It is clear that we are witnessing the final stages of President Soeharto's rule in Indonesia, but the end is not likely to come either easily or peacefully. The horrendous violence in Jakarta on May 14 and 15 left an estimated 500 dead, and there were other deaths as rioting swept through the cities of Solo, Yogyakarta, Semarang, Surabaya, Medan, Bandar Lampung, Palembang, and Ujung Pandang. While an uneasy calm seems to have been restored nationwide as of this writing, the likelihood of another round of violent unrest is high as long as fundamental economic and political problems remain unresolved.
Last week's appalling carnage and destruction aimed at symbols of wealth -- banks, shopping malls, automobile showrooms, and ethnic Chinese-owned homes and shops -- diverted attention temporarily from the peaceful, student-led movement for democratic reform. But student leaders, still mourning the deaths of six of their colleagues last Tuesday, are planning coordinated nationwide demonstrations on May 20, and their calls for Soeharto to step down have now been joined by an extraordinary range of groups and individuals in the country, from the Sultan of Yogyakarta to leaders of the Kosgoro faction of the ruling party, Golkar. Contrary to some predictions, the rioting has not frightened the middle class and the political elite into seeing Soeharto as the only person standing between them and anarchy. Instead, it may have convinced them that the only way to protect their interests is for him to go.
With strength in numbers, Indonesians have lost all fear of speaking out. Calls from the military's information bureau to several newspapers over the weekend, warning them about publishing any further speculation about whether Soeharto would resign, appear to have gone completely unheeded. Amien Rais, a prominent opposition leader who was in Washington in late April, said on Sunday that in the aftermath of the rioting, it should not be just the looters of stores who were punished but the looters of the state as well. Nurcholish Majid, another well-known Muslim intellectual, called on Soeharto to turn over his own wealth and that of his family to the state, as one step toward "total reform." Today's editions of major Indonesian dailies printed the remarks of both men in full. On Friday, the Ministry of Information tried to curb the broadcast media as well, setting up a "crisis center" to screen any news bulletins on riots, demonstrations, or calls for reform not produced by the government itself, but the Indonesian public has grown too sophisticated for that kind of manipulation.
Mr. Soeharto's announced intention of reshuffling his cabinet, even if it were to result in the removal of his daughter and several cronies, is doomed as a "reform" gesture before it starts. It has already been dismissed as meaningless by leading Indonesian commentators, although it could have decidedly negative implications if it involved the removal of General Wiranto, seen by students and opposition figures as one of the moderates in the senior officer corps, from his position as Minister of Defense. Today's call for Soeharto's resignation by Harmoko, speaker of the Indonesian parliament, followed by his apparent backtracking, is only one indication of the tense political maneuvering going on at the highest levels of government.
In this regard, President Clinton's call on Friday for the Indonesian government to "initiate quickly a dialogue on reform with its citizens" may also be too late. At this stage, even if the government agreed to discuss a key demand of the pro-democracy movement -- the repeal of five laws that define the current political system -- that discussion would mean little to the opposition unless the issue of how and when Soeharto would step down were also on the table. Nevertheless, both the statement issued by the White House press office on Friday and the G-8 call on Saturday for political reform in Indonesia were welcome initiatives. The task is now to push harder, as I will explain below.
Mr. Chairman, many commentators have suggested that the violence of the last several days was due directly to the hardships imposed by the International Monetary Fund program in Indonesia. I would like to make three points in this regard.
First, both political and economic frustrations have been building in this country for years. We had a foretaste of how lethal the convergence of those two could be in July 1996 in Jakarta, when rioting erupted after the army-backed storming of the headquarters of Megawati Soekarnoputri. The rioters were by and large the same kind of underclass that rampaged through Jakarta last week. The trigger in 1996 was political, because so many people identified with Megawati. The trigger two years later, while linked in part to the increase in fuel prices, was the killing of the six students, since the student movement had gradually attracted enormous public sympathy. If indeed the riots were a spontaneous outburst of anger, the difference in scale between 1996 and 1998 can be explained by the massive increase in numbers of the urban poor as a result of layoffs and general economic hardship, but it is important to note that the frustrations did not suddenly materialize this year.
Second, it is simply not credible any longer to maintain that economic stabilization is the key to political stability in Indonesia. It is difficult to see how any economic reform program or rescue package can work when there is no government in place with the legitimacy and popular support needed to implement austerity measures and when the words "corruption," "collusion," and "nepotism" have come to define the Soeharto administration.
Finally, it would be a serious misreading of the situation to say either that additional assistance from the IMF would stop the turmoil or that holding back on such aid would increase it. The rot in the political system is too deep for any economic measures to have any lasting impact in the absence of political change.
