Carmel Budiardjo

(1995, UK)

...for holding the Indonesian government accountable for its actions and upholding the universality of fundamental human rights.


British citizen married to an Indonesian government official, Carmel Budiardjo has paid a high personal price for opposing the Suharto government. First imprisoned without a trial, she then left the country and went into exile, founding in London TAPOL, an Indonesian human rights campaign. TAPOL has advocated for the release of political prisoners and also for those students arrested in 1974 and 1978; among the organisation’s activities there is the struggle against economic aid and arms exports to Indonesia, as well as human rights abuses such as press censorship.

Contact Details

111 Northwood Road
Thornton Heath
Surrey CR7 8HW



Carmel Budiardjo is a British citizen who gained a degree in economics from London University in 1946 and went to Indonesia in 1951, after marrying an Indonesian government official. Her husband was imprisoned for 'political offences' after President Suharto seized power in the 1960s and spent 12 years in prison without trial. She herself suffered three years in detention, without trial or charge, before being forced to leave the country in 1971.

In 1973, Carmel Budiardjo was at the centre of a group of activists in London who founded the Indonesian human rights campaign, TAPOL. She has now been running TAPOL for 25 years, with a small staff but with a wide network of volunteer supporters and readers of the TAPOL Bulletin, which has been published every two months without interruption throughout that time.

TAPOL's initial purpose was to campaign for the release of hundreds of thousands of political prisoners, mostly jailed without trial, who had been held as communist suspects after an anti-communist crackdown in 1965 (the word 'tapol' is a contraction of two Indonesian words meaning 'political prisoner'). But it soon broadened its campaign to include students arrested in 1974 and 1978. In August 1975, TAPOL warned that an Indonesian invasion of East Timor would bring bloodshed and terror. The invasion, which brought both, occurred four months later.

Under Carmel Budiardjo's leadership, TAPOL has campaigned against economic aid and arms exports to Indonesia, as well as human rights abuses such as press censorship. During the 1980s the TAPOL Bulletin published many detailed interviews with West Papuan resistance leaders, East Timorese victims of abuse and Indonesian human rights activists. It also started making representations on a variety of issues to UN human rights bodies. Apart from the Bulletin and 'Occasional Reports', TAPOL has published books including An Act of Genocide: Indonesia's Invasion of East Timor (1979), West Papua: the obliteration of a people (1983), and Indonesia: Muslims on Trial (1984).

1995 was a symbolically important year for those working on Indonesian human rights issues, being the 50th anniversary of the country's independence, the 30th anniversary of Suharto's seizure of power and the 20th anniversary of the invasion of East Timor. The International Federation for East Timor (IFET), based in Japan, strongly endorsed Budiardjo's nomination for the Right Livelihood Award.

Since the beginning of the new century, Carmel Budjardjo has become very much involved in campaigning against human rights violations in Aceh and for a peaceful solution to the conflict. For West Papua she is supporting the exercise of the right to self-determination and exposing the fraudulent Act of Free choice in West Papua in 1969.


Acceptance Speech by Carmel Budiardjo

December 8th, 1995

Madame Speaker,
Chairman of the Right Livelihood Award,
Honoured guests,

I am deeply honoured to have been chosen as one of the laureates for this year's Right Livelihood Award and would like to convey my profound gratitude to the Right Livelihood Award Foundation for the honour you have bestowed on me. May I say in particular that I feel profoundly honoured to be following in the footsteps of one of your last year's laureates, the great Nigerian human rights activist and playwright, Ken Saro-Wiwa, whose tragic and inexcusable death we all mourned last month.

I share this honour with everyone I have worked with in TAPOL over the years and with many organisations in Britain and around the world who are part of the international solidarity movement for Indonesia and East Timor, together with TAPOL.

I have to admit, dear friends, that it was not until people close to me, my husband, close friends, comrades and colleagues and finally I myself, fell victim to human rights abuses, that I became sensitised to the issue. That was in the black days of October 1965 when the military took power in Indonesia, plunging the country into a period of great adversity, of mass killings, large-scale arrests and the violation of the civil rights of millions of citizens.

