16 years ago, one of Indonesia’s bloodiest tragedies swept across virtually the entire nation. What were initially student protests held against Suharto’s inability to curb corruption, handle economic crises and the following social and political tensions ended up with brutal repression led by security forces. What happened afterwards was a culmination of mass anger, all of which was expressed in savagery unspeakable to levels ever imagined, in particular towards Chinese Indonesians, the major economic and social scapegoats. Shops were looted, malls, and the thousands of masses entrapped inside, were burnt alive en masse, leaving their corpses in complete ashes. Dozens of women, all of whom are ethnic Chinese, were brutally gang-raped, while other thousands saw their properties, houses, and offices perish in flames. Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, and also the country’s economic and political epicenter during Suharto’s rule, witnessed a brief period of lawlessness, chaos, insurmountable terror, and even societal collapse. And so were a few other major cities, in particular Medan and Surakarta, which were gravely affected by such occurrence.
Ever since Suharto’s resignation, few efforts have been made to bring those responsible to justice. And it even seems that much of the populace has become largely oblivious that this tragedy once happened.
What we need to know is this: when we fail to learn from history, we run high risks of repeating it. We may not forget what has happened in May, and as long as there is no justice brought to the victims, this will remain one of many humiliating points for Indonesia’s human rights record.
Read the complete chronology of Chinese Indonesians in University of Maryland’s Minorities at Risk (MAR), an intensive project covering approximately 283 ethnic minorities across the whole planets perceived to face ‘existential threats’, and how governments are actually failing to protect their rights.