings. (3) The other groups who have been campaigning for human rights issues are the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (Lembaga Bantuan Hukum Indonesia), the Union of Indonesia Legal Aid Consortium (Persatuan Bantuan Hukum se-Indonesia, PBHI), the Indonesian Commission on Human Rights (Komnas Ham), Solidamor, Elsam, Imparsial, public intellectuals, lawyers, and also various ad hoc solidarity groups.

In the case of post-Suharto Indonesia, part of the difficulty of dealing with past abuses also lies in the magnitude of the issue. It is clear that the Suharto period left many memories of trauma and it will be difficult for Indonesian society to overcome these. For instance, members or sympathisers of the defunct Communist Party of Indonesia (Partai Komunis Indonesia, PKI) including their families, were traumatised by the killings, torture, imprisonment and humiliation following their scapegoating after a failed coup attempt in 1965 which marked the rise of Suharto into power. Islamic leaders and their followers were jailed for their involvement in the Tanjung Priok case in 1984. Human rights abuses during the Suharto period affected a range of sectors of Indonesian society and created deep divisions within the society. It is a formidable challenge, therefore, for the government to address this trauma without further dividing the Indonesian society.

The Tanjung Priok Case

The following discussion outlines the complexity involved in addressing the 1984 Tanjung Priok killings. It traces the origins of public pressure to re-investigate the case that grew rapidly following the fall of Suharto in 1998. It shows that the changing balance of power during the Habibie and the Wahid presidencies created opportunities for a coalition of the victims, human rights organisations, politicians, and lawyers to put pressure on the government to deal with the Tanjung Priok case through prosecution or trials. It also includes the story of an alternative attempt to deal with this case, the “islah (peace) agreement” mechanism advocated by both Try Soetrisno and some representatives of the victims. It shows that although this case did not generate a great deal of international attention, unlike the East Timor case, the Tanjung Priok case attracted unprecedented attention from both the general domestic and the Islamic constituencies in Indonesia.

The Tanjung Priok killings occurred on 12 September 1984 in Tanjung Priok port in North Jakarta. The killings occurred in a poor area where many people worked as dockhand workers and petty traders. Military elements and local criminal thugs (known as preman) fought or co-operated to control a variety of lucrative businesses in and around the Tanjung Priok port area. This was also a multi-ethnic community where Javanese, Maduranese, Minang, Batak, and Bugis lived and interacted with each other. These factors shaped the course of the events leading up to the killings as they were often congregated in streets, public areas and also mosques established in this area.

Prior to 12 September, the local military officers had arrested a number of Islamic activists after discovering that a mosque had been inviting Islamic preachers who were very critical towards government policies. These arrests caused anxiety and anger among the local people. In response, hundred of demonstrators led by Amir Biki (a preacher who died on that day) went to the local military office demanding the release of their friends who were arrested the day before. On the way there, troops shot at the demonstrators. The killings were followed by the arrest and subsequent trial of a number of prominent Islamic activists and prominent opposition figures (belonging to the Petition of 50 group) who condemned the killings. Condemnation and criticism of the excessively heavy-handed measures used to deal with unarmed demonstrators were directed at the then President Suharto, General Benny Moerdani (Chief of the Armed Forces), Major General Try Soetrisno (Commander of Jakarta’s Regional Military Command) and other military officers. In the following months, the government, the media and human rights organisations circulated differing accounts of the numbers of demonstrators who were killed and who disappeared (Amnesty International, 1986; Tapol, 1987; Burns, 1989; Bresnan, 1993; Tim Perduli Tapol, 1998; Fatwa, 2000; Maloko, 2001; Teplok, 2002). This difference became the focus of controversy during the rest of Suharto’s New Order government.

The Tanjung Priok killings occurred in the context of a political climate in which the relationship between Suharto’s government and the Islamic community was strained. In the mid-1980s, the Suharto government had introduced a law requiring social and religious organisations to adopt the state ideology of Pancasila as a sole ideological principle (see Ramage, 1995). The government used both persuasion and repression to attempt to ensure that these organisations toed the line. The Tanjung Priok killings occurred in a climate of fear and mistrust which was the result of the refusal of some Islamic organisations (especially at the grass roots level) to adopt the state ideology of Pancasila.

The Fall of Suharto

During the months following the fall of Suharto in May 1998, pressure on the new president Habibie to re-open the Tanjung Priok case grew rapidly, caused by several factors. First, the push to investigate all the gross human rights abuses that happened during Suharto’s New Order was part of the reformasi movement that flourished in the early days of the Habibie presidency (see Hefner, 2000). The balance of power shifted towards the Habibie camp, supported by Islamic scholars drawn mainly from to the Association of Indonesian Islamic Intellectuals (Ikatan Cendekiawan Muslim Indonesia, ICMI) and the Council of Islamic Missionaries (Dewan Dakwah Islamiah, DDI). These groups were helpful in bringing the case to the attention of the Indonesian public. Second, the decision made by Habibie in 1998 to release and rehabilitate many political prisoners who were jailed during the Suharto period, including those who were associated with the Tanjung Priok killings, paved the way for the emergence of a coalition between former political prisoners, the victims and their relatives, and human rights organisations, calling on the government to reopen the case (Republika, 12 June 1998, 16 June 1998; Kompas, 18 June 1998; Jawa Pos, 19 August 1998). Delegation after delegation visited the Parliament, the National Commission on Human Rights and the military headquarters throughout June until August 1998 demanding that the government reopen the Tanjung Priok case (Republika, 1 June 1998). Prominent political figures such as Ali Sadikin, Sri Bintang Pamungkas, A.M. Fatwa and well-known lawyers like Adnan Buyung Nasution, and Abdul Hakim Garuda Nusantara supported the cause by suggesting that from the legal standpoint it was still possible to reopen the case and that it should not be regarded as a desire for revenge on the part of the victims (Republika, 9 June 1998, 11 June 1998, 19 June 1998; Bisnis Indonesia, 19 June 1998).

