Indonesian activists boycotted a state-backed forum on the anti-communist purge of 1965 on Tuesday, a day after a senior minister said the government would not apologise for the one of the darkest periods in Indonesia’s history.
Some historians and activists says at least 500,000 people were killed in violence that started in late 1965 after then-general Suharto and the military took power following an abortive communist coup. A million or more people were jailed, suspected of being communists.
Successive Indonesian governments have refused to accept the figure.
Events leading up to the coup attempt were the backdrop to C.J. Koch’s novel “The Year of Living Dangerously” and 1982 movie of the same name.
The forum marks the first time an Indonesian administration has participated in a national-level discussion about one of the worst episodes of violence since World War Two, but activists questioned the government’s commitment to rehabilitating victims and bringing perpetrators to justice.
“This conference is a far cry from what the government should be doing, which is following through with legal processes to address the human rights abuses of 1965,” said Haris Azhar of the Commission for Missing Persons, one of several prominent activists who boycotted the two-day event.
Chief Security Minister Luhut Pandjaitan told the Jakarta forum the government was committed to resolving human rights issues but reiterated the official position that it would not issue an official apology.
“Don’t even think that the government will apologise for this and that,” the Jakarta Post quoted him as saying. “We know what we are doing, that is best for this nation.”
Triggered in the middle of the Cold War when the West feared that communism was sweeping through decolonizing Asia, many of the killings were in the populous main island of Java and Bali.
Joshua Oppenheimer, a documentary film maker, whose two films on the topic were nominated for Academy Awards in recent years, called Pandjaitan’s comments “profoundly disappointing”.
“If the government thinks a two-day symposium in which former military officers deny responsibility and refuse to apologise is an adequate response to a genocide, they will only succeed in insulting the dead and further stigmatizing the survivors,” he told Reuters in an email.
But some survivors still hold out hope President Joko Widodo, the country’s first leader from outside the political and military establishment, will address rights abuses.
“This government is different from those before,” said Abdurrashim, 72, who attended the Jakarta event in the hopes of getting answers over his 12-year detention in the 1960s and 70s for links to the communist party.
“This president is different because he has promised to resolve this in a meaningful and humanitarian way. Hopefully he will carry out his promises.”