Indonesia is preparing for a third round of executions under President Jokowi, almost one year since the death penalty was last enforced. As the President defended his stance during a tour of Europe this week, historic talks began in Jakarta on the 1965 anti-communist killings, and the role of women in Indonesia came into focus as the nation celebrated Kartini Day.


Statue of Raden Adjeng Kartini, pioneer of Indonesian women's rights, in Jakarta. (Wikipedia.)

It's been almost a year since Australians Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan were executed along with six other drug convicts on Nusakambangan Island. A total of 14 executions were carried out last year as part of President Jokowi's 'war on drugs'. Stirring sentiments of state sovereignty, and claiming to address a national 'drug crisis' (based on questionable statistics), the executions proved a popular policy domestically, and a very unpopular one internationally. Following international condemnation, an unofficial moratorium has remained in place until now.

But this week, talk has resurfaced from the police, narcotics agency and Attorney General's office suggesting that another round of executions is imminent. Jokowi appears not to have changed his mind on the issue, on Monday defending his position in talks with the German president. On Tuesday, an Indonesian delegate was jeered by attendees at a UN special session on drugs for reaffirming the President's position. The session was called to urge states to move away from the 1970s-era 'war on drugs' mentality, and towards an approach based on the interests of public health and human rights.

In Jakarta this week, discourse on human rights focused on the opening of a government-backed symposium on the 1965 anti-communist killings. The symposium, titled 'Dissecting the Tragedy of 1965, an Historical Approach', was hailed as the first of its kind to be organised by the Indonesian government. Rights advocates praised the government's efforts to address the tragedy, but criticised government and military speakers at the event for diminishing the scale of the killings and their impact.

Security Minister Luhut Panjaitan opened the symposium by saying that there would be no apology from the government for the killings, while the retired special forces general Sintong Pandjaitan claimed only 80,000 were killed in the purges. A report by the National Commission for Human Rights (Komnas HAM) puts the figures at 500,000 to one million.

Haris Azhar, coordinator of the non-governmental Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (KontraS), commented to local media that the 'historical approach' of the symposium was a tactic to avoid discussing the lasting impacts of the 1965 killings. Aside from the continuing trauma, discrimination and stigma suffered by survivors and their families, Haris said, the lasting impact of the purges can be seen in the precedent they set for using violence to silence differing viewpoints. Truth and reconciliation are needed to dismantle this ideology of violence, he added.

Women's rights also came into focus this week as Indonesia celebrated Kartini Day, dedicated to national heroine Raden Adjeng Kartini. Celebrated on 21 April every year, Kartini Day was introduced by President Sukarno to honour the 19th century pioneer of Indonesian women's rights and girls' education. As many critics have noted, the message of Kartini Day was distorted under President Suharto's New Order to emphasise the heroine's domestic roles as a mother and daughter.

This Kartini Day, Jakarta Governor Ahok reminded the capital's women of the importance of breastfeeding, and introduced a women-only bus named 'Pinky' to join the fleet of regular sex-segregated buses set up to prevent sexual harassment.