Indonesian government officials at the symposium were clearly uncomfortable with this very public airing of details of alleged gross human rights abuses. Indonesia’s security minister, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, challenged the accuracy of the estimated half-million death toll and ruled out the possibility of an official apology for those abuses. But the symposium’s chairman, retired general Agus Widjojo, who himself is the son of one of the murdered generals of September 1965, urged participants – mostly elderly men and women – to tell their stories. Widjojo also dismissed allegations, made by nationalist groups that oppose accountability for the massacres, that the symposium was an effort “to revive communism.”
The symposium captivated the interest of the Indonesian public. The hashtag #Simposium65 and #Ingat65 became a trending topic on Twitter as Indonesian television beamed near-non-stop coverage of the event along with its stream of heart-wrenching testimonies nationwide. The symposium was a very tentative first step toward what hopefully will become a meaningful, sustained, and public truth-telling process about the events of 1965-66, and justice for the victims. The question remains whether the Indonesian government has the political courage to pursue that justice.