Jokowi's admission of past rights abuses 'just image building' says victim's mother

CNN Indonesia – January 13, 2023
Sumarsih at Thursday action in front of State Palace in Jakarta – Undated (CNN)

Jakarta – Maria Katarina Sumarsih, the mother of one of the victims of the Semanggi I incident, Bernardinus Realino Norma Irmawan or Wawan, says that President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's statement on past gross human rights violations is nothing more than image building.

Sumarsih suspects that it is just a way for Widodo to fulfill his earlier campaign promise. "This is just for image building, [to say] that I have fulfilled my campaign promise", said Sumarsih at the 759th Kamisan (Thursday) action in front of the State Palace in Jakarta on Thursday January 12.

During his first term in office as president, Widodo, in the first point of his Nawa Cita nine point program, pledged to resolve past cases of human rights violations.

Sumarsih admits that she once had high hopes in Widodo to fully resolve these cases, one of which being the Semanggi I student shootings in 1998 that claimed the life of her child.

She even said that during a Kamisan action in 2014 she declared her support for Widodo becoming president.

"In 2014, at a Kamisan action we campaigned for 'come one, vote for Jokowi', because our hope at the Kamisan was for an end to impunity, right, this hope was so big, right, that I wanted to put a stop to the Kamisan actions, we trusted him so at the time", she said.

Sumarsih said that Widodo's statement is not enough and is urging the president to ask the Attorney General to form an ad hoc investigation team to put cases of gross human rights violations in order.

"My hope is that Pak [Mr] Jokowi has the courage to instruct the Attorney General to form an ad hoc investigation team as regulated under Article 21 Paragraph 3 of the law on human rights courts, that is my hope", said Sumarsih.

She is also waiting for a move by Widodo to abolish impunity for human rights violators and hopes that the president will not give the impression of protecting these perpetrators.

Earlier, Widodo stated that he acknowledged that gross human rights cases have occurred in Indonesia and that he regrets what happened in these incidents.

"With a clear mind and earnest heart, I as Indonesia's head of state admit that gross human rights violations did indeed happen in the past", said Widodo during a press conference at the State Palace on Wednesday January 11.

Widodo also took the opportunity to mention 12 cases of gross human rights violations that occurred in Indonesia.

Among others these include the May 1998 riots in Jakarta, the 1965-1966 mass killings, the mysterious shootings in 1982-1985, the Geudong House tragedy in Aceh in 1989 and the forced disappearance of activists in 1997-1998. (mnf/isn)


During his 2014 election campaign Widodo pledged to solve eight past human rights cases which he referred to as a historical burden. These included violations which took place in 1997-98, during the Suharto dictatorship and the 1965 anti-communist purge. Although the National Human Rights Commission has submitted investigation dossiers on these to the Attorney General's Office – which has the authority to prosecute cases – all have been rejected on the grounds that they are "incomplete". Rights activists say Widodo's failure to pursue these cases is because senior figures in his administration and others close to his PDI-P ruling party's chairperson Megawati Sukarnoputri would face indictment.

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "Orang Tua Korban Semanggi I: Jokowi Pencitraan Bicara Pelanggaran HAM".]