Human rights were high on the list of Jokowi’s campaign promises, but the addition of Wiranto to his cabinet raises questions, Olivia Tasevski writes.

The appointment of former military general and alleged human rights abuser, Wiranto, to the position of Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs in July 2016 concerned many human rights activists in Indonesia and globally. Five months into Wiranto’s post now is an apt time to examine his rhetoric and actions since being appointed regarding human rights issues in West Papua generally, and the 1965-66 mass killings, torture and imprisonments in Indonesia in particular.

In August 2016, Wiranto took senior Australian government officials, including Australia’s Attorney General, to West Papua to “personally see the condition of the region and people of Papua” and argued that “a lot of information from outside [West Papua] does not match reality.”

Wiranto’s statement puts him at odds with international human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, who have highlighted human rights abuses perpetrated by Indonesian forces in West Papua. More importantly, this statement also indicates that Wiranto is keen to downplay such abuses.

Wiranto’s statement in October 2016 that the majority of the human rights violations Indonesian forces carried out in Papua “occurred a long time ago” and that “some were in the 90s and in [the] early 2000s” is further evidence of his attempts at minimisation.

Such rhetoric is problematic as it ignores recent human rights abuses in West Papua, notably the imprisonment of Papuan political activists and killings of Papuans. Such rhetoric also cements injustice for the victims of these human rights abuses.

Since his appointment, Wiranto has repeatedly stated that human rights violations in West Papua will be addressed via a non-judicial approach. This is unsurprising as Wiranto supported the 1998 Biak massacre during which the Indonesian army, under his leadership, are alleged to have killed, tortured and raped Papuan civilians who raised and guarded the Morning Star flag (the forbidden flag of the Papuan independence movement) in West Papua.

In October 2016, Wiranto also ruled out a judicial approach to address the gross human rights violations that occurred in 1965-66. The pretext for these abuses was the killing of seven army officers by the 30th September Movement, for which Indonesia’s army incorrectly blamed the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). From 1965-66, at least 500,000 members of the PKI, members of PKI-affiliated organisations and suspected communists were killed by the army and vigilante groups. The army also imprisoned many individuals without trial and perpetrated mass rape. Wiranto’s refusal to pursue a judicial approach in response to these actions is concerning as it enables a culture of impunity to remain for perpetrators of such human rights violations and restricts access to justice for victims and their families.

On 1 October 2016, known as Sacred Pancasila Day (an annual commemoration of the killing of the seven army officers), Wiranto proclaimed that “the [30th September Movement] tragedy met the principles of a clear and present danger” and argued that in 1965 “the country [Indonesia] was in an emergency and had to be saved.” Wiranto then referred to the 1965-66 killings, rapes and imprisonments as “salvage actions related to the danger against national security.”

Wiranto’s statements are significant because they are an attempt to justify the 1965-66 atrocities on the grounds that Indonesia was endangered and required salvation, rather than recognising that these actions constituted gross human rights abuses. Moreover, his use of the word “emergency” is particularly important. It suggests that Wiranto believes that following the 30th September Movement, Indonesia was in an extraordinary situation necessitating the sanctioning of extraordinary measures.

Wiranto has also publicly refused to meet with survivors who are part of the Foundation for Research into Victims of the 1965-66 Killings, an organisation seeking to obtain justice for the victims of the killings. Wiranto’s action renders his proclamation that the government is ‘extremely concerned’ about the victims of the 1965-66 events hollow.

Wiranto’s rhetoric and actions have not facilitated justice for Indonesian and Papuan victims of human rights violations committed by the Indonesian military, nor have they weakened the longstanding culture of impunity regarding human rights abuses in Indonesia. Rather, lamentably, they have bolstered injustice for the victims of government-perpetrated violence.

Time will tell whether Wiranto continues this approach or is reined in by Jokowi, who promised to champion human rights during his tenure.

Olivia Tasevski is a Politics and International Studies tutor at the University of Melbourne, where she completed her Bachelor of Arts (Honours) and Master of International Relations.  Her honours thesis examined US human rights policy towards Indonesia during Gerald Ford’s tenure.