President Joko Widodo: Gov’t acknowledges 12 gross human rights violations of the past

President Joko Widodo during a press statement in Jakarta on March 15. Screengrab: Presidential Secretariat
President Joko Widodo during a press statement in Jakarta on March 15. Screengrab: Presidential Secretariat

Better late than never, we suppose — President Joko Widodo has acknowledged and expressed his regret over 12 gross human rights violations committed on behalf of past governments, which represent some of the country’s darkest days in history.

“With a sincere heart, as the head of the state I acknowledge that gross human rights violations occurred in numerous incidents,” Jokowi said in a press conference in Jakarta today.

The president specifically listed 12 incidents from the past, spanning from 1965 to 2003. 

They include the 1965-1966 anti-communist purge, during which historians say up to 1 million people were killed; the kidnappings of 27 activists between 1997 and 1998; and the May 1998 riots against then-President Soeharto’s New Order, which resulted in thousands of deaths, as well as the Semanggi shootings in November of that year and in September 1999.

“The government and I are working to restore the rights of the victims without negating judicial processes,” Jokowi added.

The president did not go into detail as to how resolutions may be achieved with victims.

The President’s Office last year stated that non-judicial approaches in resolving past gross human rights violations may include victim recovery and revelations of the truth behind the atrocities.

Jokowi has sold himself as a leader who is committed to resolving and apologizing for past abuses, even if his government may not always be on the same page. For example, it was under Jokowi that the government in 2016 hosted the first national symposium on the 1965-66 violence, only for an apology to be held back by a supposed lack of proof that the killings happened.

In the case of the anti-communist purge, Jokowi is actually the third president to acknowledge the abuse after Abdurrahman Wahid and BJ Habibie. Whether or not Jokowi’s acknowledgement will bring about any resolution remains to be seen, and he has only until the end of his term in 2024 to do so.

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