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Victims of past Indonesian abuses hope for justice

New rights' commissioners obligated to fulfill campaign pledge made by current president to end past impunity

Victims of past Indonesian abuses hope for justice

Maria Catharina Sumarsih's son, Bernardus Realino Norma Irawan, was killed during a 1998 Indonesian student protest. (ucanews.com photo)

Ryan Dagur, Jakarta
Indonesia

October 13, 2017

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Families and victims of past abuses in Indonesia are hoping new government human rights' commissioners will finally bring about justice on long-stalled cases.

Seven new members of the National Commission on Human Rights are set to be inaugurated next month and serve until 2022.

One of those intending to scrutinize their performance will be Maria Catharina Sumarsih, a Catholic whose son Bernardus Realino Norma Irawan died in 1998.

The Jakarta Catholic-run Atma Jaya University student was killed along with 17 fellow students during one of the protests surrounding the end of the long, dictatorial rule of President Soeharto.

An autopsy showed he died after being hit by a standard military bullet, but only low-ranking military personnel were found guilty of causing his death.

Sumarsih called on the new commissioners to bring senior military decision-makers from that time before an 'ad hoc' human rights' court.

"I have had nearly 19 years waiting for justice," his still grieving mother said.

The previous commissioners failed to act against military leaders despite declaring that such killings were gross human rights violations.

Other cases categorized as gross violations included the communist purges of the mid-1960s in which more than 500,000 people were killed.

Sumarsih said the new commissioners were obligated to fulfill a 2014 election campaign pledge by country's incumbent president, Joko Widodo, to end past impunity.

The commissioners would have two years to do so before President Widodo ends his term in 2019, she said.

Bedjo Untung, a victim of the communist purge, said the incoming commissioners should not repeat the failure of their 2012-2017 predecessors to restore the standing of people who were stigmatized. 

"As a result of the stigma, until now we continue to be persecuted," Untung said, noting that he and others were still forbidden from holding gatherings.

Yati Andriyani, coordinator of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence, said the rights' commissioners needed to prove their independence.

"They should not take sides with certain parties given the country is entering politically charged times ahead of the 2019 elections," she said.

Meanwhile, Choirul Anam, one of the new commissioners, said he would try to maximize his role.

"We will continue the efforts that the old commissioners started in the previous period," said the former deputy of a Jakarta-based NGO, the Human Rights' Working Group.

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