Bejo Untung (R) sits with his wife Endang Kustantina, as they listen to their son Baja Suseno play the piano in their house in Tangerang, on the outskirts of Jakarta on February 12, 2013. 

(New York) – The US and Indonesian governments should declassify and make public all documents related to the mass killings in Indonesia in 1965-66 as a key step toward obtaining justice for those crimes. 

On December 10, 2014, US Senator Tom Udall introduced a “Sense of the Senate Resolution” condemning the 1965-66 atrocities in Indonesia and calling on US authorities to declassify related documents in US files. The draft resolution came the day after release of the summary of a US Senate committee report detailing findings on CIA  interrogation policy and torture of terrorism suspects in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on the United States.  

“If the US Senate can issue a detailed report on US government responsibility for CIA torture nearly a decade ago, surely the Indonesian parliament can do the same for one of the 20th century’s worst massacres,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.  “Indonesian authorities should open up discussion of the 1965-66 events, including by establishing a truth commission and investigating living senior military officials responsible for the crimes.”

In October 1965, the Indonesian government gave free rein to a mix of Indonesian soldiers and local militias to kill anyone they considered to be a “communist.” Over the next few months into 1966, at least 500,000 people were killed (the total may be as high as one million). The victims included members of the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI), ethnic Chinese, as well as trade unionists, teachers, civil society activists, and leftist artists. In the 49 years since the killings, the Indonesian government has justified the massacres as a necessary defense against the PKI. Its account holds that the communists attempted a coup, murdering six army generals on September 30, 1965, as part of their attempt to make Indonesia into a communist state. In October 2012, then-Coordinating Minister of Political, Legal, and Security Affairs Djoko Suyanto responded  to findings of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) that the events of 1965-66 constituted a “gross human rights violation” by insisting that those killings were justified. Public discussion about the killings, a taboo topic in Indonesia for decades, has increased in recent years, a process substantially aided since 2012 by release of the documentary films The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence.

“It has been nearly 50 years and time is running out to establish the truth about the carnage,” Kine said.  

The proposed Senate resolution highlights the continued impunity enjoyed by those who carried out the crimes, and calls on Indonesian political leaders to establish a truth and reconciliation to address alleged crimes against humanity and other human rights violations committed. It calls upon all relevant US government agencies to “locate, identify, inventory, recommend for declassification, and make available to the public all classified records and documents concerning the mass killings of 1965-1966, including but not limited to records and documents pertaining to covert operations in Indonesia from January 1, 1964-March 30, 1966,” and to expedite the public release of such files.

“The US government can play a key role in helping the Indonesian government shine a light on the atrocities of 1965-66,” Kine said. “The US should assist Indonesia face that dark period of its history.”