Human Rights Violations
One of the key questions in the Jakarta violence -- and one being asked me via e-mail by many Indonesian Chinese students worried about their parents and families -- is why in so many areas the security forces stood by and apparently allowed arson and looting to take place. Several explanations have been put forward, none of them proven, from the security forces simply being outnumbered, to an unwillingness to be seen defending the property of the rich, to deliberate instigation for a larger political goal. (The instigation theory is widely believed, although the evidence we have seen so far is weak.) But it was inevitable in any outbreak of violence that ethnic Chinese property would be targeted, and it was almost inevitable after the killings of the six students that unrest would erupt. It is at least worth asking the question why the security forces should have been so carefully deployed around campuses to prevent peaceful student marches and so woefully unprepared to deal with a far more serious threat.
The shootings last Tuesday of unarmed Indonesian students at Trisakti University--one of the immediate causes of the violence on Thursday and Friday -- were an inexcusable use of lethal force by Indonesian security forces, all the more so because several reports suggest that the students were inside the campus gates when they were shot. The security forces opened fire after a day-long peaceful demonstration on the Trisakti campus in support of political reform. The students had wanted to march to the parliament building but were prevented from doing so by a joint team of military police, the army, the regular police, and the mobile police brigade. The dean of the law faculty had negotiated an end to a standoff between students and troops just outside the campus, getting the students to withdraw back on to campus grounds if the troops withdrew as well. As the students were going back through the campus gates in an orderly fashion, a group surrounded a man they believed to be an intelligence agent and reportedly attempted to beat him up. In a sequence of events that remains unclear and needs a fully independent investigation, the scuffle over the alleged intelligence agent attracted the attention of other students, the security forces moved in on them, beating and kicking as they did so, and youths who may not have been students and who were well outside the campus began throwing bottles and rocks at the troops. It was apparently in an atmosphere of a complete melee that troops opened fire.
The Trisakti students were not the first to die in the current standoff between students and security forces, although they were the first to be killed by troops opening fire. In Yogyakarta, Central Java, on May 8, Mozes Gatotkaca, a forty-year-old graduate of the Yogyakarta Industrial Academy, died after his skull was fractured by police during a demonstration. The next day, an undercover police intelligence agent named Lt. Dadang Rusmana died of head wounds in Bogor after he was beaten by a group of demonstrators. In addition, there have been many students injured by rubber bullets as police have used force to prevent students from taking their message off campus. Six students were hospitalized in Bengkulu, Sumatra on May 9 after thousands of students from all over the city joined high school students on the campus of Bengkulu University, for example, and five were wounded on May 16 in Medan, North Sumatra.
In all of these cases, had the students been allowed to exercise their right to freedom of assembly beyond campus grounds, the clashes resulting in injuries and deaths would not have occurred. It is important to note, moreover, that none of those arrested during the three days of rioting in Medan from May 4-6 nor during the rioting in Jakarta, Solo, or Surabaya last Thursday and Friday have been students. The student-led movement for political reform, and the mob violence against the perceived rich, are not the same, although they both reflect the depth of resentment against the Soeharto government.
The disappearances of political activists remain unresolved, although with two more individuals coming forward after resurfacing to tell their stories, the evidence pointing to the army is stronger and stronger. Andi Arief, the leader of a banned militant student body who disappeared on March 28 and resurfaced a month later in Jakarta police headquarters, said two of his captors had just returned from East Timor. Pius Lustrilanang, one of the disappearance victims who resurfaced and who testified before the House of Representatives on May 7, said he talked to two men held in the same building he was who had been taken to the North Jakarta district military headquarters before being brought to the building concerned. Sonny, 33, and Yani Avri, also known as Rian, 27, were supporters of the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) but also were suspected of planning to use explosives. They were arrested in May 1997 at the time of the national election campaign in Indonesia, held for one night by the North Jakarta district military, then taken to the place where Pius eventually ended up. Sonny and Rian were there when Pius arrived, and they were taken out on March 16 at about 11:30 p.m. and are now believed to be in Jakarta police custody. Surely, the Jakarta police know precisely who is behind the disappearances.
Other leading activists have been threatened. An East Timorese student leader in Yogyakarta named Hortencio Pedro Vieira has been attacked three times by unidentified men after receiving threats from the Yogyakarta police command. Pedro, a political science major at Gajah Mada University and a strong supporter of East Timorese independence, is reported to have been shot at on March 4, 1998 by a group of six men on three motorcycles, all dressed in civilian clothes. A week later, on March 11, Pedro was one of the students involved in the burning of Soeharto in effigy on the Gajah Mada campus. On April 2 and again on May 13, Pedro was reported to have been in danger of being deliberately shot during demonstrations at Gajah Mada, and some of the students detained for questioning at the Yogyakarta police headquarters said they were questioned about their relations with Pedro and about his activities more generally. The threats against Pedro are particularly serious, given the recent wave of disappearances and the fact that at least one East Timorese, Lucas da Costa, a lecturer at Darma Cendika University in Surabaya, is known to have been detained in the same place that Pius Lustrilanang and the other activists were held. Da Costa disappeared on December 23, 1997 and only reappeared in mid-January.
