Suharto

Background

The Indonesian archipelago is first exposed to the West in the 16th Century when the Portuguese attempt to monopolise the lucrative spice trade. The Portuguese are supplanted by the Dutch in the first half of the 17th Century. During the 19th Century the Dutch extend their colonial rule across the archipelago, bringing all the land area of modern Indonesia, with the exception of Portuguese East Timor, under their control.

The Japanese occupy Indonesia during the Second World War. The country proclaims its independence on 17 August 1945, three days after the Japanese surrender. When the Dutch attempt to reimpose control war breaks out. The National Revolution for independence lasts until December 1949, when the Republic of the United States of Indonesia (RUSI) is established. Independence movement leader Sukarno is chosen as president. Neither Portuguese East Timor nor West New Guinea is included in the republic. More background.

Mini biography

Born on 8 June 1921 in the village of Kemusu Argamulja in Central Java. He is the only child of a peasant couple who divorce soon after his birth. Suharto's childhood is subsequently destabilised by frequent moves between the households of his extended family. Nevertheless, because of a family connection to low-level Javanese nobility, he receives a relatively good education.

1940 - After working in a village bank, then as a labourer, Suharto enlists for a three-year term in the Dutch colonial army, beginning his service in June.

1941 - Suharto is accepted for training as a sergeant at a military school at Gombong in Central Java. On 9 March 1942, a week after his training begins, the Dutch surrender to the invading Japanese.

1942 - Suharto joins the occupation police force then, in 1943, becomes a battalion commander in the Peta (Defenders of the Fatherland), a Japanese-trained militia.

1945 - Japan surrenders unconditionally on 14 August, ending the Second World War.

Suharto officially joins the Indonesian Army on 5 October, the same day it is founded. He fights against the Dutch during the war for independence, is appointed commander of the Third Regiment, and distinguishes himself during an attack on Yogyakarta on 1 March 1949.

Following independence, Suharto remains in the military. He serves on the island of Sulawesi then returns to Central Java.

1947 - Suharto marries Siti (Ibu Tien) Hartinah, daughter of a minor noble in the Mangkunegaran royal house of Solo, on 26 December. The couple have six children, three daughters and three sons.

1953 - In March Suharto is posted to Solo as commander of Infantry Regiment 15.

1955 - Indonesia's first democratic election is held on 29 September. No party wins a majority of seats in the country's single house of parliament, although President Sukarno's Indonesian Nationalist Union (PNI) wins more votes than any other party. The resulting political instability is heightened by the self-serving actions of military officers in some regional areas and by the growth of an Islamic separatist movement.

1957 - In an attempt to prevent the new republic from breaking apart, President Sukarno proclaims martial law on 14 March and turns to the Indonesian Communist Party (Partai Komunis Indonesia, PKI) and the armed forces (ABRI) to assist with his plan for the introduction of a Guided Democracy.

Meanwhile, Suharto is promoted to regional commander in the Diponegoro Division in Central Java, with the rank of full colonel. In this position he begins to engage in business ventures to help fund his command, a practice that is common throughout the Indonesian military.

1958 - Military and Muslim political figures rebel against President Sukarno in February, proclaiming the Revolutionary Government of the Indonesian Republic. The rebellion is quashed by the middle of the year. The covert support provided to the rebels by the United States pushes Sukarno closer to the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China.

1959 - The success of Suharto's extra-military business activities attracts the attention of the high command. Suharto is implicated in sugar smuggling and other corrupt practices. He is removed from his command and ordered to take a course at the Army Staff and Command School in Bandung, West Java. Despite this reprimand, Suharto is promoted to brigadier-general in January 1960.

In July 1959 President Sukarno dissolves the parliament and formally introduces Guided Democracy. A new parliament established in March 1960 contains a majority of directly appointed representatives, including blocks from the military and from the PKI. The leader of the PKI heads the parliament.

