Seeking justice after Suharto

Indonesia’s former dictator General Suharto died in bed last month and not in jail, escaping justice for his numerous crimes in Indonesia and East Timor, the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) charged.

One of the worst mass murderers of the 20th century, his death tolls still shock:

• 500,000 to 1 million Indonesians in the aftermath of his 1965 seizure of power;

• 100,000 in West Papua;

• 100,000 to 200,000 in East Timor, which his troops illegally invaded in 1975;

• tens of thousands more in Aceh and elsewhere.

Other charges include a massive legacy of corruption — $15 to $35 billion stolen by him and his family.

Indonesians and East Timorians are demanding accountability for the mass murders, destruction and corruption by those who carried out his orders.

Suharto assumed the presidency in 1967, and in 1968 becoming supreme commander of the army as well. He was “reelected” to the presidency in tightly scripted elections in 1973, 1978, 1983, 1988, 1993 and 1998. Throughout his rule, successive U.S. administrations provided extensive political, military and economic support, considering Suharto a valuable anti-Communist ally and a bastion of stability in a strategically vital and unstable region.

Suharto’s first task, in addition to overseeing the mass killings of alleged Communists, was salvaging Indonesia’s shattered economy and gaining the confidence of foreign investors and governments who controlled the aid and capital that Indonesia desperately needed.

“As the corpses piled up after his coup and darkness descended on Indonesia, his cheerleaders in the U.S. welcomed the ‘gleam of light in Asia,’” ETAN said.

Numerous reports have shown that U.S. administrations were fully aware of his many crimes, yet provided military assistance and hardware to Suharto’s killers. The Indonesian dictator sought and received U.S. approval before he launched his invasion of East Timor; 90 percent of the weapons used in this illegal attack came from the U.S.

In the face of broad domestic opposition as his “economic miracle” collapsed in 1998, he finally stepped down.

Persistent advocacy by concerned activists from East Timor, Indonesia and the United States including within Congress, finally succeeded in curtailing U.S. military assistance to the Suharto regime in the 1990s.

After Suharto was ousted, East Timor broke free and the Indonesian military lost some perks. Since then, military reform efforts have stalled or been reversed. Suharto’s favored military still maintains substantial power.

Limited investigations dealing with Suharto-era crimes have added some information to the public record, but the few trials that have occurred have largely failed, as defendants have lied, intimidated or bribed their way to acquittals, crushing the hopes of the victims and their families for justice or even an apology.

To overcome Suharto’s legacy and to uphold basic international human rights and legal principles, those who executed, aided and abetted and benefited from his criminal orders must be held accountable, the activist network demanded. This should include a full accounting of the U.S. role.

“Washington should condition military assistance to Indonesia ‘on progress towards full democratization, the subordination of the military to the rule of law and civilian government and strict adherence with international human rights’ as recommended by East Timor’s Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation,” the ETAN statement said.

For more information see www.etan.org.