The death of former Indonesian President Suharto has naturally provided many articles examining his legacy. Most note the major economic expansion which occurred in Indonesia during his time in power, including a relative decline in overall poverty, whilst making some mention about his “less than desirable” record on human rights (to quote Alexander Downer).
Without in any way ignoring the great difficulties faced in maintaining social stability in a country such as Indonesia, it is a false choice to suggest there has to be either economic development or respect for human rights. Increasing prosperity and helping people out of poverty is itself directly related to human rights.
It raises the question of just how large human rights abuses have to be before we express opposition to them. Or to put it another way, how severe do human rights abuses have to be before we cease turning a blind eye?
Suharto is linked directly to the deaths of over half a million people around the period when he first came to power in the mid-1960s. The number of East Timorese killed during the period of Indonesian occupation has been estimated at around 200 000 – around a third of the total population of the country. Major human rights abuses by sections of the Indonesian military also continued in many parts of the country – most notably in West Papua, where many more killings occurred.
Every country has failings in human rights, including Australia. However, I find it hard to accept that it is OK to just wave away massive human rights abuses as some sort of distasteful and unfortunate side-effect of maintaining political stability and economic development. Surely we can do better than that for our fellow humans, regardless of where they live.
ELSEWHERE: There’s far too many stories on this to link to them all – here’s a small selection:
- Antony Loewenstein – Why we love mass murderers;
- Woolly Days:
While Indonesia mourns the passing of a respected leader who improved the country’s standing in world affairs, the reaction in the rest is the world is likely to be more mixed reflecting Suharto’s long, brutal and graft-ridden regime.
- Done With Mirrors:
Suharto is dead; one of the Cold War’s most confounding pro-Western dictators. The toll of his crimes was hideous. He was a fighter against national and international forces that probably would have killed as many, if not more. He allowed his country to steer from poverty to prosperity in a generation. He helped sow the seeds of deep corruption in that field of success that may yet ruin it all.
- From Brisbane’s West Ender:
Indonesia’s former dictator General Suharto has died in bed and not in jail, escaping justice for his numerous crimes in East Timor and throughout the Indonesian archipelago.
- A piece by Robert Elson in the Opinion section on the ABC website:
Simply labelling Suharto a corrupt murderer runs the risk of leaving us with a one dimensional and misleading understanding of one the most important and influential Asian leaders of the 20th century.