Suharto and human rights

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 LoewensteinWhy 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.
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  1. Yeah!Condolences for all the dead Indonesians,and West Papuans since Soeharto divided and ruled.If I could talk to the relatives friends and observers of the dead,they would know I am serious.Will Kissinger do likewise,I am sure those Islamic folk and knowledgeable of the Indo_communists and West Papuans would agree,incl.maybe some fine military people who find life difficult enough in Indonesia.One man becomes the reason for the condolences from Rudd when the population of Indonesia is!?The simple everyday Indonesian is forgotten in all this pious-overload.

  2. Suharto ,
    Although President Suharto was a dictator and a tyrant, he had some redeeming qualities.
    Though he killed over 1 million people in the suppression of communism, its suppression paved the way for the economic prosperity which followed. (You’ve got to crack a few eggs if you want to make an omelet). These benefits included the increase in oil and agricultural production which ultimately lead to entry into the UN.
    He is remembered by most Australians for his role in the invasion of East Timor and West Papua.
    Former ALP Prime Minister Mr. Paul Keating (A long standing friend and well known business associate) was today reported to have “dropped everything” and flown over to show his respects at his funeral. ?


  3. I found all the fawning over Soharto’s demise nauseating. Several years ago I watched a documentary called, “Indonesia:the years of living dangerously” It was revealed that the death toll during 1965/6 and beyond was probably closer to 3 million, as people who were coming back to Indonesia in recent years, or were feeling confident in revealing their stories of horrific killings were coming to light. I’ve also read books and articles by John Pilger for example, that clearly links both the US and Australia as not only knowing of these atrocities at the time, but actually assisting; the CIA giving names of so-called communists etc. The rich corporations of US/Britain & Aus?spent several days with Soharto dividing the ‘spoils’. Bauxite to this person/corporation, rainforest timber to this one etc. I don’t know whether the ordinary Indonesians benefited that much – there’s still a lot of impoverished people in the country. The ripping out of trees causing soil erosion,is now responsible for the slippages and many deaths!

    Nobody was arrested in relation to the 180,000 people butchered in East Timor, or the thousands in Aceh and West Papua. I’m disgusted that the crimes of Soharto, and the filthy riches of himself and his family have been only mildly ‘condemned’ and I feel shamed by Paul Keating’s obvious affection for a mass murderer! The US added Chile, El Salvador, Guatamala and 40 more countries to add to their list of killings and domination for the benefit of rich corporations. It would appear, that as long as you’ve got goodies that the US/Britain/Australia requires, you can do as you damn well please. The hypocrisy in attitude between Soharto and Saddam Hussein for instance, only reinforces this fact. Overlooking Mushareff’s dictatorial reign and his 2IC’s penalty for giving nuclear materials and information to ‘rogue states’like Nth Korea and probably Iran-only house arrest? A pity that bastard Soharto, didn’t die 50 years ago, together with Pinnoch

  4. Some people who were contributing here, turned into bleeding hearts when Saddam Hussein was executed, with a quick and clean hanging, after being tried for his crimes.

    I think we should save ALL of our sympathies for the innocent, while mass murderers are damned to hell where they belong.

  5. Coral says…”Some people who were contributing here, turned into bleeding hearts when Saddam Hussein was executed, with a quick and clean hanging, after being tried for his crimes”.

    Coral, you’re amazing! Did you assume from my outrage over Soharto, and the hypocrisy re Saddam Hussein vs Soharto, as an affirmation for the disgusting and outrageous so-called ‘trial’ of Saddam Hussein, and the haste of his execution. If Saddam deserved to be executed for the deaths of appoximately 47 or was it 147 people (horrific as it was) what punishment do you think Bush, Blair and Howard should receive for the deaths of 1 million people in Iraq (this time) and thousands in Afghanistan? The US wanted Saddam out of the way and on this relatively ‘minor charge’ because the Defence would have introduced the role of the US and Britain (and us by our acquiesence)for almost 40 years. The anthrax that Saddam had(and was destroyed by weapons inspectors in the 1990’s – it doesn’t remain potent for years anyway) was provided by the US. The US still has its chemical and biological weapons stored in the US.

    The hanging of Saddam was an act of their repulsion for the rule of law, and showed the Coalition of the W(K)illing as the monsters they are. With the news coming out of the US almost on a daily basis, how the Bush Administration has torn up the Constitution, the Geneva Conventions, the Rule of Law, the presumption of innocence and the so-called freedoms of a civilized world that they are always lecturing us about, they have lost any right to protest any despotic leader. Why would Iraq, or any country anywhere want to follow our ‘model of democracy’? Standing up for ideals that they’ve cast aside is in no way condoning the actions of Saddam or Pinnochet or Soharto. They all disgust me and are an insult to decency and democracy in general!

    The US abuse of human rights, use of the death penalty and disregard for the rule of law is a disgrace.

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