May 14, 2010
Nurfika Osman & Ulma Haryanto
A memorial for Trisakti University students who were allegedly shot dead by
soldiers, sparking the bloody and racially concentrated riots that preceded the
fall of former President Suharto. (Antara Photo/Paramayuda)
Indonesia Must Never Forget May Tragedy
Justice Minister Patrialis Akbar suggested on Wednesday that the nation should
move past the May 1998 riots, but a national rights commission is urging the
tragedy to be taught in schools so future generations can learn as much as
possible about the tragic events that preceded the fall of President Suharto,
and by doing so prevent such terrors in the future.
Patrialis told reporters at the House of Representatives that the government
was willing to compensate the victims of the tragedy with employment at state
"If we continue to look for who is most responsible, I don't think we will ever
find a way out. We will just keep looking and looking," Patrialis was quoted by
Detik.com as saying, suggesting that it was no longer a priority for the
government to investigate its responsibility in the bloodshed.
"The minister might have his own standpoint when he said that. The incident
happened a long time ago and the investigation should be left in the hands of
our law-enforcement entities such as the police and the Attorney General's
Office," ministry spokesman Martua Batubara told the Jakarta Globe on Thursday.
"Furthermore, our ministry does not have the investigative authority, unlike
the National Commission of Human Rights [Komnas HAM]," Batubara said.
Andy Yentriyani, from the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas
Perempuan), said that failure to include the riots in national history books
was an attempt to obscure the truth about the chaos surrounding Suharto's fall
after 32 years of autocratic rule.
"The tragedy is only being remembered as demonstrations by students which led
to President Suharto quitting. The shooting, the rioting, the sexual abuse of
women must be included. We cannot remain silent or deny it. We need to include
that in the history books," Andy said.
"People should remember that human rights violations such as rape and other
kinds of sexual assault occurred during the May tragedy," Andy said, as
students demonstrated in the capital on Wednesday to mark the shooting of four
Trisakti University students on May 12, 1998. Soldiers allegedly shot the
students, touching off riots that targeted security forces and
Desti Murdijana, the vice chairwoman of the Komnas Perepuan, said history was a
form of capital required to develop the national character.
"It educates people to respect human rights and differences, and to fight for
justice," she said.
Yohannes Temaluru, vice rector of Atmajaya University told the Globe that
adding the May Tragedy to the curriculum was a matter of crucial importance.
Yohannes said that the next generation should be able to see it as an incident
that should not be allowed to happen again.
"By teaching them the truth and the cost to human rights, they will grow as
people who can blend in a pluralistic society so that such incidents will not
happen again," he said.
Bedjo Sujanto, the rector of Jakarta State University (UNJ) echoed Yohannes'
statement, saying, "Our young generation needs to know that once we had a
terrible and serious violence in the history of our country, in which many
people died and women were abused."
That knowledge, he said, would make the younger generation aware that such
incidents should not happen again. "They left great wounds in people's hearts,"
"Since our country was founded, we have all come from different backgrounds.
The Chinese are part of us," he said. "Bhinneka Tunggal Ika [Unity in
Diversity, the national slogan] must be practically implemented in society."
"If we keep restricting ourselves and think that other cultures, religions or
ethnic groups are worse than us, we will not be able to live up to that ideal."
Both lecturers said Indonesia would continue the fight against forgetting about
the tragedy, which is annually commemorated nationwide.
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