Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Munir; An Obituary



(An Obituary: December 8, 1965-September 7, 2004)

There’s no forgetting,

there’s no winter

That will wipe your name,

shining brother,

From the lips of the people.

(Pablo Neruda)

Last Meeting with Munir

On late Thursday afternoon of September 2004, around 60 victims and relatives of victims of human rights violation were sitting in crowds in front of the office of KONTRAS. There will be special meeting that afternoon; a meeting, a farewell meeting with Munir before he left for the Netherlands for continuing his Master study on international law on human rights in Utrecht University. The 60 victims and their relatives are from various victim’s communities that have been with Munir for struggling, at least since early 1998 when Munir was coordinating KONTRAS.

At about 4 p.m, Munir shown up. He got off from his old car. Munir got the car since 4 months ago. It was a cheap used Toyota that he bought from a friend by credit. Then Munir greeted all of us, and we all entered the meeting room of KONTRAS.

First, Munir delivered a ten minute speech, saying that he was going to the Netherlands for continuing his study on subject that very much related to human rights, justice and the victims. He added further that his going to study was part of the ongoing struggle for justice and human rights. He also said that his being in the Netherlands did not mean that he was away from the victims. More specifically, Munir said about the need for the victims to unite and strengthen solidarity, as the coming presidential election (to be held on September 20, 2004) will not bring about significant change in favor of victims’ interests. The newly adopted Bill on Truth and Reconciliation Commission (KKR) and the controversial Draft Bill on the Indonesian Military (RUU TNI) needed to be responded by the victims. Otherwise both Bills will pave the way for the perpetrators of human rights violation to impunity and the military to go back to politics.

The were many responses from the victims. Most expressed they expectation that Munir will succeed in his study and go back again soon to the field of struggle with the victims. However, it can not be hidden that the victims felt loss with the daily absence of Munir in few days to come. Seeing this, Munir said that he will be available for 24 hours for the victims. “If there is anything you want to let me know, please send me letter. You can also email me from KONTRAS office. It is available for the victims”.

Well, no body thought that that Thursday afternoon was the last meeting with Munir, until suddenly on September 7, 2004, we were shock by the news that our best comrade, leader and teacher Munir, (39) has passed away in his flight to Amsterdam.

People from all over Indonesia shed their tears, expressed their deep sorrow and felt a great loss because of that. Munir’s death has become the greatest loss in the Indonesians’ struggle for defending the victims’ human rights and solving the cases of human rights violations by the state.

Mrs. Ade Sitompul, one of the human rights defenders from the Voice of Indonesian Human Rights (SHMI), stated that a figure like Munir can only be found in a certain situation. So, she said, it would take a long time to have someone like him.

Living in the Struggle

In his life, Munir has fully dedicated himself to defend the victims of politics and injustice by the state. That is why he has taken the right step by choosing a Legal Aid Institute (LBH) as a place to defend the victims’ human rights. At Surabaya Legal Aid Institute (LBH Surabaya), he became the Head of the Labour and Civil Rights – a position in which he had to directly deal with the state’s repressive instruments such as military, as well as the policies against the labour and democracy.

In 1993, Munir together with activists from NGOs did investigations and campaigns over the death of Marsinah, a female worker who was murdered after leading a strike in Sidoardjo. She encouraged her co-workers to stop working. At that time, the case became a national issue. It was even taken before the UN Commission for Human Rights.

The main perpetrator was strongly assumed to have involved the military. Munir, then, was elected as the secretary of The Solidarity Committee for Marsinah (KASUM). This case has brought his name to the national stage as a courageous person who obviously accused the military of being responsible for the murder of Marsinah. An attitude which was rarely possessed by the human rights defenders at that time. The military felt annoyed by Munir’s courage and strong willingness to keep moving forward to make them be responsible for Marsinah’s death.

Then, Munir was ‘abducted’ and intimidated by the Bakorstanasda[1] of Brawijaya Military Command (KODAM) in Surabaya. They asked him to stop all his campaigns and quit making statements that might have endangered the position of the military. The result however was that he became more confident that the military had had a connection to Marsinah’s death. He then continued fighting for Marsinah’s case until it was taken before the the UN Commission for Human Rights.

Advocacy for Marsinah’s case has shown how exactly Munir was like. He was not scared at all to defend the human rights, although he had to deal with the most powerful enemy, the military. His attitude has become the most important thread of his career as a human rights defender who stood against the military.

Also, he also got involved in defending and advocating the victims of gross human rights violations in Aceh and East Timor, two military operation regions for more than ten years.

