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Genocide: Indonesia

Genocide in the Indonesia

An Annotated Bibliography Compiled by Jaydi Colmenares Raney

Historical Overview

East Timor and Indonesian Communists

Who: Civilians and PKI supports; East Timorese
When: 1965-66; 1972 & 1999
Where: Throughout Indonesian Islands (Java, Sumatra, Bali); East Timor
Estimated Numbers: Approx. 500,000 killed in Indonesia, 500,000 arrested; 200-300,000 killed in East Timor

Indonesian Communist Party (PKI)

Indonesia is a victim of its own national composition. With 13,700 islands, over 250 languages, and at least 300 ethnic groups, the diversity of interests destabilizes the central authority. After independence from the Dutch East India Company in 1949, the two largest political parties, the Indonesian National Party (PNI) and the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), shared power with several other small parties. The popularity of the PKI grew as the peasant farmers were attracted to the ideology. The coalition government struggled to preserve the balance of the PKI and the army. In 1965, coup called the September 30 Movement attempted to seize power. The PNI and General Suharto quickly turned back the uprising. Suharto established de facto control and became president in 1967. The new government placed the former president under house arrest until his death in 1970. The army blamed the coup attempt on PKI and launched retaliation and a round-up of all suspected sympathizers. The conflict between the PKI and the army culminated in the massacre of 500,000 PKI supporters and the arrest of 500,000 others, mainly civilians, from 1965-66, until the PNI had established full dominance. Suharto stayed in power until 1998 in one of the longest reigns of any military dictator. For over 30 years of his rule, raids and massacres continued.

The killings had ethnic and religious dimensions with the targeting of Chinese populations and attacks by both Christians and Muslims. The two political parties basically were composed along ethnic, religious, and class distinctions. Indonesian Muslims and parts of the Christian population aligned themselves with the conservative PNI to suppress the atheists or indigenous polytheists. Furthermore, some victims seemed to be selected because of their Chinese heritage. Analysts also identify social features that marked the victims since urban elite tried to control the rural peasants. Due to the political nature of these killings and the strategic relations between the Indonesian government and the international community, few states have called this incident a genocide. Like many military regimes, the Indonesian government was characterized by continuous armed oppression of a civilian population.

East Timor

This tension between civilians and military again was manifested in mass killings and destruction in East Timor. Indonesia invaded the small island in 1975, one day after a visit to Jakarta by President Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. The occupation claimed over 200,000 lives, or 1/3 of the population, and occurred against United Nations appeals to the Indonesian government, largely because of US support of the government and its arms buying.

For two decades, the East Timorese resisted occupation. In 1998, after President Suharto was forced to resign due to the economic crisis, the new government offered to have elections to decide the fate of East Timor. On August 30, 1999, with a voter turnout of over 98% of East Timorese, 78% voted for independence in U.N.-supervised elections. The subsequent murder, looting, and arson by anti-independence militias and Indonesian police and troops destroyed around 70% of the local property and displaced 3/4 of the population. United Nations estimates placed the casualties at 1,500 killed. Many people were relocated forcefully to West Timor. Currently, East Timor is under UN supervision awaiting full independence.

US policy makers often ignored the Indonesian conflicts until the outbreak of violence after the Timorese elections. The Indonesian government was considered a long time arms trade partner and an ally against the so-called Asian Communists. However, American and East Timorese human rights activists worked with members of Congress over the years to slowly change foreign policy. In reaction to the violence in East Timor, the US suspended military relations with Indonesia.

The United Nations annually released resolutions condemning human rights violations by the Indonesian military, but it neither recognized East Timor's autonomy in the face of the government's invasion nor took any action against Indonesia. However, groups of non-governmental organizations and global human rights advocates mobilized opposition to the violence. The Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded a joint Peace Prize to Bishop Carlos Belo and Jose Ramos-Horta of East Timor for seeking a just and peaceful solution to the conflict. Indonesia of late has been under further scrutiny for its militant reaction to national movements in Aceh, Maluku, and West Papua.

East Timor


Amnesty International (1985). East Timor Violations of Human Rights, Extrajudicial Executions, “Disappearances”, Torture and Political Imprisonment, 1975-1984. London: Amnesty International.