For the first three years, I had no job, having been dishonourably dismissed, and my husband was in prison. In September 1968, I landed up in prison myself, spending three years behind bars. I was never charged or tried, never even allowed access to a lawyer. My eventual release and expulsion from Indonesia placed me in the fortunate position of being able, back in Britain, the country of my birth, to do something about my husband and the many women and men whom I had left behind. In those days, even though political imprisonment on a massive scale had continued for more than six years, there was no such thing as a human rights movement inside Indonesia, with the exception of one or two brave individuals, courageous enough to raise the issue; released prisoners would never dare to make their voices heard.

What shocked me in London was that so little was known about the political prisoner situation in Indonesia even though Amnesty International regarded the country as one of the worst offenders in the world. This led us, a small group of relatives and friends, to set up TAPOL, which was called the British Campaign for the Release of Indonesian Political Prisoners. Our sub-title has changed over the years as the scope of our work has expanded and been transformed but we have stuck with the name TAPOL, a new word coined soon after the military takeover. It means 'political prisoner', a contraction of 'tahanan politik'.
Perhaps it was just a coincidence that not long after TAPOL was born, the Indonesian Government declared that the word 'tapol' was banned because, they said, there were no political prisoners in Indonesia, only criminals. The military regime has done a great deal to remould the Indonesian language in its own image but this is one decree that never took root.

The word 'tapol' has never disappeared from the vocabulary. New generations of political prisoners have emerged as the repressive apparatus has turned its fire on yet more 'troublesome' sections of the population. In the late 1960s it was Communists, then students, then Muslims, then labour activists, then people defending their land rights and then people fighting for their right to self-determination, a never-ending stream of tapols. But that was not all.

In 1974, we became acutely aware of atrocities in West Papua which had been annexed by Indonesia in 1964. Later that year, it became clear that East Timor was on the brink of a terrible disaster because of the threat of an Indonesian invasion. Knowing what we did about the brutalities of which the Indonesian army was - and still is - capable, we wrote in dark terms in our Bulletin, drawing attention to the massacres of 1965 and 1966 in Indonesia.
The unimaginable happened when the Indonesian army struck. The full horror of what happened in Dili on 7 December 1975 - an anniversary which we commemorated yesterday - did not come to light for several years. Much of the detail was explained to us when we interviewed the retired head of the Catholic Church in East Timor, Msg Martinho da Costa Lopes, when he visited London in 1984.

In Indonesia itself, there was a wave of repression against the student movement throughout the 1970s. In September 1984, the worst atrocity in the country since the 1965/1966 killings occurred in Tanjung Priok, Jakarta when hundreds of Muslims were shot dead after soldiers had defiled their mosque. The true dimensions of that atrocity have to this day not been investigated. This was followed by scores of trials which we recorded and analysed in a book, Muslims on Trial. That was our third publication, the others were about East Timor and West Papua. Perhaps this can give you some idea of the range of human rights problems we have to handle.

Later in the 1980s came the Indonesian army's war against liberation forces in Aceh, North Sumatra. TAPOL has certainly taken a leading role in exposing the atrocities that have been perpetrated in that part of the country.

We in TAPOL concentrate in particular on analysing Indonesian government policy and the shift in emphasis within the regime. This is where our regular monitoring of the Indonesian press is of great importance, absorbing much of our time every day. We try to keep the solidarity movement supplied with the kind of analysis that helps groups to understand the political background to whatever the current wave of repression happens to be. We also regularly attend and make submissions to the UN human rights bodies and do what we can to brief journalists and others planning to visit Indonesia and East Timor, and de-brief them when they return.

How do we, in far-away London, keep in touch with all these developments? This is a major aspect of our work. In some cases, the flow of information runs smoothly; in others information-gathering, which is at the heart of what we do, can be extremely difficult. The East Timorese have proven themselves, throughout the twenty years of their country's occupation and isolation from the rest of the world, to be past masters at keeping the outside world informed. But we have sometimes gone for years without getting any reliable information about what is going on in West Papua. In the past few months, however, things have changed and we have been able to report extensively on the many abuses there since June 1994.

Our information about Indonesia itself relies heavily on the contacts we have made during the past few years with the many human rights and pro-democracy groups that have mushroomed in Indonesia in the 1990s.

