Government now says it’s ready to apologize for events of 1965, if mass graves of victims can be identified

Last week, a symposium on the mass killings that took place in Indonesia from 1965-1966 gave people on both sides of the conflicts an opportunity to give testimony about that dark chapter of Indonesian history. It was the first public discussion of the mass killings sanctioned and organized in part by the government, giving many hope that it could be a first step towards the Indonesian government apologizing for its role in the killing of an estimated 500,000 – 1,000,000 people under the pretext of an anti-communist purge.

However, those hopes were dashed by Coordinating Minister for Politics, Law, and Security Affairs Luhut Binsar Panjaitan, who helped organize the symposium, when he made clear in his opening remarks that the government would not apologize. 

“Apologize to whom? Which victim? The government has no intention to apologize to any party whatsoever,” Luhut said, adding that the number of victims was far lower than the  generally accepted low estimate of 500,000 made by historians.

However, Luhut, and in turn the government, seem to have had a radical change of heart in the week since the symposium. Today he said that it was actually likely for the government to apologize for cases related to the 1965 tragedy.

Luhut now say that the possibility for the country to apologize was always there, as long as more of the facts about what happened in 1965 were revealed – facts such as data proving the existence of mass graves of victims throughout Indonesia.

“Do not have the wrong perception. We were looking for the facts at the national symposium [last week]. It is not true that we could not apologize. The state will apologize if there are mass graves that could be clearly identified,” said Luhut at his office today as quoted by Kompas.

Luhut said that, to date, the government has not received any valid data or evidence that could point to an actual massacre taking place. According to him, the only available data shows the facts about the murder of the six army generals that precipitated the anti-communist purge. Therefore, Luhut said, the government does not know who to apologize for.

“To this day there is no data regarding the mass graves. To whom will the government apologize? Clearly there were six military generals that were killed. That’s obvious. The [data] for the others does not yet exist,” Luhut said.

Luhut also said the government has not yet decided what stance to take as it was still waiting for the recommendation of the committee members of the national symposium.

President Joko Widodo previously ordered Luhut to locate the mass graves of victims of the events of 1965. But the security minister said not a single mass grave has yet to be found.

Luhut said non-governmental organizations that continue to urge the government to apologize for the events of 1965 should disclose whatever data they have regarding mass graves. 

It is true that there is limited data on the mass graves of victims killed during the anti-communist purge. The subject is highly taboo and there has been little political will to allow and organize systematic searches for these graves. Most of the searches that have been conducted were done so by survivors and the family members of those killed in the purge. 

For example, in November 2000, the Foundation for the Research into Victims of the 1965-66 Killings, known widely as YPKP, exhumed a mass grave in Situkup forest near Dempes village on the outskirts of Wonosobo in Central Java. Twenty victims were identified by the remains.

We hope that Luhut is sincere when he says the government is ready to apologize once this data comes to light – and that the government will do its part by helping to search and sanction more searches for mass graves. But we’re afraid this may become a moving goalpost – how many victims will need to be uneathed before the government will actually face up to what happened in 1965 and apologize?

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