A nation should learn from its dark history, and so National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) reminds the government and the Indonesian public to remember the May 1998 tragedy that left thousand dead and dozens of women raped.
The event should be used as a momentum to acknowledge the nation’s past human rights abuses, especially those that happened during the street protests and the ensuing riots in May 1998 that led to the toppling of the 32-year New Order regime, the Commission said during a press briefing on May 7.
Komnas Perempuan Commissioner Mariana Amirrudin said, “Indonesia still owes justice to the victims, and to hold the perpetrators legally accountable.”
This year’s commemoration adopts the theme of ensuring the government remembers, respect and does not neglect history. By remembering and acknowledging history, we can prevent similar tragedy, the commission said.
Komnas Perempuan also warns against growing efforts to divide the nation with identity politics and through religious issues.
“We also hope that the public protects the diversity of Indonesia and the values of Pancasila, as well as against all forms politicization of religions and identity that have been used to divide our nation,” Mariana said.
The independent Humanitarian Volunteers Team (Tim Relawan Kemanusiaan) found that 1,190 people were killed during the event, while Joint Fact Finding Team (Tim Gabungan Pencari Fakta) found that 85 ethnic Chinese women were gang raped. These findings show crimes against humanity that require a thorough handling to provide justice for the victims.
Komnas Perempuan was established in the aftermath of the tragedy with a special mandate to end violence against women in Indonesia, but even to this day, many still deny that ethnic Chinese women were raped.
“We found that the systematic denial of group rapes of ethnic Chinese women in the May 98 tragedy has allowed for similar crimes perpetrated to women in Indonesia, including under-age girls, to this day,” said Komnas Perempuan’s chair Azriana.
This year’s commemoration will be held on May 8 at the May 98 Mass Victims Grave at Pondok Ranggon Cemetary in East Jakarta. It is a memorial site built by Komnas Perempuan and the Provincial Government of Jakarta in 2015 as a part of the effort to fulfill the victims' rights to truth, justice, and recovery.
Komnas Perempuan invited the third President of Indonesia, B.J. Habibie, who took over from president Soeharto during the transitional period, to give a speech during the commemoration event. There will also be exhibition and murals from various artists.
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