The influence of the PKI expands in the early 1960s. Membership of the party reaches two million. Affiliated unions and peasant organisations have as many as nine million members. The PKI is directly involved in the implementation of land and social reforms encompassed by the Guided Democracy credo and is active in pursuing an independent foreign policy aligning Indonesia with China. By 1964 fears of a communist takeover of the country have become widespread.

1960 - President Sukarno breaks diplomatic relations with the Dutch and sets up the Army Strategic Reserve Command (Kostrad), a special military unit formed to recover West New Guinea, which is still occupied by the Dutch. Suharto is promoted to major-general and placed in command of the Kostrad unit. Full-scale war is averted by a United Nations (UN) and US-brokered settlement that sees West New Guinea handed to Indonesia in May 1963. The settlement is known as the New York Agreement. Under the terms of the settlement, the mostly Papuan population of territory have the right after five years to make an "act of free choice" to determine their future.

1963 - On 23 September President Sukarno begins a confrontation (Konfrontasi) with the newly formed state of Malaysia, across the Strait of Malacca to the north of Sumatra. The low-level conflict draws in Britain, the US and the Soviet Union and lasts until 1966.

1964 - At his National Day speech on 17 August, President Sukarno characterises the coming 12 months as the Year of Living Dangerously.

1965 - Suspicions that the communists will attempt to take over the country are raised when the PKI, with Chinese backing, seeks to establish a "fifth force" of armed peasants and workers. The military divides into two factions, a pro-communist group supporting President Sukarno and the PKI, and an anti-communist group opposed to the PKI. Suharto, who is now army chief-of-staff, sides with the anti-communists.

On 30 September pro-communist military officers (the so-called September 30 Movement) attempt to stage a coup d'état, allegedly to head off an imminent coup by the anti-communists. Six anti-communist generals and a lieutenant are killed by the pro-communists. Suharto, who had been informed of the anti-communist coup plot but failed to intervene, leads a counter force that puts down the pro-communist movement and allows him to take control of the army.

The failure of the September 30 coup results in widespread reprisals against the communists, although the role of the PKI in the coup attempt is unclear.

Suharto's position is formalised on 16 October when President Sukarno appoints him as minister for and commander of the army. On 1 November Suharto is appointed as chief of the Operations Command for the Restoration of Security and Order (Kopkamtib). He subsequently orders the military to "clean up" the PKI.

PKI members and ethnic Chinese are targeted by the military, military-backed militias and violent mobs, with up to two million being murdered (most reports estimate the number at around 500,000). Orders for the operation are issued from Kopkamtib.

One order instructs military leaders around Indonesia to compile lists of members of the PKI and PKI-affiliated organisations in their region. Another establishes investigation teams to interrogate prisoners. The teams are instructed to assist local commanders in "taking measures for a solution of the prisoners ... either according to the law or according to the special discretion" of the local commander.

The US Embassy in Jakarta assists the military by providing lists containing thousands of names of PKI members. The US also provides the military with limited amounts of small arms, communications equipment and medical supplies.

On 17 December 'Time' magazine reports that, "According to accounts brought out of Indonesia by Western diplomats and independent travellers, communists, red sympathisers and their families are being massacred by the thousands. Backlands army units are reported to have executed thousands of communists after interrogation in remote rural jails. Moslems, whose political influence had waned as the communists gained favour with Sukarno, had begun a 'holy war' in East Java against Indonesian reds even before the abortive September coup. ...

"The killings have been on such a scale that the disposal of the corpses has created a serious sanitation problem in East Java and northern Sumatra, where the humid air bears the reek of decaying flesh. Travellers from those areas tell of small rivers and streams that have been literally clogged with bodies; river transportation has at places been impeded."

A secret report by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) notes that, "Estimates of the number of people killed in Indonesia in the anti-PKI bloodbath after the coup range from 87,000, the official Indonesian Government estimate, to 500,000.

