For many of us, Indonesia may seem to be a country recovered. We may recall the conflicts in Aceh, Papua and Timor-Leste in the late 1990s, or even the violence that ravaged the country in 1965. We may think of it as a country split asunder into more peaceful parts, a region struck by a tsunami that showed its strength to recover, or the former temporary residence of President Barack Obama.
For many of us, Indonesia is a country on the other side of the planet, whose human rights challenges perhaps don’t make us sit up and take notice compared to the acute and current crises we hear flit through our TV news.
But, for millions of Indonesian women and girls, those times of violence continue. After decades of uncertainty, upheaval, and even ostensible efforts at healing the nation, these women and girls still live with the psychological, sexual and reproductive health, and physical consequences of crimes of sexual violence committed by the Indonesian security forces during those difficult years.
The links between militarism and gender-based crimes are becoming more well-known. During times of armed conflict, domestic violence usually increases, due to stress, the simple availability of weapons or a culture of pervasive violence outside the home.
Displaced women and girls may be newly vulnerable to interpersonal violence when they are displaced because their traditional social support systems have been damaged or broken. Infrastructure that may have provided some protection or recourse—such as legal prohibitions against domestic violence or crisis shelters and legal or psycho-social support—may literally no longer exist.
But after conflict, many countries—including Indonesia—attempt to rebuild social networks and public systems better than they were during the times that allowed for such widespread violence, exploitation and abuse.
As in South Africa at the end of apartheid, Indonesia established a national truth commission in 2004, with the mandate to receive complaints, investigate grave human rights violations, and recommend compensation or rehabilitation for victims. Yet, this law was struck down for constitutional reasons, and a law to recreate the commission now languishes in Parliament.
In Aceh, the 2005 and 2006 peace agreements included provisions for a Human Rights Court and Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Neither has yet been established. Civil society in Aceh continues to push for these to be created and put to use, but Aceh’s provincial parliament states the national commission must be established first.
So, where does this leave the millions of survivors of human rights violations? In particular, what of the many women and girls who were raped or experienced other forms of physical, sexual or emotional violence?
Impunity for violence against women is all too common. There is little deterrent for potential abusers who know they are unlikely to be punished. Delays in justice—or total impunity—can serve to perpetuate the trauma of survivors.
When this is added to gender norms that already devalue women, and a history of violence and militarism, there can be trouble, indeed. Not least of which is ongoing, needless suffering of those whose physical or psychological wounds should have been recognized years ago.
Violations of human rights often create a vicious cycle. When these are overlaid with discrimination against females, violence, lack of access to justice, ill health, and even poverty can continue to disproportionately impact women and girls. And yet, the world turns toward the next acute crisis, often leaving behind those still fighting for truth and reconciliation decades later.
If you still stand with the women and girls of Aceh and Indonesia, take action today, to tell the authorities that impunity for human rights violations must end. It’s long past time for justice—and it’s never too late!
Join survivors and their families in the fight for truth, justice and reparation. Sign our petition to Indonesia’s Presidential Advisory Council.