New President’s Dark Past Hinder the Ratification of the Genocide Convention in Indonesia

After ICJ ruled South Africa’s lawsuit against Israel violating the Genocide Convention signed in 1948, more countries pitched into the ruling in advocacy of Palestine, one of the states including Indonesia.

Amidst the flood of “ALL EYES ON RAFAH” and “FREE PALESTINE” sentiments around social media and Indonesia’s firm opposing stance towards the ongoing genocide in Palestine, it surprised me when I learned that Indonesia has not ratified the genocide convention.

After ICJ ruled South Africa’s lawsuit against Israel violating the Genocide Convention signed in 1948, more countries pitched into the ruling in advocacy of Palestine, one of the states including Indonesia. However, Indonesia’s support in this lawsuit remains unofficial due to its absent ratification of the convention (Shofa, 2024).

As emphasized, numerous reasons push a country’s decision to either ratify or not ratify a treaty differing through many encompassed perspectives, which include realism, liberalism, and constructivism.  Indonesia’s vocal principles are in alignment with most of the perspectives mentioned, as well as the imminent support given by the Indonesian government, hence raising a question as to the reason behind this decision and Indonesia’s commitment in regards to resolving the humanitarian crisis.

Historically, Indonesia has not always been in alignment with the principles of the treaty, as illustrated in past actions that allegedly the former president has contributed to. The second president of Indonesia, Soeharto, was infamous for his allegedly orchestrated mass killings in early 1965, just before his rise into the presidency in 1967 (Adam, 2015). The former dictator raised multiple controversial actions that have raised quite a stir in the international community. His reign encompassed acts of human rights violations including the mass killings of East Timor in 1975, and the Communist Purge in 1965-1966 just before seizing authority of Indonesia from Soekarno which was described as the worst mass killings in the 20th century by the CIA (Melvin, 2018). Lastly, the enforced kidnapping and vanishing throughout his regime from 1966-1998.

The communist purge sparked the emergence of the New Order reign by Soeharto, with the communist massacres occurring from 1965 to early 1966, which killed over 500,000 fellow citizens and left 1 million others detained and tortured for over a long decade, facing civil rights and discrimination even after their release (Root, 2023). These acts were operated by not merely the Indonesian military who were adherent to anti-communist factions as well as citizens operating out of fear (Cribb & Ford, 2010). Soeharto’s justification for these barbaric acts was a mere defensive response to the Communist Party which posed a threat (Cribb & Ford, 2010). These events were never buried and were further written in history books, changing the narrative of the Communist Party’s supposed threat due to the chaos provoked by the “Old Order” under Soekarno’s reign (Cribb & Ford, 2010). Essentially, Indonesia’s notorious massacres would contribute to the reasoning behind the decision not to ratify the genocide convention.

Not to mention the newly reigning president of Indonesia, Prabowo Subianto’s alleged rumors of his participation in one of these massacres, which include the East Timor occupation in 1983 and the kidnappings of activists and students in 1998 (Klinken, 2014). The East Timor occupation by Indonesia in 1975-1995 resulted in at least 300.000 citizens killed alongside the new president’s involvement during his time as a Special Forces captain in East Timor responsible for hundreds of deaths in 1983 (East Timor: A People Shattered by Lies and Silence, n.d.). Meanwhile, in 1998, confirmed allegations of his involvement in the kidnapping of students and activists, although dismissed his participation in their disappearances (Indonesia Candidate Admits Role in Abductions, 2014).

These actions have portrayed a blatant hypocrisy towards Indonesia’s supposed stance concerning the genocide. His third uprising reign to the presidency and coalition with former president Joko Widodo has caused commotions and controversies regarding whether or not Indonesia would be fit under his new leadership. The alleged rumors of his contribution will further disrupt the already prolonged and unaddressed historical grievances by affected citizens demanding justice. Despite the acknowledgment made by former reigning president Joko Widodo of the several massacres in Indonesia, activists and victims of the affected demand more justice to address the massacres that happened throughout Soeharto’s regime (Root, 2023).

Essentially, as mentioned above, the reason behind the state’s decision on ratification varies through differing perspectives. The constructivist approach emphasizes the significance of the state’s belief which can further influence other states’ ratifying which illustrates Indonesia, as a muslim majority country like Palestine sharing similar beliefs and norms adhered would motivate Indonesia to ratify the convention. In addition, Indonesia’s frequent and vocal stances towards the oppressed further strengthen the decision to ratify. 

Despite the numerous factors aligning with Indonesia’s decision to ratify, the realism approach shows the unfit reasoning that prevents Indonesia’s decision to ratify. Realism underscores states’ pursuit of self-interest, which by Indonesia ratifying the convention would lead to more negative impacts as a state. Domestically, Indonesia would have to be held accountable for past actions during Soeharto’s regime. To add, the new president, Prabowo’s involved in the East Timor massacres as well as the kidnappings. The political stability will be in line as the new president’s participation would fuel protests and loss of public trust towards the recent government. Ratifying the convention leaves them vulnerable to legal challenges either domestically or internationally as it could result in renewed investigations as well as trials putting the current administration in a crisis. Meanwhile, international repercussions will be faced by Indonesia due to Indonesia’s new president’s ill repute and his constant dismissal in addressing the massacres. Failure to address the past atrocities will taint Indonesia’s reputation in the international community leading to diplomatic consequences. 

From my perspective, if Indonesia were to ratify the  Genocide Convention, historical grievances faced by citizens affected must seriously be addressed and justice be preserved by the current government. Former president Joko Widodo has announced his aims to restore the rights of the victims affected in those massacres, although leaving the specifications (Root, 2023). Activists and those affected have suggested that former apologies be made to those who contributed, a memorial, and compensations for education and healthcare (Root, 2023). As victims still suffer economically due to the stain of being in relations with political prisoners, activists and victims demand their stories to be shone upon (Root, 2023). However, acknowledging that the current president’s reign will disrupt the efforts to preserve justice as his involvement will undermine his credibility in addressing the human rights violations and be perceived as a hypocrisy.

To conclude, in ratifying a convention or treaty, a state must go through several processes for it to ultimately comply with it. Quoting from the foreign ministry of Indonesia, Retno Marsudi, to ratify a convention needs extensive consideration that aligns with the nation’s interest. Therefore, Indonesia should take into account the several impacts mentioned above that might occur to the nation before ratifying.

Aliyah Fazahra Shogie
Aliyah Fazahra Shogie
I am Aliyah Fazahra Ramadhani Shogie, currently pursuing my studies of International Relations at the University of Gadjah Mada. My academic and personal journey is deeply rooted in a passion for international politics, with a particular focus on constructivist theories. I am dedicated to exploring the often underemphasized narratives of individuals and communities in crisis, seeking to shed light on their experiences and perspectives through my writings.