ASIA/INDONESIA - Young Indonesians, between memory and justice

Thursday, 23 May 2024 human rights   youth   memory   justice  

Jakarta (Agenzia Fides) - Coming to terms with the past and the search for justice in light of the events of the past are issues that are mainly addressed by young Indonesians, but could also pose new challenges for the newly elected President Prabowo Subianto. What are commonly referred to as "Aksi Kamisan" ("Thursday Action") are public rallies that have been taking place for at least 26 years: a peaceful demonstration to demand justice and education about the massive violence that hit Jakarta during the "national tragedy" of 1998, when dozens of Chinese women were attacked by an angry mob with violence against people and property (houses, shops, shopping centers). According to an independent investigation, at least 1,000 Indonesians lost their lives as a result of the excessive violence (including rape), and thousands of properties were destroyed and looted. The days of May 14 and 15, 1998 are remembered by all Indonesians as the days of a violent uprising directed against an ethnic minority in the country: the Indonesian Chinese. Days earlier, several university students were abducted because they sharply criticized the authoritarian regime of then-President Muhammad Suharto.
As violence rocked the capital, students stormed parliament and climbed to the roofs of the building to demand the resignation of Suharto, who has been in power for 32 years, and called for "Reformasi" (age of reforms).
On May 21, 1998, the unexpected happened: President Suharto publicly announced his resignation, citing as one of the reasons to avoid further bloodshed and clashes between different groups. Months later, General Prabowo Subianto was dismissed from his military post: Suharto's son-in-law and the most powerful general in the army at the time, Prabowo Subianto, was forced to leave the army's strategic command. On October 20, 2024, former general Prabowo Subianto will be inaugurated as Indonesia's eighth president. The Jesuit priest Prof. Magnis-Suseno, religious, popular missionary and intellectual, is also committed to ensuring that the past is not forgotten and that efforts are made to ensure justice and education about the riots of May 1998. At the Aksi Kamisan demonstrations in central Jakarta, in front of the State Palace, the Jesuit gave a lecture in which he stressed that any violent uprising must be investigated to determine responsibility. "But to date, not a single perpetrator of our country's worst tragedy has been brought to justice," complains Yakobu's Mayong Padang, who is involved in one of the civil society associations. Post-Suharto presidents have done little to address these serious human rights violations, leading to a culture of impunity and violence. The democracy that emerged in the post-Suharto era has helped curb ethnic and religious violence, but "civil liberties, freedom of the press, women's rights, children's rights, religious freedom and the rights of minorities must continue to be protected", recalled those present. Meanwhile, a number of initiatives have emerged among young Indonesians, especially on social media, such as the hashtag #ReformasiDikorupsi ("Reform is corrupted"). In 2019, hundreds of thousands of students protested as parliament tried to pass a new criminal code that would limit the powers of the Anti-Corruption Authority. Young people continue to be at the forefront of initiatives such as Aksi Kamisan. (PA/MH) (Agenzia Fides, 23/5/2024)