For millions of East Timorese, Indonesia’s 24-year occupation of their country seemed an interminable nightmare.
“My husband, a school principal, was killed by Indonesian soldiers a month after they invaded in November 1975,” says a woman identified only as M.F.
“I then fled into the jungles with the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor [Fretilin] until I was caught by the Indonesian military in 1979.” From that point on, her nightmare truly began.
“I was then held and tortured at the Hotel Flamboyan in Baucau, which was then used as a military headquarters by the Indonesian forces. They made me give away the whereabouts of my brother, a Fretilin fighter,” she recalls.
“I was tortured and raped by servicemen at the Hotel Flamboyan and gave birth to four daughters out of wedlock. Even now I have no idea who their fathers are.”
However, M.F. managed to find solace through her family’s love and the support of a priest willing to baptize her children, despite their unknown paternity.
Another anonymous compatriot of M.F.’s, who underwent the same ordeal, was not so fortunate.
“My husband refused to take me back because I had been ‘defiled.’ But I managed to get back on my feet by raising my children and running a cocoa plantation, due to my children’s love and support,” she says.
“My daughters first learned about their paternity when they saw a documentary about children born out of wedlock during the Indonesian occupation. But fortunately, this only strengthened their love and support for me as well as sympathy.”
Striving for justice
The two East Timorese women are among thousands of victims of atrocities committed by the Indonesian military between 1965 and 2005.
The duo, along with 30 other victims of human rights violations by the Indonesian military in places like Aceh and Papua, are stepping forward to share their experiences with the Indonesian public.
The hearings, titled “Speaking the Truth, Breaking the Circle of Violence,” are being held at Jakarta’s National Library by the Coalition for Justice and Truth (KKPK), a group of 47 NGOs and government institutions whose members include the Citizens’ Council, the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation, the National Commission on Human Rights and the Witness and Victim Protection Agency.
“We held the hearings this year because we designated 2013 as the ‘Year of Truth.’ The year particularly resonates, as it marks the 10th anniversary of the assassination of the human rights activist Munir,” KKPK spokesman Dodi Yuniar said. “The hearings are the second major event of its kind since a similar hearing was held in 2005 to mark the 40th anniversary of the purge of suspected communists [in 1965].”
KKPK coordinator Kamala Chandrakirana said the victims’ testimonies were divided into different categories. The themes include violence against women, atrocities committed during the military insurgencies, sectarian violence, forcible displacement of people to exploit natural resources, and violence against human rights activists.
“We urge the government to admit that human rights violations did occur, and to apologize for them. Doing so will help the country start over, with a clean slate. “The People’s Consultative Assembly said truth and justice should be used as legal foundations, but they have yet to live up to their promise,” Kamala said.
Revisiting the dark past
As with the conflict in East Timor, the 1965 anti-communist purge also hit women hard, among them a Yogyakartan who wished to remain anonymous.
“I was arrested by military authorities in Yogyakarta when I was studying for a degree at a teacher’s college during the purge,” she said.
“They accused me of having affiliations with the Indonesian Communist Party [PKI], even though the organizations I was a member of, like the Indonesian Students Association and the Indonesian Catholic Students Union, were not affiliated with the party.
“A priest freed my sister and me, after which I managed to get my degree and teach. However, the military authorities rearrested me in 1968 and coerced me to confess to another identity.
“I was physically and sexually abused after I refused to do so. They moved me to a number of prisons until I was eventually released in 1978.”
The woman, now in her 70s, said she bore two children during her ordeal, and continues to face stigmatization and discrimination because of her status as a former political prisoner.
The fallout from the military conflicts in Papua and Aceh also affected people like Christian Padua and Murtala.
“I was taken into custody by Indonesian authorities without charge between November 1967 and April 1968. They accused me of being a Free Papua Organization [OPM] insurgent and subjected me to psychological and physical torture,” said Padua, 71, who was fired without compensation or explanation from his job as a supervisor in charge of four Papuan districts at state-run electricity company PLN.
“Even now, I won’t disclose the full extent of what I’ve been through to avoid reprisals against my family.”
Murtala was a survivor of the Simpang KKA incident, a massacre in North Aceh in May 1999 that left 46 people dead, 10 missing, and more than 156 others wounded.
“I was covered by the victims’ bodies and blood during the massacre, which killed my older brother. I only survived because I was presumed dead,” the 43-year-old said of the incident, which occurred when a mob converged on a military base to demand justice, following an incident involving a member of the Indonesian military.
Murtala insisted that the government stop covering up, and called on all sides to forgive but not forget the incident.
The Citizen’s Council has noted that the culture of impunity remains a legacy of the past. It also praised the victims for having the strength and courage to face their dark past.
Aside from the harrowing testimonies, the event also featured playwright Putu Oka Sukanta, who recited his latest work of verse called “Catatan Kecil Dalam Sejarah Indonesia” or “A Little Note In Indonesian History.”
The poem affirmed his humanity and identity as a writer, and his identification with the more marginalized segments of society. Other highlights include speeches by former Indonesian first lady Sinta Nuriah Wahid, the widow of late president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid, and G.K.R. Hemas, the wife of Sultan Hamengku Buwono X of Yogyakarta.
The KKPK has vowed to pursue its cause of bringing the truth to light until the circle of violence breaks. The national rights commission says it will publish a report on the testimonies and other findings in March next year.
Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on December 3, 2013