Justice for Iran (JFI), 9 November 2015: After more than half a century of justice denied, the International People’s Tribunal 1965 (IPT 1965) will investigate the facts surrounding the 1965-66 massacres in Indonesia that led to an estimated 500,000 to one million deaths. Justice for Iran’s executive director has been invited to serve as a judge on the basis of her work on state-sanctioned crimes and impunity in Iran.
After a failed coup in 1965, the head of Indonesia’s military, Suharto, took on sweeping new powers. Blaming the Communist Party of Indonesia for the coup, Suharto established an extrajudicial military intelligence agency that would instigate a campaign of terror against all those accused of being communists. The campaign of violence targeted not just communists but the Indonesian women’s movement, socialists, intellectuals, activists, trade unionists, and members of the Chinese community, as well as countless innocent people. In addition to the hundreds of thousands killed, thousands more were enslaved, displaced, tortured, raped, or disappeared in what has been described as one of the worst mass killings of the twentieth century.
As a people’s tribunal, its authority comes not from an official mandate but from the voices of victims themselves. The tribunal cannot impose sentences or order compensation, but aims to establish a public space for dialogue about the events both in Indonesia and around the world.
Despite the dramatic nature of the killings, they are largely ignored by Indonesians. None of the victims or their families have received apologies or redress, and the massacres are celebrated in Indonesian textbooks. Many of the perpetrators remain in positions of authority in Indonesia, while victims and their families have been prevented from visiting the sites of the massacres. Authorities have cancelled screenings of Joshua Oppenheimer’s two films about the events, The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence. The 1965 People’s Tribunal itself, despite inviting participation from the Indonesian government, has come under similar official pressure.
The International People’s Tribunal on 1965 Crimes against Humanity in Indonesia (IPT 1965) will be held at The Hague 10-13 November 2015, when the judges, Sir Geoffrey Nice, Helen Jarvis, Mireille Fanon Mendes France, John Gittings, Cees Flinterman, Zak Yacoob and Shadi Sadr, will hear detailed evidence presented by the prosecution. As a people’s tribunal, the 1965 Tribunal was initiated by Indonesian civil society organisations and victims, and operates outside of formal organisations. It will bring together documents, video, and audio evidence, witness testimonies, together with principles of international customary law, public international law, and Indonesian law to discover the truth of the events of 1965-6. As a people’s tribunal, its authority comes not from an official mandate but from the voices of victims themselves. The tribunal cannot impose sentences or order compensation, but aims to establish a public space for dialogue about the events both in Indonesia and around the world. The impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators, and the celebration of the massacres in popular culture and public education have created a culture of violence in which further massacres by the Indonesian state, in East Timor and West Papua, have escaped scrutiny. Internationally too, the massacres only came to global attention decades later with the release of Oppenheimer’s films.
Much of Justice for Iran’s work has focused on similar questions of impunity and forgotten atrocities in Iranian history. Reports produced by JFI have focused on sexual torture in Iranian prisons in the 1980s, and systematic abuse by the state, both of which are mostly unknown to the Iranian public. As in Indonesia, there has never been an official attempt to come to terms with the atrocities, either by seeking redress for victims or by naming and punishing the perpetrators.
Acknowledgment has instead come from organisations and small groups of activists inside and outside of the country. Also like the Indonesian case, many perpetrators of atrocities remain in positions of power within Iran, though Justice for Iran and other organizations have compiled databases of human rights violators.