Dr. Saparinah Sadli's Open Letter to the Minister of Defence and Security


To         :  The Minister of Defense and Security/Chief of the Armed Forces
From     :   Prof. Dr. Saparinah Sadli (Civil Society on Violence Against Women)
Subject  :  'Did Mass Rapes Actually Happen?' by Sri Muryono/Antara (Sunday Edition of Republika Daily, August 2, '98)

Reactions casting doubt on the truth of the mass rapes during the 13-14 May riots recently published by the mass media have taken the discussion to a level that is bound to have a negative social impact. In particular, the above-mentioned article suggests a systematic effort and political interest behind the widespread media coverage of the mass rapes targeted at tarnishing the image of Indonesia abroad. Comments of this kind are dangerous as they tend to shy away from the horrifying reality. Countering this requires our joint efforts to heal the wounds hurting a nation that has otherwise highly respected the principle of social justice. Given the grave implications this could have on our already vulnerable society, immediate action by the government is a must.

The article, among others, reports the views of Mr. Eddy Noor, an observer of social development, who states 'he could hardly believe that mass rapes did happen as it was not logical. He goes on to suggest that may have been a onesided story by activists of NGOs without any courage to show the victims or report them to the police'. He bases his skepticism on the reality of the mass rapes on two stereotypes (i) the impossibility for men, spurred by an erection, of having secual intercourse in the face of others, and (ii) that rapes are induced by sexual drives. It seems that Mr. Noor is neither a student of history, nor of relevant theory on human behavior. His views, which are unfortunately held by others as well, reflect a conventional way of thinking in terms of stereotypes that simply do not represent the latest developments in understanding of just what creates hatred and how people can be motivated to act in an otherwise seemingly irrational manner.

Let me explain why.
First of all, there are numerous examples of mass rape, such as those which occurred in China (the Nanking Rape), Pakistand, and more recently in Bosnia and Rwanda, which happened in public and in the absence of any known 'sexual drive' on the part of the perpetrators. Mr. Noor should explain why Indonesia is different, particularly in the face of a past history of violence against ethnic minorities.

Second, there is ample evidence of the power of hate and prejudice in motivating human behavior. Equally important is the evidence of the ability to instill such prejudice through conditioning or 'brainwashing'. The latest theory, based on psychological behaviorism, tells us that with sufficient effort, virtually anyone can be trained to do virtually anything imposed by another person. In short, people can be conditioned to believe that mass rape against certain people is acceptable behavior even to the point of having no feelings of guilt or sin after the act.

Third, the argument is based on the conventional usage of proof as evidence, something that is absolutely obsolete in the modern world of dealing with cases of mass rape. International authorities dealing with war crimes in Bosnia and Rwanda explicitly allow victims to bear witness annonymously to protect their own safety.. Such protection is critical in the case of Indonesia where victims have been directly threatened with further harm if they 'go public' with stories of what happened to them. The testimony accumulated sofar by various NGOs, along with the evidence presented by doctors who treated victims should be sufficient for agreement that crimes have occurred.

With this in mind, we must put a stop to further debate and controversy on whether or not mass rapes are conceivable, as well as, whether or not they occurred in conjunction with the May riots. To not do so is likely to have a damaging effect on all parties and may well induce international intervention. We should not lose sight of the fact that our own Law no. 7/84 included ratification of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination towards Women. If we do not take a clear and credible stand on this issue, a visit by the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women might not be out of the question.

We, the membrs of Civil Society on Violence Against Women, therefore urge the authorities to bring immediaate clarity into the issue of mass rapes and to shift the debate from one of the credibility of the events themselves to one of finding out who was responsible. Among the questions for which we need clear and conclusive answers are:

1.Why was there not a single security officer in the various localities of riots?
2.If the security had been present, would the mass rapes have been possible?
3. Why is it that when Jakarta was 'on fire', the otherwise quite effective fire service was nowhere to be seen?
4.JUST WHO WAS RESPONSIBLE for the mass rapes that did occur and that represent the use of those abhorrent mechanisms similar to those used in Bosnia and Rwanda, that select a woman's body as the target of attack?

********** Jakarta, August 3, 1998