The highlight of Munir’s struggle for human rights and contribution to the next enforcement process of human rights was when he established a Commission for Disappearances and Victims of Violence (KONTRAS) in March 1998 in which he become the head. Its establishment began with investigations on a series of systematic abductions of some pro-democracy activists by the Army Special Forces (Kopasus) that happened since mid 1997 to mid 1998 in relation to the People’s Consultative Assembly General Session (SU MPR) when the Jenderal Besar Soeharto was elected as the President of Indonesia for the seventh time. At that time, the Commander of Kopasus was General Major Prabowo, Soeharot’s son-in-law.

Some victims of abductions who were released through the efforts of Munir and KONTRAS have done campaigns, lobbying, actions and pressures on the government and military in order to make them admit their involvement and also release all victims of abductions who were still detained.

In its history, we can say that Indonesia has never had a general suspended because of having led an operation or a policy which violated human rights. In most cases, it only happened at the troop level. However, Munir and KONTRAS with all the supports from the victims and their families has successfully urged Military Honor Council (Dewan Kehormatan Militer) to suspend Lieutenant General Prabowo Subianto who at that time became the Commander of the Army Strategic Reserve Command (Pangkostrad).

Nevertheless, all investigations and courts on the perpetrators of the abductions still showed that there was ‘impunity’ process for those who held the military command. Knowing that investigations on the cases of involuntary disappearance by the state were not completely done, Munir encouraged the victims and their relatives to establish an Indonesian Association of Families of the Disappeared known as IKOHI in late 1998. Then, IKOHI continued taking important measures needed in order to persecute the state responsibility and to look for those still disappeared. IKOHI does not only act as a campaign machine, but it also functions as an organization for ‘the movements of the victims’, which can empower the politics among the victims, their families and societies.

The impunity for the perpetrators of the human rights violations has also bothered Munir’s mind, especially when the Draft Law of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission started being deliberated by the Parliament (Dewan perwakilan Rakyat) since last year. He noticed that it was not the right time to propose the draft considering the ‘political situation’ which could have resulted in law products that legalized impunity ended with a reconciliation “without truth and justice”.

Munir’s Legacy

There may be three main ideas of Munir’s struggle for human rights. First, it fights against various structures and policies violating the human rights with no fear at all. In the cases in Indonesia, the structure that is often liked to human rights violations are military institution or the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) and the Police (Polri). That is why the process to enhance the human rights will directly and indirectly deal with the military. To make the military not to be part of the politics and to create professional army under the civil supremacy have become his ideas as the main pre-requisite to decrease the level and quantity of gross human rights violations in Indonesia, which in it history can never be separated from the military. Before passing away, he suggested that the Draft of the TNI’s Law recover the Dual Functions[2] (Dwi Fungsi) of TNI. He also urged that the army’s political role be totally unaccepted and rejected since it means we provide room for other gross human rights violations.

Second, he always stood up for the victims of human rights violations and took their side. He always put their interests and aspirations before anything so that we can consider what he said is the victim’s perspectives. Humbly, he never forgot allocating his time to be with the victims. He listened to their deep sorrow, scream, hope, anger and also despair. He was always alert 24 hours 7 days and ready to be visited and called by those, victims of human rights violations, for counseling and advice. He was even available for just listening to their complaints. Based on those things, indeed, he emotionally and psychologically understood how the victims and their families felt. Everything he had publicly campaigned and stated was the reflection of their hope, complaints, disappointment and courage. His organic relationship with them has made him a figure of a defender who keeps deeply rooting. It was only one in a million that a human rights defender at the international level kept being humble and down to earth and was always there standing for the victims. Only he could do that.

Third, courage is the most important thing in struggling for the human rights in Indonesia. Munir was a phenomenon because he continued moving forward and leading the victims and the society to keep criticizing every single policy, the paramilitary and state practices which violated the human rights. That is why it remains to be seen that the military apparatus are still against and allergic to him and all his activities to defend human rights. He never gave up fighting for the victims’ rights. He even often faced a series of terror from being threatened to be killed to bomb explosion at his residence. We hope his spirit and courage become the diaspora to all human rights defenders.

Of course, knowing that he has passed away, we feel a great loss. Nothing can take his place. To commemorate him, all his great works to stand for the victims and to fight all structures directly and indirectly linked with the human rights violations are still continued. This is the best thing for us to do to remember the most courageous human rights defender in Indonesia: MUNIR.

The article is taken from The Voice, the magazine of the AFAD, Volume IV No. 2, October 2004

[1] Bakorstanasda stands for Coordinating Body for the National and Regional Stability, an extrajudicial body set up by New Order as a repressive mean for controlling people.

[2] The Dual Functions of the Indonesian military are defense and security functions and social and political functions.

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