RECOGNISE INDONESIA’S HEART OF DARKNESS
July 15, 2008 Tuesday
1 – All-round Country Edition
Just as much of the Left needs to revisit its support for murderous
communist regimes, we should also reconsider political support of
Suharto and the military, contends Mark Aarons
WHEN Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Jose Ramos Horta receive the Truth
and Friendship Commission’s (CTF) report today, the Indonesian
President will be hoping that it is the final chapter in this
long-running and tragic saga.
Established in 2005 as a joint Indonesian-East Timorese inquiry,
the commission has investigated the campaign of violence that marred
Timor’s 1999 independence vote. Leaked copies of its report confirm
the findings of Timor’s Reception, Truth and Reconciliation Commission
(CAVR) that the campaign of terror, murder and forced deportations was
directed, funded and carried out under the command of the Indonesian
government and military, a fact widely known at the time.
The report’s release coincides with the start of the lengthy
campaign that will culminate in next April’s Indonesian election. The
President’s party is behind in the polls and there is speculation that
former Indonesian armed forces commander Wiranto could emerge as a
serious contender for president. This would be ironic, as the 1999
campaign of destruction was carried out on Wiranto’s orders, which
he denied under Koranic oath when he voluntarily appeared before the
CTF in May 2007.
Wiranto’s denial is symptomatic of the attitude adopted by the Javanese
military elite, which still dominates Indonesian life. Behind the 1999
events stands a series of crimes carried out by the armed forces that
have run the country since 1965. The CAVR report detailed the horrors
inflicted on Timor between 1975 and 1999, in which almost 200,000
people were killed or starved to death and the survivors rounded up
and forcibly resettled in what were, in effect, concentration camps,
where many were tortured.
In 1969, the army rigged the Act of Free Choice to ensure West Papua
was incorporated into Indonesia.
In the preceding seven years the indigenous population was subjected
to a regime of terror and murder to prepare for the vote, which was
recognised by the international community despite widespread knowledge
of the methods that had been used to secure the rorted result. The
massacre of 500,000 to one million alleged communists in 1965-66 set
the tone for military rule, followed by the establishment of a brutal
police state replete with gulags full of political prisoners.
Reminiscent of Turkey’s continuing denial of responsibility for the
Armenian genocide during and after World War I, Indonesia refuses to
confront this decades-long history of criminal behaviour by its army
leaders. Indeed, the families of those slaughtered in the mid-1960s
still cannot disinter their bodies for dignified reburial. Such denial
infects Indonesian society and, while it persists, gravely restricts
the country’s ability to develop its institutions in a democratic
and tolerant way.
It also infects Australian attitudes to Indonesia and skews our
policies towards our most important neighbour. Successive Australian
governments embraced the New Order ushered in by general (later
president) Suharto’s massacres as a welcome development. There are
also indications of Australian assistance in these bloody events.
This condoning of mass murder was recently brought into sharp relief
by former prime minister Paul Keating, who launched a blistering
attack on his robust critic, Paddy McGuinness, at the time of his
death, but travelled to Jakarta to praise the mass murderer Suharto
at his funeral.
Keating’s warmth for Suharto echoes another prime minister, Harold
Holt, who in 1966 cheerfully welcomed the ostensible reorientation
of Indonesian politics that had been brought about by "knocking off"
up to one million people.
In between, there has been an unedifying array of prime ministers who
have explicitly or inferentially condoned the criminal policies of
the Indonesian military. John Gorton and William McMahon continued
Holt’s approach, while Gough Whitlam initiated "batik diplomacy",
welcoming Suharto to Australia and encouraging Timor’s incorporation
Malcolm Fraser remained silent about the deaths of 180,000 Timorese
between 1975 and 1982, although Australian intelligence knew the
terrible details. Bob Hawke changed ALP policy to reaffirm Australia’s
formal recognition of Indonesian sovereignty over Timor, then approved
the notorious Timor Gap Treaty. Keating made a secret deal with Suharto
that included upgrading military ties. In 1998, John Howard initiated
the process leading to East Timor’s independence vote, but failed to
act against Indonesian-controlled violence until forced to do so by
the worst atrocities that followed the August 1999 vote.
During the past 40 years, such policies have been supported by
influential Australians. James McAuley and Heinz Arndt greeted the
Suharto regime with enthusiasm in journals such as Quadrant and
Australian Outlook; reporting for the Australian Financial Review,
McGuinness took an Indonesian helicopter trip around Timor at the
height of the military-induced famine and declared it did not exist;
Paul Kelly has written in support of international recognition of
Jakarta’s control of West Papua in this newspaper; in his weekly
newspaper column, Gerard Henderson has minimised the role of the
Indonesian military in organising, financing and directing the 1999
crimes in Timor, despite evidence to the contrary.
Just as Indonesia cannot move forward without coming to terms with
the dark side of its recent history, so too Australia cannot build
a secure and lasting relationship with its most important neighbour
without being honest about our quiescence towards — and sometimes
active support for — the crimes of the Indonesian military.
Just as sections of the Left need to re-evaluate their support for
murderous communist regimes, it is time to reconsider the equally
immoral support given to Suharto and his cohort. The CTF report is
a good starting point. Continuing criminal behaviour in West Papua
makes this even more relevant.
There were alternatives to Australia’s obsequious policies in the
past. By taking a stronger stand on human rights abuses in West Papua
and revisiting the rorted 1969 plebiscite, we would avoid once again
dragging our national honour through the mud.