Improper to Name Suharto a Hero

Banda Aceh, TAG. Seventy-eight civil society groups in Aceh have denounced a proposal to confer national hero status on former President Suharto, who they say bears most responsibility for a spate of human rights abuses in the province.
In a letter addressed to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the groups said naming the former strongman a national hero deeply hurts the sense of justice of the people of Aceh.
“While in power, Suharto took several decisions that defied the state of law and justice in Aceh, and that upheld the interests of power rather than human rights,” read the letter, dated Monday.
The activists also denounced Suharto’s decision to designate Aceh an “area of military operations” between 1989 and 1998, which “created untold suffering for the people, especially women and children.”
Thousands of civilians were killed or “disappeared” during this period of de facto martial law as the military engaged in a guerrilla war against the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM).
Ghazali Abbas Adan, a former legislator and member of a fact-finding team probing rights abuses in Aceh, said the “military operations” period ushered in “a form of genocide or ethnic cleansing by the New Order [regime led by Suharto].”
“As such, it would be highly improper to name Suharto a national hero,” he told a press conference organized by the 78 groups on Monday.
Hendra Fadli, coordinator of the Aceh office of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), called the rights abuses carried out in Aceh on Suharto’s orders “systematic and widespread crimes against humanity.”
“If the government decides to name him a national hero, we’ll file a judicial review against it,” Hendra said.
In Jakarta, meanwhile, legislators’ opinions on whether to approve the proposal are mixed.
Taufik Kiemas, speaker of the People’s Representative Assembly (MPR), said that as a former president, Suharto does not need to be named a national hero.
“This debate will only trigger conflict,” he said. “We shouldn’t confer the title of hero on the former president.”
Similarly, Ramadhan Pohan, from Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party, said the issue would reopen old wounds and cause a rift within society. “I believe it’s enough just for us to respect him as a former president,” he said.
Pramono Anung, a deputy speaker of the House of Representatives from the opposition Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI-P), said the government must heed public opinion on the issue, citing a recent survey that showed most respondents did not approve of the Suharto regime.
“Besides, we already have too many national heroes,” Pramono said. “If the government keeps handing it out so easily to just about anybody, the title will pretty soon carry no weight.”
However, legislators from the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and Golkar, Suharto’s political vehicle throughout his 32-year rule, say the former president deserves the honor.
Priyo Budi Santoso, a deputy House speaker from the Golkar Party, said that while opposition to the proposal was normal, protesters should not miss the bigger picture that Suharto did much good for the country.
“Any resentment over Suharto is just a historical grudge,” he said. “I believe all presidents, including Sukarno, Suharto, Abdurrahman Wahid, Megawati Sukarnoputri and Yudhoyono deserve to be named heroes.”
Another deputy House speaker, PKS secretary general Anis Matta, said the public should not forget Suharto’s role in Indonesia’s development.
“You could accuse him of leaving the country with huge debts, but then you could accuse the current administration of doing the same,” he said.[]
Improper to Name Suharto a Hero Improper to Name Suharto a Hero Reviewed by Nurdin Hasan on October 26, 2010 Rating: 5

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