by Jennie S. Bev
This November marks the 10th year commemoration of the 1998 Semanggi Tragedy I, which occurred on Nov. 11-13, 1998, which caused 17 deaths. Almost one year later, Semanggi Tragedy II occurred on Sept. 24, 1999, resulting in one death and 217 injuries. These reformasi heroes were university students named Lukman Firdaus, Teddy Wardhani Kusuma, Bernardus Realino Norma Irmawan, Sigit Prasetyo, Heru Sudibyo, Engkus Kusnadi, Muzammil Joko, Uga Usmana, Abdullah/Donit, Agus Setiana, Budiono, Doni Effendi, Rinanto, Sidik, Kristian Nikijulong, Sidik and Hadi.
Every mid-November a ceremony to honor these beloved heroes takes place in Semanggi, Jakarta, so let's show our respect by silently, solemnly and empathically recalling the incident.
The significance of their deaths might have begun to evaporate after a decade or we might have been bitten by the so-called "politics of amnesia" or simply by our own complacency, forgetfulness and ignorance. But allow me to humbly remind us all that without the drops of their blood and the tears shed by their loved ones, we might not have the Indonesia that we are enjoying today: A country that is progressing toward a more mature and conscientious democracy, no matter how arduous, long and winding the road is, in which taints of human rights abuses and hints of compassionate deeds work together in opposition to create a new equilibrium.
Today some encouraging news, such as ratifications of international conventions –including the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination– and the recent passing of a bill against ethnic and racial discrimination might have made some political significance.
Indonesia is also an elected member of the UN Human Rights Council, one of 47 members of 63 contenders, which included 12 other Asian countries — Bangladesh, Bahrain, China, India, Japan, Jordan, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka. This term will expire in 2010. And it is something to ponder upon.
These developments might not mean more than a political statement to gain positive publicity by the international media that Indonesia is a conscientious country which believes in the protection of human rights. Unless the actual perpetrators of Semanggi Tragedy I and II have been prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, Jaringan Solidaritas Korban dan Keluarga Korban (JSKK) or Solidarity Network of Victims and Their Families, will continue with their weekly Thursday aksi diam (mute demonstration) in front of the Presidential Palace in Jakarta.
Such acts are strong markers of the Indonesian government's failure to uphold itself as a rechtsstaat or a state based on law. According to Todung Mulya Lubis in In Search of Human Rights, "The very notion of rechtsstaat in Indonesia has been subverted by various political, economic, cultural, and legal developments that gradually weakened the very notion of rechtsstaat." Such idealistic notions of a lawful state have been continuously used as political statements that contradict the substance of Rule of Law or Negara Hukum, which should have been quite embarrassing.
However, of course, since politics in Indonesia are not (yet) based on compassion, but instead based on fear and violence, we can expect to see continuous corrupted consciences resulting in human rights abuse or neglect. How long we should tolerate such disparaging situations solely depends on our perception, which molds our reality, of how the state and government officials should behave in a true rechtsstaat.
No need for us to debate philosophically in a way that most laypeople may find perplexing and intimidating, but instead overturning or changing our own reactions toward injustices from complacency to compassion is key. "Compassion" itself is derived from two Latin words cum and pati which translates as "to suffer with.”
According to Jeffrey Brantley, compassion is usually associated with feelings of empathy and concern for pain or suffering in another, which come with this recognition a wish for it to bring some relief, a closure.
While it is human nature to fight or flight from anything that causes inconvenience, pain, and suffering, it is also human nature to be humane and compassionate. Because, after all, human beings are always torn between two poles: The good and the bad, the strong and the weak, and the courageous and the fearful.
And it does not require a heroine like Aung San Suu Kyi or a spiritual leader like Dalai Lama to show and practice practical compassion. The goal is to re-direct existing "politics of fear and violence" toward "politics of compassion.” One person at a time, one heart a time.
Reminding and pressuring government officials that cause anxiety and fear with cowardice actions and inactions should not cease simply because time keeps passing. After all, Indonesia belongs to its people, not its government. And we demand justice and compassion.
The Jakarta Post, November 12, 2008