However, not everyone agreed with the idea of reinvestigating the Tanjung Priok case. Try Soetrisno (by then, the former Commander of Jakarta’s Military Command) argued that the case had already been closed and should not be reopened (Republika, 18 June 1998). In response, Marzuki Darusman, from the National Commission on Human Rights, said that while the case might not be dealt with through legal means, he suggested dealing with it through “a process of historical clarification” which could be done by establishing a truth and reconciliation commission (Jawa Pos, 20 June 1998, 21 June 1998). As debate about the merits and demerits of reinvestigating the case grew, both the National Commission on Human Rights (led by the late Baharuddin Lopa) and the Development Unity Party (Partai Persatuan Pembangunan or PPP, a coalition of Islamic-based parties in the Parliament), proposed to the Parliament the establishment of their own fact-finding teams to reinvestigate the Tanjung Priok killings (Republika, 29 June 1998; Kompas, 7 July 1998; Merdeka, 11 June 1998; Suara Merdeka, 11 July 1998).

The PPP proposed that the Tanjung Priok case must be discussed in the Parliament, but predictably, the former ruling party Golkar and the military faction rejected the PPP’s proposal (Republika, 22 August 1998). The rejection was interpreted as a clear signal of the fear on the part of these groups that any reinvestigation of the Tanjung Priok case could put them at a disadvantage as many high-ranking Golkar and military figures might be implicated in the case. Pressure from below continued, however, reaching a national scale in early September 1998 when the Parliament decided to establish a joint fact-finding team comprising representatives from different political parties, the purpose being to collect information from various sources in order to know the truth about the Tanjung Priok killings (Republika, 3 September 1998). At this point, the desire of the victims’ side to deal with this case through a court was getting stronger. For instance, former political prisoner Abdul Qadir Djaelani urged the Habibie government to resolve the Tanjung Priok case once and for all by bringing the perpetrators to court, which would in many ways also uphold the rule of law and a sense of justice in order to bring about national reconciliation. As cited in Republika (7 September 1998), Abdul Qadir Djaelani, says:

We have agreed with the instruction of the government that is to
bring about national reconciliation. However, it has to be
thought, that we had for a while been hurt, tortured, imprisoned
and even killed without accountability … To the government we
demand that genuine justice be upheld.

Victims and various Islamic organisations spontaneously prepared a mass prayer gathering (pengajian akbar) held in Al Husna mosque in Tanjung Priok and also organised discussion forums commemorating the fourteenth anniversary of the killings in Tanjung Priok, on 12 September 1998. Thousands of people attended the pengajian akbar including many political leaders and prominent figures such as Amien Rais (the National Mandate Party, Partai Amanat Nasional, PAN), Yusril Ihza Mahendra (from the Crescent Star Party, Partai Bulan Bintang), Sayid Agil Siroj (Nahdlatul Ulama), Jalaluddin Rakmat (Islamic scholar), and Munir (Kontras) (Suara Merdeka, 13 September 1998). The Centre for the Study and Development of Information in co-operation with Gema Insani Press published a book entitled The Bloody Event of Tanjung Priok, Who’s Responsible? (Republika, 21 September 1998). This book aimed to tell the victims’ stories about the Tanjung Priok killings as a reference for the government, the parliament and the National Commission on Human Rights. Dewi Wardah (Amir Biki’s widow) addressed the National Commission on Human Rights in early October 1998, urging the Habibie government to attend to the rehabilitation of the victims of Tanjung Priok so that they could heal the trauma and fear they experienced for many years (Kompas, 1 October 1998; Republika, 1 October 1998). Lastly, an organisation called Sontak (the National Solidarity for the Tanjung Priok Event in 1984/Solidaritas Nasional untuk Peristiwa Tanjungpriok 1984) together with a group of lawyers from the Association of Defenders of Islam (Asosiasi Pembela Islam, API) and about 30 witnesses came to the National Commission on Human Rights, handing over a report with detailed information about the killings which could be used to bring the case to court (Kompas, 13 October 1998; Republika, 13 October 1998).

In response to the pressure from below, in December 1998, Baharuddin Lopa the head of the Tanjung Priok team of the National Commission on Human Rights, made a public announcement explaining that the Commission had almost finished collecting data and information on the Tanjung Priok killings and that it wanted to find out more about the involvement of former military leaders Benny Moerdani and Try Soetrisno in this case (Republika, 3 December 1998; Suara Merdeka, 3 December 1998; Kompas, 3 December 1998). This announcement increased the level of pressure on the Habibie government and in March 1999 the National Commission on Human Rights recommended that the government deal with the case through the courts. (4) The Commission also urged the government to tell the Indonesian public the truth about the Tanjung Priok killings and to reveal to relatives the location of the burial sites of those who were killed in 1984.

In 1999 there was an increase in the public pressure being brought to bear on the Habibie government to reinvestigate the Tanjung Priok case. This was shaped by two factors. First, the pressure to reopen the case continued to mount after the 1999 general elections brought more Islamic-based parties to the Parliament. This was a new parliament, different from those where the ruling party Golkar and the military faction had been the dominant forces. The rise of the Islamic-based parties and the arrival of former political prisoners such as A.M. Fatwa and Abdul Qadir Djaelani as new parliamentary members helped greatly in ensuring that the Tanjung Priok case became an important item on the agenda in the Parliament (Republika, 25 September 1999; Kompas, 7 October 1999). Second, the international pressure on Indonesia to bring the perpetrators of the human rights abuses in East Timor to trial served to increase the pressure coming from civil society toward the Habibie government to deal with the Tanjung Priok killings. The establishment of a Special Team to Investigate the Human Rights Violations in East Timor by the National Commission on Human Rights in September 1999 gave rise to a sense of unfairness among those who had pressured the government to deal with the Tanjung Priok killings. According to one human rights analyst, there was a strong perception that both the Habibie government and the National Commission on Human Rights acted selectively and discriminatively in dealing with the past human rights violations by prioritising the East Timor case over that of the Tanjung Priok killings. (5) When Habibie left office in October 1999, the hope for revealing the truth about the Tanjung Priok killings moved to the newly-elected President Abdurrahman Wahid.

