An Annotated Bibliography Compiled by Jaydi Colmenares Raney
East Timor and Indonesian Communists
Who: Civilians and PKI supports; East Timorese
When: 1965-66; 1972 & 1999
Where: Throughout Indonesian Islands (Java, Sumatra, Bali); East Timor
Estimated Numbers: Approx. 500,000 killed in Indonesia, 500,000 arrested; 200-300,000 killed in East Timor
Indonesian Communist Party (PKI)
Indonesia is a victim of its own national composition. With 13,700 islands, over 250 languages, and at least 300 ethnic groups, the diversity of interests destabilizes the central authority. After independence from the Dutch East India Company in 1949, the two largest political parties, the Indonesian National Party (PNI) and the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), shared power with several other small parties. The popularity of the PKI grew as the peasant farmers were attracted to the ideology. The coalition government struggled to preserve the balance of the PKI and the army. In 1965, coup called the September 30 Movement attempted to seize power. The PNI and General Suharto quickly turned back the uprising. Suharto established de facto control and became president in 1967. The new government placed the former president under house arrest until his death in 1970. The army blamed the coup attempt on PKI and launched retaliation and a round-up of all suspected sympathizers. The conflict between the PKI and the army culminated in the massacre of 500,000 PKI supporters and the arrest of 500,000 others, mainly civilians, from 1965-66, until the PNI had established full dominance. Suharto stayed in power until 1998 in one of the longest reigns of any military dictator. For over 30 years of his rule, raids and massacres continued.
The killings had ethnic and religious dimensions with the targeting of Chinese populations and attacks by both Christians and Muslims. The two political parties basically were composed along ethnic, religious, and class distinctions. Indonesian Muslims and parts of the Christian population aligned themselves with the conservative PNI to suppress the atheists or indigenous polytheists. Furthermore, some victims seemed to be selected because of their Chinese heritage. Analysts also identify social features that marked the victims since urban elite tried to control the rural peasants. Due to the political nature of these killings and the strategic relations between the Indonesian government and the international community, few states have called this incident a genocide. Like many military regimes, the Indonesian government was characterized by continuous armed oppression of a civilian population.
This tension between civilians and military again was manifested in mass killings and destruction in East Timor. Indonesia invaded the small island in 1975, one day after a visit to Jakarta by President Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. The occupation claimed over 200,000 lives, or 1/3 of the population, and occurred against United Nations appeals to the Indonesian government, largely because of US support of the government and its arms buying.
For two decades, the East Timorese resisted occupation. In 1998, after President Suharto was forced to resign due to the economic crisis, the new government offered to have elections to decide the fate of East Timor. On August 30, 1999, with a voter turnout of over 98% of East Timorese, 78% voted for independence in U.N.-supervised elections. The subsequent murder, looting, and arson by anti-independence militias and Indonesian police and troops destroyed around 70% of the local property and displaced 3/4 of the population. United Nations estimates placed the casualties at 1,500 killed. Many people were relocated forcefully to West Timor. Currently, East Timor is under UN supervision awaiting full independence.
US policy makers often ignored the Indonesian conflicts until the outbreak of violence after the Timorese elections. The Indonesian government was considered a long time arms trade partner and an ally against the so-called Asian Communists. However, American and East Timorese human rights activists worked with members of Congress over the years to slowly change foreign policy. In reaction to the violence in East Timor, the US suspended military relations with Indonesia.
The United Nations annually released resolutions condemning human rights violations by the Indonesian military, but it neither recognized East Timor’s autonomy in the face of the government’s invasion nor took any action against Indonesia. However, groups of non-governmental organizations and global human rights advocates mobilized opposition to the violence. The Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded a joint Peace Prize to Bishop Carlos Belo and Jose Ramos-Horta of East Timor for seeking a just and peaceful solution to the conflict. Indonesia of late has been under further scrutiny for its militant reaction to national movements in Aceh, Maluku, and West Papua.