We try where we think it will be effective to campaign on specific issues by launching Urgent Actions and have developed a wide network of supporting NGOs in the UK, involved in peace, development, the arms trade, indigenous peoples and the press. Our contact with parliamentarians is also very regular, with a number of MPs responding to our requests for help in questioning British government policy. One major focus is opposition to the sale of British-made weapons of destruction to Indonesia.

TAPOL is not a membership organisation but we have a very large circle of readers throughout the world. Our flagship is TAPOL Bulletin which has appeared regularly every two months for the past twenty-three years. As one Indonesian colleague wrote recently, it has become part of what we call the alternative press at home in Indonesia and abroad, keeping alive the torch of free expression, extinguished for so long in New Order Indonesia.

As many of you here have probably experienced, the information superhighway has greatly enhanced our access to information. Strangely enough this is an area where NGOs have outstripped governments. We've been on the network for more than five years, supplying information to groups throughout the world about West Papua and East Timor but the Indonesian armed force only woke up to the effectiveness of this kind of networking a few months ago. Now, they too will join in, as they put it, to refute all the "malicious misinformation about Indonesia that disseminates worldwide", unfettered by Indonesian censorship controls.

Recently we have been accused by the regime of manipulating a worldwide campaign of vilification against Indonesia and "engineering" the activities of activist NGOs inside the country. It is claimed that we, TAPOL, from our tiny office in London with a staff of three, are the brains behind a "communist plot" to discredit Indonesia. We are flattered by all the attention and even grateful for the publicity that this has given us in the Indonesian press, but such fantasies will not help the regime to confront the growing tide of opposition which it faces, in Indonesia, in East Timor, in West Papua and in Aceh.

Let me say in conclusion that your decision to honour me fills me with a great sense of responsibility to continue to do the work I have been doing for as long as I possibly can.

Thank you


FAQ about Carmel Budiardjo

Questions asked in 2005

1. What did it take to make a person a political prisoner in Suharto's Indonesia?

Being member of an organisation that was allegedly affiliated to the PKI (Indonesian Communist Party).
Prisoners were said to be "directly or indirectly involved in the G 305" - about which they knew nothing! With a few dozen exceptions, no one was ever charged with anything. (G305 = 1 Oct 1965, murder of 6 generals, which Suharto said was a coup attempt by the PKI)

2. What did the British Government do to help you while you were in detention?

Nothing at all, until my British nationality was restored to me. Thereafter the British embassy helped to arrange for my release from prison and my immediate departure from Indonesia. An embassy official took part in a brief ceremony at which I signed a letter expressing gratitude to the Indonesian government, confirming that I would leave the country and never return there. I would not have been released if I had refused to sign that letter. An embassy official then drove me to the airport.

3. Despite the end of the dictatorship, Indonesian human rights lawyer and RLA laureate Munir was assassinated last year. What is the state of democracy in Indonesia today?

The trappings of democracy are there (a well organised presidential election, etc), but the army still retains a powerful position and is in virtual control of conflict areas such as Aceh and West Papua, where military operations occur frequently. The army has retained its territorial structure with commands existing alongside regional and local administration everywhere.

4. Are you now able to visit Indonesia and meet the ex-tapols? (the word 'tapol' is a contraction of two Indonesian words meaning 'political prisoner')

Yes, my name was taken off the black list in 1999. I visited Indonesia this year (2005) and met many groups of ex-tapols. They are still suffering discrimination so we must now campaign hard for their complete rehabilitation.

5. Doesn't your support for human rights activists in West Papua and Aceh promote the possibility of the fragmentation of Indonesia?

The West Papua people certainly want their independence, but at present they are demanding that West Papua became a Land of Peace. That means that the army should withdraw.
In Aceh the human rights situation is very bad, but the terrible effects of the tsunami have had the effect of paving the way for talks between GAM (Free Aceh Movement) and the government. But it is important that civil society representatives are involved in the talks. 

6. What effect has the RLA had on your work?

It has helped me to put my own work into a much broader context.



Right Livelihood Award Foundation

Head office:
Stockholmsvägen 23
122 62 Enskede

Phone: +46 (0)8 70 20 340
Fax: +46 (0)8 70 20 338

Geneva office:
Maison de la Paix
Chemin Eugène-Rigot 2, Building 5
1202 Geneva

Phone: +41 (0)22 555 09 55