ICTJ Forum: 'The Act of Killing,' Peru, and the Philippines

8/19/2013

Image from the documentary film "The Act of Killing," by director Joshua Oppenheimer


In this edition of the ICTJ Forum, ICTJ Communications Director Refik Hodzic discusses transitional justice in the news with Truth and Memory Program Director Eduardo Gonzalez and Reparative Justice Program Director Ruben Carranza.

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The Forum examines the meaning and impact of the explosive new documentary “The Act of Killing” from director Joshua Oppenheimer, which features the perpetrators of atrocities against political dissidents and suspected sympathizers in 1960’s Indonesia. “The Act of Killing” emerged out of what was originally research for a post-doctoral thesis, and with the backing of acclaimed documentary filmmakers such as Errol Morris and Werner Herzog, it has turned into a cultural phenomenon that is sparking new discussions in the film and human rights communities.

Despite the horrific nature of the acts of Indonesia’s military and international condemnation of what has been called genocide, those responsible for the slaughter are widely celebrated as heroes.

ICTJ’s work in Indonesia has largely focused on the experience of victims, who receive little attention to the crimes they have suffered, let alone any demands for justice they may make.

In the Forum, Ruben Carranza comments that “The Act of Killing” brings important attention to a state of impunity and denial.

Looking at the experience of perpetrators, however, is not enough, he says: the role of institutions of the dictatorship is also critical, as is bringing light to the voices and experiences of victims themselves.

The truth about Indonesia’s dictatorship isn’t just denied, but it is supplanted through an entirely different narrative, one that to this day continues to be constructed through the framework of censorship of former President Soeharto. Eduardo Gonzalez explains this aims to suppress any criticism of the military elite.

“It is indeed a society that needs to come to grip with the fact that it has glorified killers,” says Gonzalez.

“The Act of Killing” presents calm, measured justifications for crimes from the military perpetrators themselves, who reject the suggestion that they are guilty of any war crimes of crimes against humanity—after all, they say, they emerged victorious. Gonzalez notes that this sentiment of impunity for power is an impediment to ensuring equal rights, and a challenge not unfamiliar to other transitional contexts.

Carranza adds that even if change comes to Indonesia through civilian reforms, giving the military a carte blanche for abuses of the past is perilous.

“If you don’t address the role of military as an institution in a dictatorship, any change on the civilian side that doesn’t come with accountability for the military will always face fragility, like in places such as Egypt,” he says.

Truth and Reconciliation in Peru

The ICTJ Forum also addresses events in Peru, where weeks of anti-government protests have brought new questions to justice in the country, which next week will mark the 10-year anniversary of the final report of its Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

Gonzalez attributes current political discontent in Peru to economic disparity overshadowed and exasperated by the country’s booming economy.

Citing clashes over the past years, Gonzalez describes unrest in areas who see themselves as not experiencing economic growth; for them, there is a sense that they are “always on the losing end.”

On August 28, 2003, the TRC presented its final report, clarifying the grave human rights violations committed between 1980 and 2000 during the internal armed conflict and the regime headed by Alberto Fujimori.

Though Gonzalez admits the TRC had its shortcomings, he says its best contribution was to insert a discussion of rights into the national agenda. “It is not enough for Peruvians to have a strong economy—they want the rule of law, and they want a sense of justice,” says Gonzalez.

Peace Talks in the Philippines

In the Philippines, peace talks continue between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. A recent upsurge in violence left some military and rebel groups dead.

Carranza explains that so far, the preliminary framework agreement has been signed, which refers to 4 other sub-agreements, including transitional arrangements, wealth-sharing and resources, power-sharing arrangements, and normalization, which includes mention of transitional justice.

This is the first time that these negotiations have had reference to transitional justice; however, Carranza explains that it is problematic that transitional justice is seen as an outcome of the negotiations themselves, instead of a process to run parallel to the talks.