Guest writer Sarawut Pratoomraj discusses cases of political disappearances in the last years of the Suharto regime.
Political Disappearance: A Neverending Story in Reformasi Regime
"I was shocked when I heard that my son was arrested in 1998, eight years ago. I searched for him everywhere but there was no information. I feel a little hope that he is still alive somewhere."
- Pak Dionysius Utomo, 60, father of Bimo Petrus.
""¦a friend of my son came and told me that my son was arrested by the military in Tanjung Priok. I immediately went to the military station to ask for Yani Afri's whereabouts. The officers said that he was released and no longer in their custody, and told me to find his friend. I went to look for his friends but they didn't know. I returned to the military station crying. The officer said the same and showed me my son's release paper"¦"
- Ibu Tuti Koto, 68, mother of Yani Afri.
"About 10 people came into my room - two were in military uniform while most were in plainclothes. I was taken somewhere, not the police station. I was psychologically shaken because those who arrested me weren't police. I was afraid that I would be killed. I was tortured and electrocuted. I am a lucky guy - I survived and not dead or disappeared like many friends. Other people still don't know if their relatives are dead or alive."
- Mugiyanto, 32, Chairperson of IKOHI.
Above were testimonies of victims and relatives of victims of human rights violations who suffered under the crackdown of the Soeharto regime in 1997-1998.
Mugiyanto or Mugi, chairperson of the Indonesian Association of Families of the Disappeared (IKOHI), was a victim of human rights violation. He was an activist in 1998, as many university students were at that time, to campaign to abolish the five unjust acts issued by the Soeharto government namely: act on political parties, act on general elections, act on mass organizations, act on the composition of the parliament, and act on referendums.
Only three political parties were allowed during the Soeharto regime. The activists demanded the change of the regime as it was against the Dual Function of the Armed Forces that supported Soeharto's authoritarian regime. The government banned his organization by linking it to the Communist Party of Indonesia, an illegal political party accused of subversive acts. Mugi and many students worked underground. He was arrested by the military on 13 March 1998 and released three months later on 8 June 1998, when the then President B.J. Habibie was overthrown. He immediately joined his friend Munir at KontraS, the Commission for Involuntary Disappearance and Victims of Violation, to bring his case to Europe and the Unites Nations.
Mugi worked as correspondent with a Dutch television network in 2000-2001. In his mind were his friends and other people who were arrested at the same period but still missing. He decided to resign from his job and joined IKOHI.
One of Mugi's friends who disappeared in 31 March 1998 is Bimo Petrus, a student from the Department of Philosophy at the Driyakara Jakarta University, and Dionysius Utomo's son. Dionysius was an administrative officer at Malang Central Mental Hospital. He immediately searched for him when he learned about his son's case. He went to the government house and many military and police stations but found nothing. Aside from knowing whether his son is dead or alive, when asked for other reasons, he thinks for a while and said with mournful eyes:
Bimo Petrus, one of the disappeared.
"I had a lot of hope in the government during the Reformasi, but it was hopeless. The President has never set up any independent body to look into my case, no response in any way. I need to know, I have the right to know. If he is dead, I have to bury him according to the Catholic custom. I need to charge those who were involved in his disappearance. I hope that violations would stop now. I don't want to see it happen again - not to any single family".
Dionysius Utomo, father of Bimo Petrus.
Similarly to Ibu Tuti, her son Yani Afri disappeared on 26 July 1997. She asked every government agency but failed. When she heard about Kontras, she immediately went to ask for help. She met Munir who helped her to search for Yani in various military headquarters and government offices and had a personal dialogue with former President Abdurrahman Wahid and Armed Forces Chief Wiranto, but still with no results.
Tuti Koko, mother of Yani Afri.
"I got assistance from KontraS but I cry every time I went there and saw the street singers. I always remember my son. He was poor but he was an artist. He liked to play guitar and sing for me. While my son was still around, he would assist me financially by working as a driver while pursuing his studies. Now, I don't have any regular source of income"¦" 1
IKOHI was established in 1998 by Munir and other human rights activists. It held its 2nd Congress in Makassar, South Sulawesi on 7-10 March 2006 and chose Mugiyanto as Chair. The congress was attended by victims and families of human rights violations during the Soeharto regime from 1965 to1998. There were about 80 participants from the west of Indonesia, Aceh, to the east, and Papua. The purposes of the Congress were to review the constitution, mandate, activities; and election of committee members to continue the work and to follow-up the disappeared cases.
""¦ after Soeharto, every Indonesian government can't resolve the issues of the families of the disappeared; there were no compensation, no social welfare, and no solution for the victims of human rights violations. We should do more for our justice. We urge for government commitment and political will for the victims and families", Mugi explained and added; "The public is not interested with the victims of human rights violations now even when we are in the so-called "Reformasi" system. There are so many social crises in our country that human rights is not a priority. Indonesians try to forget what happened during the New Order period, they have short memory".
The last words "short memory" seems like the situation in Thailand. Thai people also have short memory with what happened on 6 October 1976 or May 1992 were many disappeared, died or wounded. The disappearance of lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit in 2004 or those who are still missing in southern most Thailand are also quiet. The pains and cries of the families have no meaning.
Indonesia and Thailand are in the process of political reform and should learn from each other. Political reform in Thailand started in late 1990s with the enforcement of the 1997 constitution that stated three main reforms: strengthen the political system (Prime Minister and Senator system), people participation in every level of administration, and human rights protection system. The crisis to oust Thaksin is the second stage of reform. There is still not much progress since political reform in Thailand was initiated more than 10 years ago.
Indonesia should also question its "Reformasi". IKOHI and strengthening the families to pressure more politicians to work for justice are good examples for people participation in political reform. It does not only benefit the families but also the progress of democracy and human rights in general. "Reformasi" means people participation in every level of administration, state agencies practice the "Rule of Law", the National Institute undertake its roles efficiently and independently, politicians respect and disseminate the universal standards of human rights, and the government develop the country under the concept of "indivisibility", which means the economic development of the country is parallel with civil and political development.
The IKOHI task is not yet finished. The strength of the people in political reform should be the strength of human rights. A strengthened people will result to the end of political disappearances and violations of human rights.
Footnote 1: Tuti Koto, Losing One's Faith in the Law, Healing Wounds, Mending Scars, published by AFAD, 2005, page 61.
Sarawut Pratoomraj is a lawyer and human rights activist from Thailand; Senior API Fellow 2005-2006, visiting Jakarta to conduct research entitled "The Effective Role of Komnas Ham in Human Rights Education". He can be contacted at email@example.com.