"The figure of 87,000 ... is probably too low. The US Embassy estimated the figure to be closer to 250,000. It would be a mistake to put too much faith in any of the various estimates. ... Undoubtedly, vast numbers were killed.

"The killings in Java alone put the Mau Mau massacres and the killings in the Congo in the shadow, although the latter got much more publicity.

"In terms of the numbers killed the anti-PKI massacres in Indonesia rank as one of the worst mass murders of the 20th Century, along with the Soviet purges of the 1930s, the Nazi mass murders during the Second World War, and the Maoist bloodbath of the early 1950s."

Writing in 'The New York Times' in August 1966 US journalist Seymour Topping reports that "executions were usually carried out by the military in Central Java and that the people in East Java and in Bali were incited by the army and the police to kill. The military executed communists by shooting, but the population was left to behead the victims or disembowel them with knives, swords and bamboo spears, often with ritual forms of extreme cruelty."

The killing is largely over by March 1966, though there are occasional recurrences until 1969.

Meanwhile, the military is purged of pro-Sukarno elements.

President Sukarno is now politically and militarily isolated, allowing Suharto to rise to ultimate power.

1966 - On 11 March President Sukarno transfers supreme authority to Suharto, who quickly acts to introduce a New Order (Orde Baru). The PKI is banned on 12 March. PKI members are purged from the parliament. Labour organisations are banned and controls on the press are tightened. The confrontation with Malaysia is ended, relations with Western powers are reestablished, and ties with China are suspended. All power is centralised on Suharto, who is the final arbiter of all political decisions.

Overall spending on the military is increased, with some financial assistance coming from the US. The armed forces are given a central and permanent role in civil governance and economic management, setting the ground for the later development of endemic corruption. Kopkamtib (Operations Command for the Restoration of Security and Order) and the State Intelligence Coordination Agency (Bakin) are tasked with preventing the reemergence of the PKI.

The military detains about 600,000 people allegedly involved in the attempted coup, with the detainees being divided into three categories. Those in Group A (PKI leaders and associates "directly involved") are sentenced by military courts to death or long terms in prison. Group B detainees (those less actively involved) are sent to prison, in some cases until 1980. Those in Group C (mostly rank and file PKI members) are generally released. Executions of detainees continue until as late as 1990.

1967 - On 12 March the parliament strips President Sukarno of all political power and installs Suharto as acting president. Sukarno is kept under virtual house arrest until his death on 21 June 1970.

Indonesia joins with Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore to form a new nonaligned regional grouping, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Indonesia's diplomatic relations with China are broken and most Chinese-language newspapers are closed.

In August Suharto places all the divisions of the armed forces under his control. Full political control is also ensured when the parliament agrees that the government will directly appoint one third of its members. Suharto handpicks judges, the governor of the central bank, the board of directors of each state-owned company and the chairman of the Security and Exchange Commission.

1968 - On 21 March Suharto is formally elected for a five-year term as president. He remains in the position until 1998, standing unopposed for successive five-year terms in 1973, 1978, 1983, 1988, 1993 and 1998.

Under Suharto, Indonesia's economic problems are brought under control. Inflation is stemmed, the threat of famine removed and a platform for future development laid.

The economy grows in excess of 6% per year for 25 years and the percentage of Indonesians living below the poverty line is reduced from more than half to less than one eight of the population. Per capita income rises more than tenfold. A "green revolution" lifts rice yields from two to more than six tonnes per hectare, making the country self-sufficient in its major food staple. All Indonesians are provided with a basic education. The introduction of a voluntary family planning program cuts population growth. Indonesia becomes a significant exporter of manufactured goods.

1969 - Suharto honours the New York Agreement and allows the population of West New Guinea to vote on the UN-monitored "act of free choice" to determine if they want to join the Indonesian Republic. However, the method of the referendum throws the result into question. Rather than a general plebiscite, the vote is restricted to 1025 community representatives. The representatives elect to join Indonesia. West New Guinea becomes the 26th province of Indonesia and is renamed Irian Jaya (Victorious Irian).

