Documenting Violence in Indonesia

Independence from the Netherlands in 1949 made Indonesia the world’s largest Muslim country, but it also included many Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, and animists. The Republic of Indonesia adopted an official multicultural ideology. After seizing power in a 1965 military coup in Jakarta, General Suharto launched an army-sponsored massacre of the very large but mostly unarmed Communist opposition, the Partai Kommunis Indonesia (PKI). The PKI was the world’s biggest nonruling Communist party, and Suharto later described its destruction as a struggle against political contamination: “I had to organize pursuit, cleansing, and crushing.” He ordered an “absolutely essential cleaning out” of the PKI and its sympathizers from public life and government. The Australian embassy in Jakarta reported in late October 1965 that “on all sides and in all areas, ‘cleansing,’ ‘purging’ … proceeds apace.” As his paratroops moved into Central Java, Suharto’s fellow officer General Nasution reportedly said, “All of their followers and sympathizers should be eliminated” and ordered the Communist Party’s extinction “down to its very roots.” Jakarta’s police information chief told the U.S. ambassador in mid-November that with the “blessing” of the army, “50 to 100 PKI members are being killed every night in East and Central Java by civilian anti-communist groups.” The Australian embassy estimated on December 23 “about 1,500 assassinations per day since September 30th.” By February 1966, two confidential Western agencies agreed on “a total of about 400,000 killed,” and the deputy U.S. ambassador thought that the full toll could be much higher.

Most victims were Javanese peasants, usually nominal Muslims, and Balinese Hindu peasants who had also supported the PKI or were suspected of doing so. In both Java and Bali the PKI had won many votes in elections during the 1950s. The army ran the anticommunist campaign while fervent Muslim youth groups did much of the killing. Paratroop commander Sarwo Edhie reportedly conceded that in Java, “we had to egg the people on to kill Communists.” Historian Geoffrey Robinson states that in Bali, the army’s intervention ensured that “only PKI forces were killed and that they were killed systematically.” Yet in parts of Sumatra and Sulawesi, according to a contemporary Canadian embassy report, “where there are rabid Muslim religious groups all PKI members have been beheaded.” The U.S. ambassador concurred that in north Sumatra, “Muslim fervor” in Aceh “has apparently put all but [a] few PKI out of action” and “placed their heads on stakes along [the] road.” In Medan, two officials of the Muslim youth group Pemuda Pancasila separately told U.S. representatives that “their organization intends [to] kill every PKI member they can catch.” In a few months, the army and allied Muslim groups slaughtered over half a million suspected Communists. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency described the killing as “one of the worst mass murders of the twentieth 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.”

Below and in the left sidebar you will find research products of the GSP Project on Documenting Violence in Indonesia. Also see the left sidebar for the GSP Projects on East Timor and Papua. 

1. Early Indonesian Nationalism:
- Frank Dhont, Nationalisme Baru Intelektual
Indonesia Tahun 1920-An
(Gadjah Mada University
Press, 2005)
- “Pandangan Kaum Intelektual Nasionalis
Indonesia Muda Akhir 1920-An Terhadap Demokrasi,
Politik Lokal Dan Otonomi.
” Oleh: Frank Dhont

2. Forced Labour under Japanese Occupation: Frank Dhont, “Kesaksian kami: Romusha yang masih tersisa”

3. Andi Achdian, comp., Bibliography on Violence in Indonesia, 1965-66

See also Papua, Indonesia