The Wahid Presidency

Under the new Wahid government the pressure to reinvestigate the Tanjung Priok killings grew to a national scale. Public expectation of the new president was very high as Wahid was known as a champion of the principles of democracy and human rights in Indonesia. Human rights lawyers and activists, academics, politicians, and victims were still debating the best mechanism through which to deal with the Tanjung Priok killings. Two strategies were debated in early 2000: the prosecution of perpetrators in a human rights court and a truth commission. Prosecution was supported by a coalition of groups such as the relatives of the victims, human rights organisations (such as Kontras and the Legal Aid Foundation) and human rights lawyers defending the relatives of the victims. The lawyers argued that based on their preliminary investigations, the type of crime committed in Tanjung Priok was not just an ordinary crime, but one that could be categorised as a “crime against humanity” (kejahatan terhadap kemanusiaan) and therefore a human rights court was needed (Suara Pembaruan, 22 February 2000; Kompas, 23 February 2000; Republika, 23 February 2000). The establishment of a human rights court was possible because the Parliament had just enacted the Law on Human Rights (No. 39/1999) which was followed by the announcement of the Government Regulation on Human Rights Court (No. 1/1999), opening up the possibility of dealing with the Tanjung Priok killings through legal means (similar to the East Timor case). A truth commission was proposed by Abdul Hakim Nusantara, a prominent human rights lawyer, who suggested that the Tanjung Priok case could be addressed through a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Komisi Rekonsiliasi dan Kebenaran, KKR), the detail of which had been drafted by the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights. This idea was not new. As mentioned earlier, the National Commission on Human Rights, legal experts and other human rights organisations such as Elsam and the Legal Aid Foundation had proposed it earlier. Various models of truth commissions such as those established in Chile, Argentina and South Africa had been discussed by these organisations in a series of workshops conducted in 1999 and 2000 resulting in the draft bill for a truth and reconciliation commission (see Sulistiyanto, 2002).

While the debates on the two strategies continued, in February 2000 the National Commission on Human Rights finally agreed to establish the Commission to Investigate the Human Rights Violations in Tanjung Priok (Komisi Penyelidikan Pelanggaran Hak Asasi Manusia kasus Tanjung Priok, or KPP Ham Tanjung Priok) (Kompas, 1 March 2000; Suara Pernbaruan, 1 March 2000). As expected, the public and the relatives of the victims reacted positively to the announcement since they had been waiting for more than a decade to know the truth about the Tanjung Priok killings. However, there were questions regarding the composition of the membership of the Commission and also regarding whether the KPP Ham Tanjung Priok would have the power to call on Moerdani and Soetrisno to give testimony. Some doubted the ability of the KPP Ham Tanjung Priok to undertake such a big job, especially when it became known that Djoko Soegianto, the Chairman of the National Commission on Human Rights was given the job of leading the KPP Ham Tanjung Priok. Djoko Soegianto was seen by some as compromised by his relationship with the military and lacking the skills needed to do the job (Suara Pembaruan, 8 March 2000).

The KPP Ham Tanjung Priok had only three months in which to collect information and to invite testimony from both the victims and the perpetrators and then to send recommendations to the government and the parliament for necessary legal consideration (Media Indonesia, 23 March 2000; Republika, 23 March 2000; Jawa Pos, 25 March 2000). In the month of March 2000, about 90 witnesses gave their testimonies including A.M. Fatwa and Abdul Qadir Djaelani. Djoko Soegianto also led a small delegation to meet Admiral Widodo, the Chief of the Indonesian Armed Forces, securing approval to question military officers on their involvement in the Tanjung Priok killings (Media Indonesia, 23 March 2000; Republika, 23 March 2000; Jawa Pos, 25 March 2000). With this approval, between April and May 2000, the KPP Ham Tanjung Priok was able to call high-ranking military officers such as Rudolf Butar Butar (former commander of the North Jakarta District Command), Alif Pandoyo (former Operation Assistant in the Jakarta Military Command), and also Moerdani and Soetrisno.

Of course, the appearance of Moerdani and Soetrisno on 3 May 2000 caught the attention not only of the victims, but also of the general public (Media Indonesia, 4 May 2000; Suara Merdeka, 4 May 2000). In their testimonies, both said that they did not give orders to shoot the demonstrators, insisting that the killings happened as a result of fighting among the demonstrators that got out of control (Kompas, 4 May 2000; Suara Pembaruan, 4 May 2000). On the issue of the number killed, each came up with different numbers: Soetrisno with 23 persons and Benny Moerdani with 18 (Republika, 4 May 2000). In order to gather more information about this issue, the KPP Ham Tanjung Priok decided to exhume graves in Jakarta where some of those who were killed were buried (Kompas, 25 May 2000; Kompas, 31 May 2000). This decision was made with the aim of gathering forensic evidence in order to establish the correct number of those killed and the circumstances of their deaths. Meanwhile, on the issue of documentary evidence, KPP Ham Tanjung Priok encountered difficulties because many documents related to this case were no longer available, having been deliberately destroyed by the military (Kompas, 8 May 2000).

The KPP Ham Tanjung Priok handed over the report to the Parliament on 16 June 2000 (ICG, 2001: 9-10). In the report, it was stated that evidence of mass killing had not been found and it was suggested that the military had been forced to shoot the demonstrators because they were in a “defensive” position in the face of uncontrollable demonstrators (Republika, 17 June 2000). It also stated that 24 people were killed directly in the shooting and nine family members were killed as a result of angry crowds attacking Tan Kio Liem’s business premises (Suara Pembaruan, 17 June 2000). The report urged the government to investigate military officers from all ranks in order to find out whether they committed the gross human rights abuses of which they had been accused. In addition, the report also recommended that the government should publicly ask for forgiveness from, and rehabilitate and compensate the victims and the members of the families of those who were killed in 1984 (Kompas, 17 June 2000). However, as acknowledged by Djoko Soegianto, while the report contained recommendations that were forwarded to the government and the Parliament for further action, it lacked the strong legal status that could have enabled further legal processes (Republika, 17 June 2000). The reason for this was that the KPP Ham Tanjung Priok itself was established as the Parliament rejected the Government Regulation on Human Rights Court (No. 1/ 1999), replacing it with the Law on Human Rights Court (No. 26/2000). Thus the KPP Ham East Tirnor, which was established under the Government Regulation on Human Rights Court (No. 1/1999), had much stronger legal status than the KPP Ham Tanjung Priok. (6)

