Indonesia Must Never Forget May Tragedy

Justice Minister Patrialis Akbar suggested on Wednesday that the nation should move past the May 1998 riots, but a national rights commission is urging the tragedy to be taught in schools so future generations can learn as much as possible about the tragic events that preceded the fall of President Suharto, and by doing so prevent such terrors in the future.

Patrialis told reporters at the House of Representatives that the government was willing to compensate the victims of the tragedy with employment at state ministries.”If we continue to look for who is most responsible, I don’t think we will ever find a way out. We will just keep looking and looking,” Patrialis was quoted by as saying, suggesting that it was no longer a priority for the government to investigate its responsibility in the bloodshed.

“The minister might have his own standpoint when he said that. The incident happened a long time ago and the investigation should be left in the hands of our law-enforcement entities such as the police and the Attorney General’s Office,” ministry spokesman Martua Batubara told the Jakarta Globe on Thursday. “Furthermore, our ministry does not have the investigative authority, unlike the National Commission of Human Rights [Komnas HAM],” Batubara said.

Andy Yentriyani, from the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan), said that failure to include the riots in national history books was an attempt to obscure the truth about the chaos surrounding Suharto’s fall after 32 years of autocratic rule. “The tragedy is only being remembered as demonstrations by students which led to President Suharto quitting. The shooting, the rioting, the sexual abuse of women must be included. We cannot remain silent or deny it. We need to include that in the history books,” Andy said.

“People should remember that human rights violations such as rape and other kinds of sexual assault occurred during the May tragedy,” Andy said, as students demonstrated in the capital on Wednesday to mark the shooting of four Trisakti University students on May 12, 1998. Soldiers allegedly shot the students, touching off riots that targeted security forces and Chinese-Indonesian merchants.

Desti Murdijana, the vice chairwoman of the Komnas Perepuan, said history was a form of capital required to develop the national character. “It educates people to respect human rights and differences, and to fight for justice,” she said.

Yohannes Temaluru, vice rector of Atmajaya University told the Globe that adding the May Tragedy to the curriculum was a matter of crucial importance.Yohannes said that the next generation should be able to see it as an incident that should not be allowed to happen again. “By teaching them the truth and the cost to human rights, they will grow as people who can blend in a pluralistic society so that such incidents will not happen again,” he said.

Bedjo Sujanto, the rector of Jakarta State University (UNJ) echoed Yohannes’ statement, saying, “Our young generation needs to know that once we had a terrible and serious violence in the history of our country, in which many people died and women were abused.”That knowledge, he said, would make the younger generation aware that such incidents should not happen again. “They left great wounds in people’s hearts,” Bedjo said.

“Since our country was founded, we have all come from different backgrounds. The Chinese are part of us,” he said. “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika [Unity in Diversity, the national slogan] must be practically implemented in society.” “If we keep restricting ourselves and think that other cultures, religions or ethnic groups are worse than us, we will not be able to live up to that ideal.” Both lecturers said Indonesia would continue the fight against forgetting about the tragedy, which is annually commemorated nationwide. (thejakartaglobe/IM)

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