  • This is a first-person account in a report of the region. Includes numerous excerpts from first-person statements about the executions and mass killings of the East Timorese by the Indonesia militia.

Dunn, James (1983). Timor: A People Betrayed. Australia: The Jacaranda Press.

  • This book gives an in-depth look into the history of the situation in East Timor. It includes a first person account of the Indonesia invasion which included massacres, torture, disappearances, and other atrocities.

Kohen, Arnold, and Taylor, John (1979). An Act of Genocide: Indonesia’s Invasion of East Timor. London: TAPOL.

  • This book offers numerous accounts of first-person statements about the invasion of East Timor by Indonesia and the atrocities that were witnessed.

Retboll, Torben (Ed.) (1980). East Timor, Indonesia and the Western Democracies. Copenhagen: IWGIA.

  • In this book the author includes an article entitled “Letter from a Resident in Dili”, originally published in The Canberry Times on February 14th, 1978. This article describes in full the atrocities committed by Indonesia onto a group of villages in East Timor.

Retboll, Torben (Ed.) (1984). East Timor: The Struggle Continues. Copenhagen: International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs.

  • An overview of the genocide of the people of East Timor from 1975 to 1984 is discussed in this book. Also included is chapter five, entitled “Violations of Human Rights” which contains articles that were published in newspapers in Australia of first-hand accounts.


Chomsky, Noam (2000). The United States, East Timor, and Intervention. Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars, 32(102): 55-58. ISSN: 0007-4810.

  • This articles examines the possibility that the US’s role in the support of the Indonesian intervention in East Timor in 1999 could have led to the brutal invasion of East Timor. The author argues that US economic aid could have resulted in genocide of the East Timorese.

George, Alexander (1986). Genocide in East Timor. Contemporary Review (Great Britain), 249(1448): 119-123. Entry: 38B:9629.

  • This article discusses how Indonesian forces invaded East Timor on December 7th, 1975 in order to overtake Timor’s nationalist and popular movement. It examines the extent of the violation of human rights in East Timor between 1975 and 1985, and how the Indonesian forces have repressed the defenseless people of East Timor.

Gunn, Geoffrey C. (2000). The 500-Year Timorese Funu. Bulletin of Concern Asian Scholars, 32(1-2): 5-10. ISSN: 0007-4810.

  • This article provides a history spanning five hundred years of Timorese resistance against the Netherlands and Portugal. It concludes with the downfall and genocide of the Timorese by Indonesia in 1975.

Sidell, Scott (1981). The United States and Genocide in East Timor. Journal of Contemporary Asia (Sweden), 11(1): 44-61. Entry: 34B:4128.

  • This article discusses the US’s contribution to the government of Indonesia and argues that this aid, mainly in the form of military equipment, contributed to the death and starvation of thousands of East Timorese.

Indonesian Militia’s Genocide of Alleged Communists


Cribb, Robert (2001). Genocide in Indonesia, 1965-1966. Journal of Genocide Research (Great Britain), 3(2): 219-239. ISSN: 1462-3528. Entry: 53:9432.

  • This article examines the definition of genocide in the context of the history of Indonesia. The author argues that since the UN Convention on genocide, the definition of genocide has changed to include political genocide, such was the case with the approximately 500,000 Communists who perished in the region.

Fein, Helen (1993). Revolutionary and Anti-Revolutionary Genocides: A Comparison of State Murders in Democratic Kampuchea, 1975 to 1979, and in Indonesia, 1965 to 1966. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 35(4): 796-823. ISSN: 0010-4175. Entry: 46B:1051.

  • This article compares the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia to the Indonesian military coups against alleged Communists. The definition of the term genocide is in turn explored through the comparison of these two events.

King, Seth S. (1966). The Great Purge in Indonesia. New York Times Magazine, pp. 25, 89-94.

  • This article covers the Indonesian government’s and Muslim youths’ slaughter of Communists and suspected Communists. Also included are statements by a school teacher who witnessed actual killings.

Moser, Don (1966). Haunted Face of a Red Defeat. Life Magazine, 66(1): 24-33.

  • This article describes the frenzy of killing as told by Indonesian Communists and suspected Communists who had been captured by the Indonesian army and Muslim youths.