The victims and human rights organisations were disappointed with the KKP Ham Tanjung Priok report especially as many had high expectations that the report would pave the way for a resolution of the Tanjung Priok case through legal means or trials (Kompas, 19 June 2000; Republika, 20 June 2000). The weak final report led to uncertainty as to what the next legal steps needed to be and more importantly, it caused deep stress and anxiety for the victims and their relatives who had been searching for justice. Strong reactions also came from certain politicians, mostly members of the Islamic parties in the Parliament, who rejected the report’s recommendations, demanding that the National Commission on Human Rights further investigate the case (Kompas, 20 June 2000; Media Indonesia, 21 June 2000; Jawa Pos, 21 June 2000; Republika, 21 June 2000). The report also generated heated polemics and debates that were reported in the major newspapers. For instance, Beni Biki, Amir Biki’s brother, wrote an article published in Republika (23 June 2000) urging the government to solve the case through legal means, among other reasons, as it was an important element of the national reconciliation process. (7) He stated that:

Once again, we do not really care about rehabilitation and
compensation. That is the duty of the government, if the government
accepts that there were transgressions in the past. We have already
suffered enough: losing parents, children, brothers, husbands and
our flesh and blood. It is impossible that all of these can be
brought back. If this case can be re-examined thoroughly, then it is
the duty of the government to give protection to the victims and to
punish the perpetrators of the gross human rights violations…. We
simply want to assert that there won’t be reconciliation without
telling the truth.

In order to ease the tensions arising from the disappointment over the report, in July 2000 President Wahid ordered the Attorney General’s Office to undertake further investigations of the case, using the report prepared by the KPP Ham Tanjung Priok (Jakarta Post, 7 July 2000; Republika, 7 July 2000). The National Commission on Human Rights also set up a new team (led by Koesparmono Irsan, a former high-ranking police officer) to follow up the recommendation in the first report and to seek new forensic evidence. (8) Within two months (between August and September 2000) the Commission, with help from forensic experts from the University of Indonesia, exhumed graves in cemeteries scattered all over Jakarta (Media Indonesia, 31 August 2000; Media Indonesia, 6 September 2000; Suara Pembaruan, 13 September 2000; Republika, 18 September 2000). The forensic experts’ preliminary report indicated that the number of those who were killed in 1984 was much greater than that estimated by the military and, more sadly, that they were killed as a result either of being shot or other military violence (Kompas, 26 September 2000; Republika, 26 September 2000; Jakarta Post, 27 September 2000).

Based on the new forensic evidence and additional information, the National Commission produced a second report on 13 October 2000. The report recommended that the Attorney General’s Office should investigate 23 persons (including Moerdani and Soetrisno) who were suspected of committing gross human rights violations in Tanjung Priok (Jakarta Post, 14 October 2000; Suara Pembaruan, 15 October 2000). The report was widely accepted by the public including the victims and their relatives, because of its legal recommendations. In early 2001 the Attorney General’s Office set up an ad hoc team to deal with the case, inviting numerous witnesses from both sides to give their testimonies (Suara Pembaruan, 10 January 2001; Media Indonesia, 23 January 2001). By this point, trials in fact could be held, because in November 2000 the Parliament had enacted the Law on Human Rights Court (No. 26/2000), Section 43, Article 1 of which stated that for dealing with gross human rights violations such as crimes against humanity and genocide, the government with the endorsement from the parliament must establish an ad hoc human rights court (ICG, 2001: 14-15). In April 2001, President Wahid issued a Presidential Decree (No. 53/2001) on the establishment of Ad Hoc Human Rights Courts on East Timor and Tanjung Priok. This decree was later replaced by Presidential Decree (No. 96/2001) issued by President Megawati Sukarnoputri, revising the former giving emphasis to the location and the time factors (locus and tempus delicti) of the gross human rights violations that happened in East Timor and Tanjung Priok (Arinanto, 2003: 375). These factors had not been addressed properly in the previous Presidential Decree (No. 53/2001).

ISLAH (Peace) Agreements

As mentioned earlier, some attempts were made at resolving the Tanjung Priok case through non-legal means, which became known as islah (peace) agreements. On 1 March 2001 in Jakarta’s Sunda Kelapa Mosque, Soetrisno (on behalf of the military) and some of the families of the victims signed such an agreement, witnessed by Major General Bibit Waluyo, the Head of Jakarta’s Military Command and Nurcholish Madjid, a well-known and respected Islamic scholar. (9) It was stated in the islah agreement that both sides agreed to sign it without external pressure and therefore it could not be challenged by anyone (see Piagam Perdamaian Tanjung Priok, Melangkah Menuju Ishlah, 2001:11-12). Soetrisno stated that the islah agreement was supported by the victims. He explained:

Islah means peace and all sides, including those who were injured,
died, former prisoners or their families, amounting (79 persons in
all), have been accommodated here. They have delegated seven
representatives to sign the islah, including the family of Biki
(as quoted in Kompas, 8 March 2001).

Representatives who signed the islah agreement acknowledged that the 12 September 1984 killings were “regretted deeply” on both sides and both sides were willing “to forgive each other” and “to eliminate the feeling of revenge” (Piagam Perdamaian Tanjung Priok, 2001: 10-11). Syarifuddin, the representative of the victims, also said that the signing of the islah agreement was a way to leave the past behind and he hoped that “similar events would not happen again” (Piagam Perdamaian Tanjung Priok, 2001: 10-11). A similar view was expressed by victim Syafwan Sulaeman who said that the islah agreement was an expression of good will aimed at eliminating acts of revenge (Jakarta Post, 8 March 2001). Even the late Nurcholis Madjid believed that the islah agreement was very good given the fact that it stressed the elements of “forgiveness” and “peace,” both of which were important in the process of resolving the Tanjung Priok case (Kompas, 8 March 2001). Meanwhile, Satjipto Rahardjo, a respected law academic, went further by saying that the agreement gave a meaningful contribution to the restoration of justice in Indonesia (Kompas, 12 March 2001).