Political trials continue to go on across Indonesia in the midst of the turmoil, highlighting precisely the kind of problems that political reform must address. On May 8, the case of six political activists accused of convening a "People's Congress" in Jakarta in March went to trial in North Jakarta district court. The six, led by performance artist Ratna Sarumpaet, have been charged under a rarely used law banning political activities, Law No.5/1963, that carries a maximum five-year sentence. Ratna herself was the coordinator of SIAGA, a political organization supporting the candidacy of opposition leaders Megawati Soekarnoputri and Amien Rais instead of Soeharto and Habibie for the country's top posts. The Congress was to take place just before the "election" of Soeharto to a seventh term by a body called the People's Consultative Assembly in Jakarta.
In East Timor in mid-April, Manuel Viegas Carrascalao, older brother of the former governor of East Timor and a former member of the East Timor provincial parliament himself, was formally investigated as a suspect for his role in founding the Movement for Reconciliation and Unity of the People of East Timor in November 1997. Two other founding members, Maria Quintao Viana do Carmo (also a former local parliament member) and Drs. Francisco Lopes de Carvalho, were expected to be questioned later this month. All of the three are free at the moment but are expected to eventually face trial. Manuel Carrascalao founded the movement in October 1997 after a falling out with the governor of East Timor, Abilio Soares. In December, the movement was banned in the district of Lautem because it questioned whether East Timor should be part of Indonesia. On January 10 and again on January 19, the provincial police command summoned Carrascalao and the two others for questioning with regard to the organization. Later that month, the group received threats from an East Timorese gang known as "Sete-Sete" or "Seven-Seven" and known to be working with the government. The gang warned of harsh action against Carrascalao's movement if it continued with its activities.
What the U.S. Should Do
In the midst of this political crisis, the U.S. does not have a great deal of leverage, but it can certainly join forces with other donor countries, as it did at the G-8 meeting in Birmingham, to continue to press for meaningful political reform. Most importantly, the U.S. should take the lead within the Consultative Group on Indonesia, a donor consortium, to try to ensure that any economic assistance to Indonesia -- with the exception of humanitarian assistance, scholarship aid, and programs to strengthen civil society -- is made conditional on concrete steps toward easing controls on freedom of association, expression, association and political participation. If possible, funding for human rights organizations around the country and for strengthening the independent media should be increased.
While it is clear that the military, or some part of it, will play a key role in the first post-Soeharto government, the U.S. must find a way to maintain channels of communication with junior and senior officers without providing any kind of training in skills that could be likely used against an internal enemy. Pending the outcome of a full investigation into the disappearances of activists and the shooting of the Trisakti students, there should be a total ban on any joint training or exercises. The U.S. should also work with other donors to persuade them to adopt a ban on transfers of equipment that is likely to be used in the commission of human rights violations.
The U.S. should join with other donors in pressing Indonesia to extend invitations to key parts of the U.N. human rights machinery, including the Special Rapporteur on Torture, given the serious torture to which the disappeared activists were subjected, and the Special Rapporteur on Summary and Arbitrary Executions. In the past when rapporteurs have visited, their attention has been focused exclusively on East Timor. That focus should be broadened to include Indonesia proper.
Most importantly the U.S. should convey to possible Soeharto successors the kind of steps that would be viewed by the international community as indicative of a commitment to political reform and protection of human rights. Those steps should include:
1. The release of all people detained for non-violent political activities or who have been charged under the following laws PP 11/1963 (the anti-subversion law); Law No.5/1963 (a law banning all political activities); Article 154-156 of the Criminal Code (spreading hatred toward the government); Articles 134-136 of the Criminal Code (insulting the head of state).
2. The repeal of all of the above laws.
3. The repeal of the package of five political laws from 1985 that freeze the political system in its current form, including Law No.3 1985 on elections, Law No.5 1985 on political parties and Law No.8 1985 on mass organizations.
4. The release of imprisoned East Timorese leader Xanana Gusmao with a view toward establishing a direct dialogue on human rights.
5. Announcement of a new policy aimed at ending de facto and de jure discrimination against the ethnic Chinese.
6. The establishment of a high level civilian-military commission including representatives of NGOs, to review the "dual function" of the Indonesian military in society.
7. The establishment of an anti-corruption commission or other mechanisms designed to curb corrupt practices and make public officials more accountable.
8. The adoption of measures to strengthen the independence of the judiciary.
9. Ratification of major international human rights treaties.
10. Eventually, perhaps not immediately, the establishment of a Truth Commission that would investigate the events of September-October 1965 and the killings that followed.