The local resistance, the Free Papua Movement (OPM), rejects the referendum result and begins an ongoing low-level insurgency, operating from sanctuaries along the border with neighbouring Papua New Guinea (PNG). The OPM advocates unification with PNG.

The Indonesian military establish a permanent presence in Irian Jaya to control the indigenous population, who become increasingly concerned by the influx of mainly Javanese immigrants brought in under the government's transmigration program.

Meanwhile, Suharto aligns himself with the Golkar party. Golkar, or the Joint Secretariat of Functional Groups, was established by the military in 1964 with financial and organisational backing from the government.

1971 - Golkar wins 62.8% of the vote in general elections held in July. It becomes entrenched as the dominant political force in Indonesia, winning 62.1% of the popular vote in the general elections of 1977, 64.3% of the vote in the 1982 election, 73.1% of the vote in 1987, 68.1% of the vote in 1992, and 74.5 % in 1997. Other parties are marginalised, have their activities restricted, and are forced to amalgamate.

By 1973 there are only three political parties allowed to operate in Indonesia - Golkar, the United Development Party, and the Indonesian Democratic Party. All of Indonesia's public servants are required to join a Golkar-controlled association and are compelled to vote for Golkar at elections.

1974 - A military coup in Portugal sees the installation of a new Portuguese Government determined to sever ties with its colonies, including East Timor and the small enclave of Oecusse on the north coast of Timor. The decision divides the East Timorese population.

The Timorese Democratic Union (UDT) initially favours a continued association with Portugal. The Marxist Revolutionary Front for East Timor's Independence (Fretilin) calls for full independence. When the UDT shifts its position the two groups join in an independence campaign. The Popular Democratic Association of Timor (Apodeti) favours integration with Indonesia and receives backing from the Indonesian Government, which also wants to see the province integrated.

Indonesia's policy on East Timor hardens following a meeting in September between Suharto and Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, who acknowledges that it may be best if the province joins Indonesia, if the East Timorese so wish.

1975 - The rise in the influence of Fretilin causes concern in Indonesia, which fears that East Timor may turn communist. On 28 November Fretilin proclaims the Democratic Republic of East Timor. The UDT and Apodeti call on Jakarta to intervene.

Indonesia invades on 7 December, landing forces at the capital Dili and at Baukau, 100 kilometres to the east, and installing a puppet government composed of members of UDT and Apodeti.

The occupation takes place with the blessing of US President Gerald Ford and US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who meet with Suharto in Jakarta on 6 December, the day before the Indonesian troops are mobilised.

"I would like to speak to you, Mr President, about another problem, Timor. ... Fretilin is infected the same as is the Portuguese Army with communism ... We want your understanding if we deem it necessary to take rapid or drastic action," Suharto says to his visitors.

Ford replies, "We will understand and will not press you on this issue. We understand the problem you have and the intentions you have."

Kissinger says, "You appreciate that the use of US-made arms could create problems. ... It depends on how we construe it; whether it is in self-defence or is a foreign operation. It is important that whatever you do succeeds quickly. We would be able to influence the reaction in America if whatever happens, happens after we return."

It is estimated that 60,000 East Timorese or 10% of the population are killed in the first two months of the invasion. All told, up to 250,000 of East Timor's 1975 population of about 650,000 die as a result of the occupation, which lasts for 24 years.

1980 - During the 1980s, political and economic corruption becomes further embedded in Indonesia. Ties to Suharto are seen as an essential prerequisite to doing business, with those in favour being given lucrative government contracts often at the expense of economic efficiency.

Suharto's cronies use their positions for personal enrichment and to enhance their political power. His six children wield their influence to launch questionable business ventures. His wife comes to be known as Madam Ten Percent in reference to the commission she allegedly demands from business deals.

