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...

Acceptance speech – Carmel Budiardjo

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

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