As could be expected, however, the signing of the islah agreement also created controversy because it happened precisely at the time that the Attorney General had the Tanjung Priok case in her hands. Some argued that the islah agreement was aimed at stopping the legal proceedings (Media Indonesia, 6 March 2001). More importantly the islah agreement used an Islamic process which did not include meaningful steps for the perpetrators to confess and for the public to know what really happened in the past. In an interview given to Republika (8 March 2001), Beni Biki said that the islah agreement was a political tool used at the cost of justice. He said:

I see this is a new game to use religion as a tool to justify past
wrongdoing. It must be made public that not all of the victims of
[Tanjung] Priok attended the meeting…. On the issue of
forgiveness, we have already done that. But this is about law.
Therefore that needs to be resolved first. Then we can talk
about islah.

Both those who agreed and those who disagreed with the islah agreement, looked for political support from President Wahid. On 9 March 2001, a delegation led by Munir (from Kontras) visited the Presidential Palace urging the government to continue with the legal process in dealing with the Tanjung Priok case (Suara Pembaruan, 10 March 2001). A few days later, on 15 March 2001, Soetrisno together with some of the victims also visited the Presidential Palace, arguing that the islah agreement was the best way to deal with the Tanjung Priok case and that it could be used in dealing with other cases of gross human rights violations as well. The responses of President Wahid to both delegations were ambiguous. In principle, President Wahid believed that both trials and islah agreements were important and both had their strengths and weaknesses (Suara Pembaruan, 15 March 2001; Kompas, 16 March 2001). He stressed that dealing with the case through trials would take a long time and be costly, but that this was needed in order to show the public that his government had a strong commitment to resolving the Tanjung Priok case. At the same time, he believed that islah agreements were also important because they would enhance the reconciliation process which was also one of the important goals of his government (see Arinanto, 2003: 380-1).

On 18 September 2001, Soetrisno and some representatives of the victims, mainly from Amir Biki’s family, signed a second islah agreement, restating the need to forgive each other and to avoid taking legal action against each other (Arinanto, 2003: 378). On 21 September 2001, Try Soetrisno and his delegation came to meet Admiral Widodo (the Chief of the Armed Forces) and General Endriarto (the Chief of the Army) in the military headquarters in Jakarta, presenting the report and also urging the Attorney General’s Office not to go ahead with the investigation of the case and especially not to name the possible suspects publicly (Arinanto, 2003: 379). However, the islah agreements did not stop the investigation as the Wahid and Megawati governments finally brought the perpetrators of the Tanjung Priok case to trial although at the end, the perpetrators were freed from punishment.

What can be said about the emergence of islah agreements in the Tanjung Priok case? In assessing them, it is important to examine closely the validity of the agreements. As not all victims of the Tanjung Priok case were involved, this meant that the agreements lacked broad support from the victims. The agreements came out of the blue as moves to bring the perpetrators to trial began, making it difficult for the victims to argue their case in a united way. It is clear that the key motive of the Indonesian military in initiating the islah agreements was self interest. They aimed to create division among the victims as they pursued their quest for justice through the Ad Hoc Human Rights Court. This seemed to work well as some of the victims changed their views or withdrew their early testimonies during the court hearings. Given their past track record, the military figures involved were more interested to protect themselves and to manipulate the Indonesian public to believe that the military had done something for the victims. Through the use of islah agreements the military tried to attract sympathy from the victims in particular and the Islamic constituents in general. Through these islah agreements, the process of revealing the truth about what happened in Tanjung Priok in 1984 was denied, with the emphasis being placed on “forgiving” each other and on moving to the future–“forgetting” the past rather than coming to terms with it. As mentioned earlier by Beni Biki, however, islah agreements could be meaningful after the victims know about the truth of the Tanjung Priok killings and the quest for justice has been completed.

The islah agreements generated considerable debate and some support in civil society, which suggests that under different circumstances the agreements may have a place in the reconciliation process. Indonesia is a religious society and as such, a range of religious and other non-secular means to reconciliation may complement the formal and legal mechanisms. However consideration would need to be given to the issue of how these agreements are made. It seems essential that they are mediated by a third party. Neutrality and transparency is the mediation process must be upheld. This clearly did not occur in the use of islah that we have examined here.

The Tanjung Priok Ad Hoe Human Rights Court

The Ad Hoc Human Rights Court for Tanjung Priok commenced the first hearing on 15 September 2003 in a specially designated building in the Central Jakarta court complex. The overall duration of the trials was almost a year, ending in August 2004. Unsurprisingly, only low- and middle-ranking military officers were brought to trial, many of whom were on the ground when the killings happened (Kompas, 10 September 2003; Koran Tempo, 10 September 2003; Republika, 10 September 2003). Meanwhile, prominent figures such as Suharto, Moerdani and Soetrisno escaped trial. The media and the human rights organisations called upon the public to monitor and scrutinise the court proceedings. The absence of the “big fish” brought immediate public criticism and even cynicism as some prcdicted that this Court would follow the path of the Ad Hoc Human Rights Court for East Timor which failed to deliver justice for the victims (Tempo, 21 September 2003).

In spite of this, the Ad Hoc Human Rights Court for Tanjung Priok went ahead with four trials. The first was that of Sergeant Sutrisno Mascung together with his ground troops, most of whom belonged to the Yon Arhanud 06 platoon (headed by Sutrisno) and based in Tanjung Priok. The second was that of retired Major General Pranowo, former Head of the Military Police Section in the Jakarta Military Regional Command. The third trial was that of retired Major General Rudolf Butar Butar, former Head of the North Jakarta Military District Command. The fourth trial was that of Major General Sriyanto who had been the head of the Operations Section Branch in the North Jakarta Military District Command. (10) In court, all were indicted by the prosecutors for crimes against humanity (kejahatan terhadap kemanusiaan) as stated in the Law on Human Rights Court (No. 26/2000) and also for various criminal acts as (Suara Pembaruan, 15 September 2003; Kompas, 16 September 2003).