Nevertheless, the number of Indonesians living in absolute poverty drops from 60% to 14% between 1970 and 1990.

1982 - In September a new press licensing scheme is introduced that allows the government to close down an entire publishing house for an unfavourable article published in a single newspaper or magazine.

1985 - In August hundreds of alleged PKI supporters are removed from government jobs. Many PKI members imprisoned since the coup attempt of 1965 are executed.

At the same time, about 5,000 criminals are summarily murdered during a government campaign to reduce crime in Java.

1990 - Resistance to Indonesian rule begins to surface in the staunchly Islamic province of Aceh, in the westernmost part of Sumatra, spearheaded by the Free Aceh (Aceh Merdeka) separatist movement. The military are unsparing in their efforts to crush the separatists, with the number killed estimated to be about 5,000. The conflict continues throughout the 1990s, as does that in Irian Jaya.

1991 - On 12 November, at the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili, Indonesian troops shoot and kill 271 unarmed Timorese attending the funeral of a young Timorese killed during an earlier demonstration. The so-called Dili Massacre receives worldwide coverage, focusing attention on human rights abuses in East Timor.

The international community responds to the incident by suspending or threatening to suspend aid to Indonesia, prompting Suharto to appoint a national investigation commission to look into the incident.

The commission finds the army guilty of "excessive force". The senior officer in East Timor and his superior in Bali are replaced, three officers are dismissed from the army, and at least eight officers and soldiers are court-martialled. Four junior officers are sentenced to jail terms of between eight and 14 months. However, the punishments are relatively light compared to the harsh sentences meted out to the Timorese accused of instigating the incident.

1996 - Rioting breaks out in Jakarta on 27 July after security forces seize the headquarters of the Indonesian Democratic Party, occupied since June by supporters of former party head Megawati Sukarnoputri following her ousting in a government-engineered takeover of the party. Megawati Sukarnoputri is former President Sukarno's daughter.

Meanwhile, Suharto's wife, Siti Hartinah, dies on 28 April.

1997 - In September Burmese dictator Ne Win travels to Indonesia for talks with Suharto.

Most of the cars imported into Burma are manufactured by a company controlled by Suharto. Suharto's eldest daughter, Siti (Tutut) Hardiyanti Rukmana, runs a company constructing toll roads in Burma. His second and youngest sons are also involved in business ventures in Burma.

Suharto complains to Ne Win the level of corruption in Burma is affecting his investments.

Towards the end of the year a financial and economic crisis in Asia sends shock waves through Indonesia. Conditions attached to a multi-billion dollar International Monetary Fund aid package result in price rises, causing widespread social discontent. The floating of the currency sees the value of the Indonesian rupiah plummet. Inflation and unemployment soar and the flight of capital accelerates.

Meanwhile, a World Bank report estimates that at least 20-30% of Indonesia's development budget over the previous two decades has been embezzled for personal and political benefit.

By the middle of 1998 the bank concludes that "Indonesia is in deep economic crisis".

"A country that achieved decades of rapid growth, stability and poverty reduction is now near economic collapse," a study by the bank finds.

"No country in recent history, let alone one the size of Indonesia, has ever suffered such a dramatic reversal of fortune."

1998 - Riots break out across the Indonesian archipelago in February. In March Suharto stands for and wins a seventh term as president, despite earlier indications that he would step down. Students take to the streets in massive and sustained demonstrations calling on Suharto to resign and demanding political change.

On 5 May the Government hikes the cost of fuel by 70%. The demonstrations escalate. On 12 May security forces shoot six student protesters at Trisakti University in Jakarta. Fresh riots shake the capital, with looters targeting Chinese businesses. About 500 people are killed in Jakarta. Around 700 die in other towns. The riots are quelled by the military but the largely peaceful student demonstrations are allowed to proceed.

