Annual National Workshop titled ‘Transitional Justice Determining the Quality of Indonisia”s Future Democracy’ at Yokjakarta in Indonesia
Kim, Dong Choon (SungkongHoe University)
Nothing is to be done about the lives that have been lost and the pain that has been suffered under an authoritarian regime. However, the traumas of the survivors can be partly cured by verifying who the perpetrators were, or by officially investigating the causes and background of the tragedy. The pursuit of truth is necessary not only for healing the pain of the survivors but also for building a sane society directed by the logic of human rights. Thus dealing with political crimes may be equal to building political democracy and reviving societal morality in general.
During November 22-24, 2000, I was in Surabaya in Indonesia to participate in the Annual
National Workshop titled ‘Transitional Justice Determining the Quality of Indonisia’s Future Democracy’. This was co-organized by the Indonesian National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas Ham) and Surabaya University. About one hundred leading figures working in NGOs, the Indonesian Government, and universities joined to discuss difficult but crucial issues about consolidating democracy and justice after the demise of authoritarian regime. I was specially invited to give a speech about workers” rights in Korea in the phase of democratic transition.
Indonesia is a large country consisting of 13,700 islands and over 300 ethnic groups, of which the Javanese are the largest with about 45% of the population. After the Dutch finally agreed in 1949 to transfer sovereignty to the new nation led by Sukarno, the concept of “guided democracy” was introduced. However, military leaders trained by United States ventured a coup in 1965, and eventually Suharto, one of the most important figures among the generals, deposed Sukarno and in 1967 became the President. Right after the coup, the mass killing of PKI (Indonesian Communist Party) members began. According to one survey, 800,00 were killed in Central and East Java, and 100,000 in Bali. with the remaining 100,000 spread through other provinces. During Suharto”s regime, many students, activists, and labor leaders have disappeared, been tortured, and killed. The first democratic election was held just a year ago. But the power base of new president, Abdurrahman Wahid, who won only a small portion of the vote, is weak. He faces half-a-dozen separatist rebellions and the collapse of foreign and domestic investment. It is widely known that the army recently has been overtly destabilizing the government by agitating the rebels.
Like other post-authoritarian countries in Latin America and Asia, Indonesia has been facing the tasks of how to deal with the negative legacy of the past that has brought suffering to its people, and how to install the principle of democracy and justice into the newly born democratic government. Between them, how to bring to justice the leaders of the old military regime is the more troubling problem. Some people have said that the best way towards reconciliation in a nation is to forget the past by offering “blanket amnesty”. Already Spain (after Franco”s death) and South Africa adopted such a method in dealing with the violators” human rights. However, the international community generally reached an agreement that forgiveness and true reconciliation could only be possible after investigating the vicious crimes and prosecuting the criminals. They say if democracy and justice are guaranteed by the rule of law, prosecution of those who perpetrated the vicious inhuman activities would be necessary, not only to deter the future violation of human rights but also to establish a sustainable democracy. Here we meet the concept of Transitional Justice (TJ), which is the special knowledge, structures, and techniques needed by a country moving from authoritarianism into a more democratic regime. The main title of this workshop, ‘Transitional Justice Determining the Quality of Indonesia”s Future Democracy’, is also founded on this philosophy.
In Indonesia a Bill on Human Rights Courts was recently ratified by the House of Representatives. This may be understood as a significant progress in establishing law enforcement against the violators of human rights. However, they said the House of Representatives could perpetuate impunity according to their political interests, so it seemed that sustainable mechanisms or legal apparatus were necessary for meeting the demand of the victims and preventing the power elites from committing more crimes. This workshop was expected to deliver ideas that can be used as input in drawing up recommendations and petitions to the government to immediately create justice during the period of democratic transitions. The working definition of “Transitional Justice” that was proposed by the National Commission on Human Rights is ‘the challenge of providing mechanisms for legal, social, and moral justice during the transition from an authoritarian regime to a democratic system of government, in accordance with the principles of non-violence and respect for human rights’.
The topics were such things as ‘transitional justice for crimes against humanity’, ‘transitional justice for violence against women’, ‘transitional justice for religious, racial, and ethnic discrimination’, and ‘transitional justice for economic, social, and cultural rights’. That workshop was carried out in two stages: a Pro-Workshop involving Indonesian speakers and stakeholders in order to refine the topics above, and the main workshop involving Indonesian and international speakers. I joined this main workshop, but I couldn’t fully catch the presentations and discussions because all the papers were written in Indonesian, and the official language used at seminars was Indonesian. In the main workshop, both a Philippine scholar and I were invited to speak about what had happened before in the case of other Asian countries. The Philippine scholar was scheduled to speak about the Philippines” experience of land reform, and I spoke about the worker”s rights in the period of democratic transition. (My paper appears in my Home-Page, http://dckim.skhu.ac.kr).
As I didn”t participate in the closing discussions, I have no information on what recommendations or petitions they finally decided on, but the range of the topics they discussed seemed quite all-embracing and relevant in solving the problem. Beginning from theoretical issues such as what the concept, principles, mechanism of the TJ are, they finally raised even such practical tasks as how to heal the victims, and what the role of the micro-community should be in rehabilitating them.
One of the staff of this workshop gave me a hint that they would make connections with a Korean rather than Japanese or West-Europeans. It is because, she said, Korea once fell into an authoritarian regime and would have something to share. Just figuring out what kind of experiences we Korean activists and intellectuals shared with other Asian countries, I felt quite ashamed. Some of the participants suggested our achievement in jailing the two ex-presidents who were responsible for the 5.18 massacres. From their standpoint, that event may seem like a great success and can be regarded as the desirable model of building transitional justice. I emphasized that politically motivated “persecution and amnesty” would have only a limited effect in building the systematic mechanism needed to safeguard human rights, and I added that measures of economic compensation for the victims without the verification of massive state crimes under the authoritarian regime would possibly twist the road in overcoming the dark past.
Returning to Korea, I could confirm the common hurdles that the post-authoritarian countries face. The process of democratization may cause many more problems than they solve. This is because the formal devolution of power from military elites to civilians doesn’t mean that the power base of the old regime has been totally broken. Thus the path or the actor of the democratic transitions would always determine the contents or character of the newly generalized concept of democratization and justice. In the past, felling the authoritarian regime was a cherished aim of the people. But unexpected enemies of democratization always emerge after the shift of top-level power elites. Though we can”t deny that progress is being made little by little, our past 14 years of political experiment testify how “the past” limits the smooth development of democracy.
The problem is how profoundly people can appreciate the importance of reviving the memory of the victims, and prosecuting the perpetrators in building the humane society.
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