During the hearings, it appeared that there were serious flaws in the process, which put the credibility of the Ad Hoc Court in doubt. (11) There were five main criticisms. First, the indictments were weak. The prosecutors failed to include the important elements of “systematic” (sistematis) and “widespread” (meluas) in their descriptions of the abuses perpetrated. In their indictments, the prosecutors did not cite the social and political settings of the time as important factors in conditioning the demonstrators to march in the streets against local military officers, leading to the killings. In addition, the prosecutors did not address the wider consequences of the killings, which reached beyond the Tanjung Priok area. Second, the prosecutors deliberately overlooked the line of command responsibility (pertanggungjawaban komando) from higher ranking Army officers. As a consequence, Article 42 of the Law on Human Rights Court which deals with the importance of command responsibility was not applied, with the result that higher-ranking military officers such as Suharto, Moerdani and Soetrisno were not held accountable. This is an ironic situation since in military practice everywhere, especially during military operations, lower ranking officers act under orders from their superiors.

The third flaw in the trials was that the prosecutors were unable to provide credible evidence to support their indictments, as much evidence was no longer available or had been destroyed (Kompas, 18 November 2003; Suara Pembaruan, 19 November 2003; Suara Pembaruan, 22 November 2003). Fourth, during the course of the trials, some witnesses changed or, in some cases, even withdrew their earlier testimonies. This made the prosecution of the perpetrators less convincing, if not useless. Some witnesses changed their stories because they had made peace or islah agreements with the military prior to the trials (Kompas, 12 December 2003; Media Indonesia, 19 December 2003). The fifth failing was the general atmosphere of intimidation that pervaded the trials due to the mobilisation of military troops and officers attached to the Special Forces (Kopassus) to attend and to occupy seats inside the Jakarta Court building. Some witnesses felt or were intimidated by military figures, and there was not yet a law protecting the rights of witnesses in this kind of trial. There was no doubt that this was not only aimed at intimidating the witnesses but also others including the prosecutors or even the judges (Kompas, 24 October, 30 October, 31 October 2003; Republika, 25 October 2003; Koran Tempo, 29 October 2003). This action on the part of the military went against the principle the trials should be undertaken in an open atmosphere where everyone had equal access to all information and, more importantly, to justice. This all showed that the Indonesian military still has a considerable power in the legal process in Indonesia.

The defendants and their lawyers took advantage of the weakness of the indictments, pressing their cases or points of view, saying that the application of crimes against humanity was not appropriate in the trials. The defendants’ lawyers also argued that the prosecutors had no case because the Tanjung Priok case had already been dealt with by the Suharto government and the parliament in the past (Kompas, 30 September 2003; Suara Pembaruan, 30 September 2003). In spite of this, the Court continued to proceed without realising that the weak indictments and other flaws would lead to disastrous outcomes for the victims and the cause of justice. Finally, when the panel of judges delivered their verdicts in August 2004, a light sentence was handed down to Sutrisno Mascung and a slightly harsher, ten-year, sentence was given to Rudolf Butar Butar. However, as shown in Table 1, the other middle-ranking military officers such as Pranowo and Sriyanto were freed (Jakarta Post, 13 August 2004).

There was, however, a ruling that the government had to provide financial compensation to the victims and their families, who had not at that point been given any form of compensation whatsoever (Kompas, 21 August 2004). The most ironic outcome, however, was that the sentenced perpetrators did not go to jail because they were given a right to appeal to the next-level court (pengadilan tingkat kasasi). As shown in Table 1, in July 2005, the appeal court acquitted the two officers originally sentenced to three and ten years respectively by the Ad Hoc Human Rights on Tanjung Priok in the previous year (Kompas, 30 September 2005). Domestic and international organisations criticised these acquittals as “a travesty of justice” (Fatwa, 2005: 198-9; Tapol, 2005; also Human Rights Watch, 2005).

Tanjung Priok and the Future Truth Commission

Will the Tanjung Priok case be dealt with through a truth commission? The probable answer is yes, in time, but the truth commission has not yet been established. For those who support a truth commission, the main idea was that a commission would offer a non-court mechanism which would bring victims and perpetrators together in a series of public hearings that might lead to formal settlements for giving the victims some kind of compensation, reparation and rehabilitation and for the perpetrators some kind of an amnesty or further trial. (12) The public and the victims have been waiting since 2000 for a truth commission to be established, in order to resolve past gross human rights abuses including that of Tanjung Priok. The long and difficult road to establish a truth commission reflects the political realities of the post-Suharto period. Divergent views on the importance of a truth commission emerged in the public hearings on this issue in the parliament in 2003 and 2004.

The contentious issues also centre on naming the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act, how to reveal the truth, amnesty, rehabilitation, and compensation issues (Simanjuntak, 2004). For instance, the military-police faction in the Parliament rejected the word “truth” (kebenaran) for reasons that the bill should be focused more on upholding the spirit of reconciliation and not on revealing past violations (Kompas, 25 May 2004). Meanwhile, the reform faction preferred the word “accountability” (pertanggung-jawaban) instead of “truth” and the Crescent and Star party faction wanted to keep the word “truth” but add “national” to “reconciliation” (Kompas, 26 May 2004). Other issues debated were compensation, rehabilitation and amnesty. Amnesty was the most sensitive and difficult matter debated in the hearings.

