24 Years of Reformation: The State Doesn’t Recognize the Cases of Marsinah and May 1998 Mass Rape As Human Rights Violation

There are strong indications that the May 1998 mass rape was carried out to silence activists and spread terror to the public. The New Order regime destroyed the movement and political awareness of the people by carrying out terror against women and women's bodies.

It has been 24 years since the fall of President Soeharto’s leadership, but the net of military power and the New Order, which supported its power, has not been destroyed. Several cases of human rights violations in that era have not been resolved. Many human rights violations have passed without justice, including the case of the murder of Marsinah and the mass rape in May 98.

These two cases revealed solid indications that the rapes were committed to silence activists and spread terror to the community. The New Order regime tried to destroy the movement and political awareness of the people by carrying out terror against women and women’s bodies.

Marking the 24th anniversary of Reformation and the 29th anniversary of the abduction, rape, and murder of labour activist Marsinah, Perempuan Mahardhika–a women’s rights group, urges the government and parliament to immediately recognize the Marsinah Case and May 1998 Mass Rape as a case of human rights violations.

“Realize a human rights court for victims. If past sexual violence and human rights violations involving military forces during the New Order Regime are not resolved through the mechanism of the Human Rights Court, then there is no hope for these cases not repeated in Indonesia,” said one of the demands of Perempuan Mahardhika which was read out. In a press conference on Friday (18/5/2022).

It was explained that until now, the brain behind this kidnapping has not been touched. This is because Marsinah’s case is categorized as an ordinary crime, not a human rights violation. Whereas the findings in the field show that there were systematic actions in the kidnapping, raping, and murder of Marsinah. This evidence shows the strong involvement of the military in this violence.

“There are strong indications of military involvement behind Marsinah’s case. However, until now, who is behind the kidnapping, rape, and murder has not been touched by the law,” said the Chairwoman of Mahardhika, Mutiara Ika Pratiwi, on the same occasion.

According to Ika, Marsinah will never get justice without the Human Rights Court. The trials ever held were only fabricated trials designed to obscure the military’s responsibility for these killings.

This court was prepared with the confinement and torture of security guards and the management of PT CPS, the factory where Marsinah worked, spent 19 days at the Kodam V Brawijaya. They were forced to admit that they had planned to kill Marsinah.

Marsinah was killed by rape. According to the testimony of an expert witness, doctor Abdul Mun’im Idries, Marsinah’s death was not due to bleeding, but a firearm shot into the labia minora or vaginal lips, causing a small hole with massive damage.

On May 3, 1995, the Supreme Court acquitted the defendants because they were not proven to have planned and killed Marsinah. Since then, the case has been closed, and the mastermind behind Marsinah’s kidnapping, rape, and murder has not been revealed.

Like Marsinah, the women victims of rape and sexual violence in the May 98 tragedy have also not received justice. Until the 24th year, mass rapes, which mostly involved ethnic Chinese women, were still denied.

The Joint Fact Finding Team (TGPF) was formed in May 1998 as a government response to the demands of women’s groups and civil society because parties still continue to doubt the occurrence of sexual violence against women. The TGPF is tasked with investigating the May riots, including proving that in the riots, the rape occurred.

In its investigation, TGPF found that rape did occur. A total of 52 people became victims of rape, 14 people became victims of rape with abuse, 10 people became victims of sexual assault/abuse, and 9 people became victims of sexual harassment. This data is not estimated to cover all cases that occurred.

Meanwhile, the Volunteer Team for Humanity findings stated that there were 152 cases of rape and sexual violence. Of these, 20 victims eventually died. Most victims of the May 98 sexual violence were ethnic Chinese women.

Although the data has been presented comprehensively and the TGPF recommends that further investigation be carried out, until now, the cases of rape and sexual violence in the May 98 tragedy are still being denied.

The government used the absence of victims who wanted to tell stories and testify about cases of sexual violence as an excuse to not follow up on the documents that had been prepared by the fact-finding team.

“This is used as an excuse for the government that the May 98 rape is difficult to investigate,” said Ika.

Breakthrough through the TPKS Law

Various efforts have been made by civil society for the implementation of human rights courts for these two cases. However, the decision to determine a case as a human rights violation case and resolve it through the judicial route by establishing a Human Rights Court requires the political commitment of the Government, House of Representatives (DPR), and Regional Representatives Council (DPD).

And, until now, the government and the DPR have thrown responsibilities at each other. Finally, the Head of the Presidential Staff Office (KSP) Moeldoko tends to discuss the non-judicial path and argues that the Human Rights Court must have a political commitment.

From the side of DPR in November 2000, the Special Committee of the DPR, which was formed to follow up on TGPF’s findings related to the Trisakti, Semanggi 1, and Semanggi 2 tragedies and the May 98 tragedy, did not recommend any human rights violations in these cases.

“These incidents meet the category of Human Rights Violations,” added the National Secretary for Perempuan Mahardhika, Lathiefah Widuri R.

Ika added that the ratification of Law Number 12 of 2022 concerning the law on the elimination of sexual violence (UU TPKS) was the door to unravelling the reasons for the difficulty of proof that were often raised by the authorities.

The TPKS Law presents a breakthrough in viewing cases of sexual violence. Thus, cases of past sexual violence should also be considered with a more progressive lens.

It is explained that the UU TPKS explicitly states, “If the victim experiences severe trauma, the investigator can submit questions through the Companion (Article 54, paragraph 3)”. Likewise, the rules regarding evidence where a certificate from a clinical psychologist and/or psychiatrist/psychiatrist specialist, medical records, and forensic examination results are recognized as valid evidence in the case investigation process.

The evidence mechanism regulated in the UU TPKS comes from a perspective that sees everyone has the right to be free from torture or treatment that degrades human degrees and dignity and that previous laws and regulations have not met the needs and requests of victims of sexual violence. They have not comprehensively regulated the procedural law. 

With this new perspective, the presence or direct testimony of the victim is no longer required as a condition for processing the rape and sexual violence cases in May 98 and the murder of Marsinah.

“There is no reason to delay the implementation of Law No.26/2000 on the Human Rights Court, which can remove the expired provisions in serious human rights violations (Article 46). And, it was clear that Marsinah had been tortured before finally being killed by rape,” she said.

As regulated in the TPKS Law, breakthroughs in evidence should strengthen the State’s commitment to bring about justice for victims of various cases of human rights violations in the country, including the 1965/1966 Tragedy, Aceh DOM, and the handling of OPM in Papua.

To realize this demand, Perempuan Mahardhika, together with other civil society members, will not tire of reminding the government.

“We have often held hearings with the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) and the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) to encourage the implementation of this Human Rights Court. And on May 24, 2022, we will conduct a post-mortem at the Pondok Rangon TPU and witness the mass funeral of Tragedy 98. This is to show that we will never forget until the victims get justice,” concluded Ika.

(Translated by Marina Nasution)

Esti Utami

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