With the pressure mounting and his political allies jumping ship, Suharto finally relents, announcing his resignation on 21 May. He is replaced by his deputy, Jusuf Habibie.

From now on Suharto rarely emerges from his family compound on Cendana Street in the exclusive Jakarta district of Mentang.

1999 - In May Time Asia reports that the Suharto family fortune is worth an estimated US$15 billion in cash, shares, corporate assets, real estate, jewellery and fine art. US$9 billion of this is reported to have been deposited in an Austrian bank. The family is said to control about 3.6 million hectares of real estate in Indonesia, including 100,000 square metres of prime office space in Jakarta and nearly 40% of the land in East Timor. Over US$73 billion is said to have passed through the family's hands during Suharto's 32-year rule.

Meanwhile, Jusuf Habibie announces that the East Timorese will be allowed to vote on self-determination. A referendum is scheduled for 30 August.

The poll takes place in a tense atmosphere but without a major violent incident. However, when it is announced on 4 September that 78.5% of the voters have chosen in favour of independence, chaos breaks out as anti-separatist militias go on a murderous rampage.

During the weeks of violence that follow more than 1,000 die, the territory's infrastructure is destroyed and 500,000 of the entire population of 800,000 are forced to flee their homes, either to the country's interior or to neighbouring West Timor.

A secret Indonesian Government report later finds that officers in the Indonesian military directed the militia violence and that top generals were aware of the situation but did little to prevent it.

On 19 October the Indonesian Government ratifies the referendum result and revokes East Timor's incorporation into Indonesia. The UN officially assumes control of the territory on 25 October.

2000 - Suharto comes under investigation for the corruption that occurred during his presidency. On 29 May he is placed under house arrest. In July it is announced that he will be charged under a 1971 anti-corruption law. He is accused of embezzling US$571 million of government donations to one of a number of foundations under his control and then using the money to finance family investments. The trial is set to begin on 31 August but the case collapses on 28 September when a panel of court-appointed doctors find him permanently physically and mentally unfit to stand trial.

Subsequent reports of Suharto behaving as if he is in relatively good health lead to attempts to reopen the corruption case. All fail. Medical examiners find that Suharto is suffering from a non-specified "brain disease" that leaves him barely able to communicate.

Suharto's lawyer says that while his client is in good health physically, "His disease becomes apparent when he is asked to speak, especially when he is asked to remember something."

2002 - On 26 July Suharto's youngest son, Hutomo (Tommy) Mandala Putra, is found guilty of organising the murder of the judge. He is sentenced to 15 years in prison but with sentence reductions and remissions ends up serving less than five years.

2004 - On 25 March the international anti-corruption organisation Transparency International (TI) places Suharto at the top of a list of the world's most corrupt political leaders of the past two decades.

According to TI, Suharto is alleged to have embezzled between US$15 billion and US$35 billion.

2005 - Suharto is admitted to the Pertamina Central Hospital in Jakarta on 5 May with "massive digestive bleeding" caused by diverticulosis. On 11 May he is allowed to return to his home, although he still requires intensive medical treatment. The intestinal bleeding recurs in May 2006. Suharto is readmitted to Pertamina hospital and has surgery to remove 65 centimetres of his colon.

On 28 November 2005 the East Timor Parliament is presented with a report by the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor, an independent group set up in 2002 to investigate the killings committed during the Indonesian occupation.

According to reports in 'The Australian' newspaper and other media outlets, the 2,500-page report finds that 18,600 East Timorese civilians were murdered or disappeared during the Indonesian occupation and between 84,200 and 183,000 more died as a direct result of Indonesia's policies. Indonesian police or soldiers were to blame for 70% of the 18,600 murders and disappearances.

The report finds that the Indonesian security forces "consciously decided to use starvation of East Timorese civilians as a weapon of war".

"The intentional imposition of conditions of life which could not sustain tens of thousands of East Timorese civilians amounted to extermination as a crime against humanity committed against the East Timorese population. ...