At the civil society level, there were disagreements over the truth commission. The human rights organisations themselves were divided into two camps: the prosecution and punishment camp and the truth commission camp. (13) The first camp (which include Kontras, the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation and Imparsial) argued that Indonesia should strengthen the role of a human rights court instead of a truth commission. They believed that the perpetrators must be brought to court for their past crimes and be judged accordingly, and argued that justice can only be achieved if the perpetrators are punished. The second camp, represented by Elsam and the National Commission on Human Rights (Komisi Hak Asasi Manusia, Komnas Ham), argued that a truth commission would provide the opportunity for the victims to come forward and tell their stories about the past, which would enhance the reconciliation process. Accordingly, a truth commission could complement the human rights court which was already established in Indonesia.

Views on the issue of amnesty were also divided amongst the major parties and human rights organisations. Those who were against amnesty argued that it could only strengthen a sense of impunity among perpetrators. Amnesty, it was argued, contradicted international laws and conventions on human rights and also denied the victims’ right to know the truth. Conversely, those in favour of amnesty argued that it was a way to enhance the reconciliation process. Amnesty has been used in new democratic countries as an instrument of transitional justice and, in the South African context, amnesty was used in the case of perpetrators who publicly confessed their past wrongdoings. According to the 1945 Indonesian Constitution, only the president has the power to provide an amnesty. In fact, it was stated in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act (No. 27/2004) that the president could only give an amnesty based on the recommendation of the members of the truth commission.

After a long delay, in the last days of the Megawati presidency, the Parliament finally enacted the Law on Truth and Reconciliation Commission in September 2004 and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s government began the process of selecting the 21 members of the Commission (for the debates about a truth commission, see Kasim and Terre, 2003). How have the Indonesian public and the human rights community reacted to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act? Generally views have varied from pessimistic, to cautious, and to optimistic. The Indonesian public has cautiously accepted the fact that a truth commission will be established in Indonesia, and has been warned that the stakes are so high that everyone needs to work hard to make the truth commission successful in promoting reconciliation. The human rights organisations such as Kontras, Imparsial and the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation who had favoured the prosecution strategy have criticised the Act on the grounds that it sends the wrong signal, promoting impunity for the perpetrators through the possibility of amnesty which is possible as long as both the victims and the perpetrators are forgiving (saling memaafkan) each other (personal communication with an Indonesian human rights activist, 23 March 2005). They have also stated that since the final shape of the Act was a result of political compromise among the major parties in the parliament, it lacks credibility as an instrument for delivering justice and promoting reconciliation process in Indonesia. The Act itself, I suggest, does indeed still have many flaws and loopholes. There is no perfect legislation in this arena. But this does not mean that there no possibility of revision, nor that the truth commission will not function properly in the future. One idea that is worth contemplating is to go to the Constitutional Court (Mahkamah Konstitusi) which has the legal jurisdiction to review all legal products in Indonesia, including that of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act. For instance, the considerations related to amnesty which go against international laws could be reviewed. Another possibility is to pressure the parliament to amend the Act itself. (14)


This article has examined how the politics of justice and reconciliation in post-Suharto Indonesia, has impacted on the pressure faced by Suharto’s successors to implement a proper mechanism to deal with past human rights abuses. This pressure has come from both domestic and international sectors. A coalition of actors within Indonesian civil society demanding the investigation of past abuses has played a crucial role in this process. Dealing with past abuses is a political process involving intense struggles among various parties. As shown earlier, in many of the past abuses the former President Suharto and other high-ranking military officers are implicated and this has created an atmosphere of both denial and anxiety among them. They have resisted moves on the part of the government and its bodies to investigate human rights abuses.

This article has explored how post-Suharto Indonesia has begun to address the 1984 Tanjung Priok killings. In this case, it is pointed out that public pressure to reinvestigate increased a great deal after the fall of Suharto in 1998. The changing balance of power since 1998 opened up space for a coalition of the victims, human right organisations, politicians, and lawyers to put pressure on the government to bring the perpetrators of the Tanjung Priok killings to trial. Whilst the most prominent military figures remained untouched, several lower and middle ranking military officers were brought to trial in 2003-04. However, due to serious flaws in the trial process, most of the perpetrators managed to escape sentence, which seriously damaged the credibility of the ad hoc human rights court.

I have argued that the story of the Ad Hoc Human Rights Court on Tanjung Priok suggests two main issues. First, the decisions of the Court demonstrate the prevalence of the culture of impunity and the lack of political will or courage to bring about justice in the post-Suharto period. Prominent Indonesian human rights lawyer Abdul Hakim Garuda Nusantara argued that the failure of the Ad Hoc Human Rights Court on Tanjung Priok demonstrates that the military still has a strong grip on the political and legal institutions (Tempo, 31 August 2004). Second, the disappointment resulting from the trials points to the limitations of the prosecution strategy for dealing with the human rights abuses of the Suharto period. In spite of this, there has been pressure to internationalise the Tanjung Priok case to the point that it may become possible to bring the case to the International Criminal Court (Fatwa, 2005: 199; Elsam, 2004; Barber, 2004).

As discussed earlier, some military figures initiated, and some representatives of the victims signed, islah agreements as a way to deal with the case through a non-legal mechanism. These agreements were initiated by the military figures involved. I would argue that, essentially, islah is a private agreement among involved parties which has no overriding legal power, and it was used by the military as a means by which to divide and to intimidate the victims of the Tanjung Priok case in order to secure their own protection. These islah agreements contributed little to enhancing the reconciliation process because of their focus on forgetting the past instead of dealing with the past in a comprehensive manner. Nonetheless, as the presence of islah agreements has been a subject of controversy and debate, we should not simply dismiss them, because the islah agreements were also part of the story of the Tanjung Priok case, and they may have a place in future cases. In a religious society such as Indonesia, the reconciliation process may be enhanced by the incorporation of a range of religious and other non-secular means to reconciliation, alongside more formal and legal mechanisms.

