In the last week of May every year, various community groups and groups of victims and families of those subjected to enforced disappearances from various countries, particularly from Latin America, Asia and Africa, observe the International Week of Disappearances. The Indonesian Association of Families of Victims of Enforced Disappearances (IKOHI) and the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) are two of these groups. A state policy of "disappearing" people was firstly known to bepracticed by Adolf Hitler, when he issued a decree in 1941 ordering that anyone "endangering German security" in areas controlled by the Nazi government be arrested and taken secretly to Germany, where they were to disappear without a trace. This policy was later adopted as a systematic state policy prevailing in South America, particularly in Guatemala and Brazil, from the late 1960s up to the early 1970s. The term "enforced or involuntary disappearances" was first coined by a non-governmental organization in Latin America.
In Indonesia, this phenomenon did not come to public attention until the latter stages of Soeharto's New Order regime, a period marked by a number of cases in which pro-democracy activists were subjected to enforced disappearances or were kidnapped by the state apparatus, because they were politically against the ruling regime. Kontras has documented that 14 people are still missing today. Their enforced disappearances took place in 1997/1998 against the backdrop of three political settings: The 1997 general elections campaigning period, the pre-1998 general session of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) and the post-1998 general session of the Assembly. One of these missing people is Wiji Thukul, a poet whose work is said to be critical of the ruling regime.
Five years have passed since these enforced disappearances took place. Regimes have changed. Families of the victims have made many attempts to find out the whereabouts of their loved ones. They have visited many places, relevant government agencies and international institutions abroad, but to little avail. The state must be held accountable for these heinous crimes, must stop such crimes and prevent them from happening again. These three points constitute the demands made by IKOHI, Kontras and other Indonesian rights activists over the past five years. The non-recurrence of enforced disappearances can be guaranteed only if the state can account for previous cases, so the state must investigate these past cases.
The legal process will reveal the truth behind these cases so that the perpetrators, the incidents themselves and the victims, including their current and their welfare, will come to light. If the investigations, interrogations and fair prosecution take place, the state would admit to having committed serious human rights violations. The state's next obligation will be to fulfill the rights of the victims. The state must restore the victims' rights or provide rehabilitation and compensation. This reparation is compulsory on the part of the state and must be conducted the moment the process of truth-seeking and prosecution takes place. Failure to thoroughly settle the crime of enforced disappearances will only lead to the recurrence of similar incidents. In Indonesia, this fear has become a reality. The failure to thoroughly settle the cases of enforced disappearances in 1997/1998 has led to continued disappearances.
It is of vital importance that all segments of the civilian community should devote their attention to enforced disappearances, especially considering that the government, in its effort to fight terrorism, has promulgated the Law on Terrorism. Article 26 of this law stipulates that an investigator can detain people on the basis of intelligence, and that an interrogation conducted by the chairman and deputy chairman of a district court can be held behind closed doors. Some circles have dubbed these articles as "articles of kidnapping".
The current political process is highly conducive to enforced disappearances, as the dominant position of the military over civilian political authorities have made it possible for the military to act freely without having to heed critical voices in society. The government policy regarding Aceh is a concrete example. Then, prior to the 2004 general elections, the political elite and political parties alike would be contesting one another -- a situation highly prone to political violence. In this context, enforced disappearances is very likely become one of the manifestations of this violence. It is time that we all called out loud, like the relatives of enforced disappearances elsewhere: Nunca mas! Never again! --
The writer is a survivor of the 1998 kidnapping of pro-democracy activists.
Source: The Jakarta Post, Opinion, June 09, 2003