"The violations were committed in execution of a systematic plan approved, conducted and controlled by Indonesian military commanders at the highest level. ...

"Members of the civil administration of Timor and national-level government officials, including (Indonesian) ministers, knew of the strategy being pursued on the ground, and rather than taking action to halt it, directly supported its implementation."

2007 - Suharto is named as the worst embezzler in modern times by the Stolen Assets Recovery Initiative, a joint venture of the World Bank and the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime. A report by the Initiative quotes the 2004 estimate by Transparency International that Suharto embezzled between US$15 billion and US$35 billion during his reign.

In October Suharto grants a rare media interview. Asked how he reacts to accusations of corruption, Suharto replies, "Let it go. Let them say what they want. It is all empty talk. Let them accuse me. The fact is I have never committed corruption."

2008 - Suharto returns to Pertamina Hospital on 4 January. He is suffering from low blood pressure, a weak heart, anaemia and swollen internal organs. His condition deteriorates, improves briefly, then falls back again. Suharto dies in hospital at 1:10pm on 27 January from multiple organ failure. He is buried next to his wife at the family mausoleum on Mount Mangaten near Solo in Central Java the following day.

Postscript

2012 - An investigation by the Indonesian Commission for Human Rights into 'Grave Violation of Human Rights During the Events of 1965-1966' finds that during this time there was a "state policy to exterminate members and sympathisers of the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI)".

The commission concludes that crimes against humanity committed during 1965-1966 included killings, exterminations, enslavement, enforced evictions, deprivation of freedom, torture, rape, persecution and enforced disappearances. It recommends that the attorney general take the investigation forward and that a Truth and Reconciliation Commission be established "to provide a sense of justice for victims and their families". The attorney general rejects the investigation, arguing its findings were insufficient and not legally proper.

2016 - In June the International People's Tribunal on Crimes Against Humanity Indonesia 1965 (IPT) presents the findings of its investigation into the anti-communist violence that occurred in Indonesia during 1965 and 1966. The tribunal finds "the State of Indonesia is responsible for and guilty of crimes against humanity," including killings, imprisonment, enslavement, torture, enforced disappearance, sexual violence, exile and propaganda.

According to the tribunal the US, the United Kingdom and Australia "were all complicit to differing degrees in the commission of these crimes". The US supplied lists of names of Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) officials "when there was a strong presumption that these would facilitate the arrest and/or execution of those named".

The UK and Australia "conducted a sustained campaign repeating false propaganda from the Indonesian army, and ... continued with this policy even after it had become abundantly clear that killings and other crimes against humanity were taking place on a mass and indiscriminate basis".

The tribunal concludes that the evidence brought before it includes acts that could be categorised as genocide.

The IPT is a "people's tribunal" with no formal government backing and no legal authority to recommend or press charges. Its panel of seven judges includes human rights lawyers and academics.

The tribunal recommends the Indonesian government apologise to the victims, survivors and their families, provide appropriate compensation and reparation, and investigate and prosecute all crimes against humanity.

Comment

There is no doubt that the nascent Republic of Indonesia required strong and stable leadership to set it on a path of progress and development. And there is no doubt that this was always going to be difficult.

The country was catapulted from what was basically a feudal society to a democratic state in a matter of years. There was no tradition of multiparty, participatory government and no great familiarity or understanding of democratic institutions. There was, however, a legacy of brutal colonialism and a tradition of political corruption overlying a pervasive and ongoing cultural fatalism.

Someone like Suharto was necessary to ensure social cohesion in Indonesia, but that does not excuse his excesses - the mass killings, the breathtaking corruption, the refusal to step aside until his position became untenable, the suffocating paternalism that brought a nation to its knees.

Suharto is an embodiment of all that is worst in the Asian despots of the 20th Century. He combines the bloodthirstiness of Cambodia's Pol Pot and the greed of the Philippines' Ferdinand Marcos.