Finally, I suggest that the failure of the Ad Hoc Human Rights Court on Tanjung Priok should not undermine faith in the role of the prosecution strategy in the quest for justice. Hard lessons have been learned by many parties involved in this case. In the broad context of Indonesia’s efforts to move towards democracy, the value of the Tanjung Priok trials is that while they were flawed, nonetheless they have contributed to the ongoing process of strengthening the rule of law and breaking the cycle of impunity that has plagued Indonesia with its long history of authoritarianism and of a corrupt judiciary. The victims of the Tanjung Priok case may still find ways to reach some form of reconciliation through the future truth commission which will be established in Indonesia. Perhaps, through a truth commission, more light will be shed on the events of Tanjung Priok. Every small opening up of space for the victims to come forward to tell their stories in public will contribute to bringing a sense of justice and of dignity to those who have suffered human right rights abuses in the past.


This article was originally presented at the 2003 Philippine Political Studies Association Conference, “Strengthening Society, the State and the Discipline”, 23-25 October. Davao City; it has been revised and updated. Thanks to the Southeast Asian Studies Programme and the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore for providing resources for this research. Thanks also to Sentot, Zaenal and Paijo at Elsam (Jakarta) for providing information. I would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their comments and Rossi vonder Borch for editorial assistance. None of these, of course, is responsible for any remaining shortcomings.


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Correspondence Address: Priyambudi Sulistiyanto, Flinders Asia Centre, School of Political and International Studies, Flinders University, GPO Box 2100, Adelaide 5001, Australia. Email:


Flinders Asia Centre, Flinders University, Australia


(1) These ad hoc tribunals are known as the International Criminal Tribunals for Yugoslavia (ICTFY) and the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda (ICTR). Both were established by the United Nations Security Council in 1993 and 1994 respectively.

(2) On the evolution of the international justice system, see Robertson (1999).

(3) Kontras was led by Munir, an outspoken human rights lawyer who was murdered in the Indonesian national aircraft Garuda en route to Holland in September 2004. In response to public pressure, President Yudhoyono ordered an investigation into this case, through which it was revealed that Munir was a victim of a high-level conspiracy which involved prominent figures attached to the State Intelligence Agency (Badan Intelijen Negara, BIN). The court eventually sentenced Pollycarpus to 14 years in jail for murdering Munir. However, the Munir case is still full of mystery because the public believe that Pollycarpus would not have acted alone (see Tempo, 1 Jan. 2006 and Tempo Interaktif, “Kepala BIN serahkan anggota yang terlibat kasus Munir,” 24 Dec. 2005, downloaded 11 Jan. 2006).

(4) The announcement letter was signed by Marzuki Darusman (Head), Clementino dos Reis Amaral (General Secretary) dan Baharuddin Lopa (Head of the Tanjung Priok team) (Kompas, 10 March 1999).

(5) Interview with Ifdhal Kasim, Jakarta (2002).

(6) This information draws on an Interview with Asmara Nababan, the General-Secretary of the National Commission on Human Rights, appeared in Republika (21 June 2000).

(7) Beni Biki was also the Co-ordinator of the Tanjung Priok Victims’ Families group.

(8) See, Ringkasan Eksekutif Laporan Tim Tindak Lanjut Hasil Komisi Penyelidikan dan Pemeriksaan Pelanggaran Hak Asasi Manusia di Tanjung Priok (KP3T) dated 11 Oct. 2000 (Jakarta: KomnasHam).

(9) Soetrisno was there with other former high-ranking military officers who were implicated in this case such as Sugeng Subroto, Pranowo, Soekarno, Rudolf Butar Butar, Sriyanto, and H. Mattoni. From the victims’ side were Syariffudin Rambe, Ahmad Sahi, Syafwan Sulaiman, Nasrun, Asep Saprudin, Sudarso, and Siti Chotimah (see Republika, 2 March 2001).

(10) At the time of his trial, Major General Sriyanto was the Commander of the Special Forces (known as Kopassus).

(11) For critical assessments of the process, see “Progress Report Pengadilan HAM Tanjung Priok 1, 2, and 3,” published by Elsam (2004); and also Fatwa (2005), especially chapter 5.

(12) In relation to the East Timor case, newly-independent Timor-Leste established its own truth commission, the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR) in 2001. In 2004, both Indonesia and Timor-Leste established the East Timor-Indonesian Truth and Friendship Commission with the primary aim of dealing with human rights abuses in the past, but many were sceptical about the independence of this commission. In January 2006, Timor-Leste President Xanana Gusmao presented the final report to the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The full report can be accessed in the International Center for Transitional Justice website (

(13) Based on the author’s observation through regular trips to Indonesia between 2001-05.

(14) Currently, both Kontras and Elsam are preparing to go to the Constitutional Court to review the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act (personal communication with an Indonesian human rights activist, 23 March 2005).

Table 1. Tanjung Priok trials and sentences

Case Name Position held in 1984

1 Pranowo Commander, Military
Police, Regional
Military Command
2 Sriyanto Head, Operation Section,
District Military
Command in
North Jakarta
3 Rudolf Butar Commander, District
Butar Military Command in
North Jakarta
4 Sutrisno Commander, Arhanud 06,
Mascung Tanjung Priok
5 Asrori Member of Arhanud 06
6 Siswoyo Member of Arhhanud 06
7 Abdul Halim Member of Arhanud 06
8 Zulfatah Member of Arhanud 06
9 Sumitro Member of Arhanud 06
10 Sofyan Hadi Member of Arhanud 06
11 Prayogi Member of Arhanud 06
12 Winarko Member of Arhanud 06
13 Idrus Member of Arhanud 06
14 Mushon Member of Arhanud 06

Sentence Sentence
Case Name Indicted (1st level) (2nd level)

1 Pranowo 5 years Freed Freed
2 Sriyanto 10 years Freed Freed
3 Rudolf Butar 10 years 10 years Freed
4 Sutrisno 10 years 3 years Freed
5 Asrori 2 years Freed
6 Siswoyo 2 years Freed
7 Abdul Halim 2 years Freed
8 Zulfatah 2 years Freed
9 Sumitro 2 years Freed
10 Sofyan Hadi 2 years Freed
11 Prayogi 2 years Freed
12 Winarko 2 years Freed
13 Idrus 2 years Freed
14 Mushon 2 years Freed

Source: Compiled from Koutras (2006); Fatwa (2005:157);
Elsam (2004); Kompas (21 August 2004).


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