he 1965 massacres in Indonesia are the crackdown on the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) and its supporters by the militia of the Nahdlatul Ulama ( Muslim Party ) and the Indonesian National Party , led by the Indonesian Armed Forces . The massacre of the Indonesian Communists, previously allied with President Soekarno , comes after severe political tensions, which had raised fears of a shift of Indonesia in the communist camp . Their trigger is the coup attempt of the, imputed to the PKI.

The PKI, the third largest Communist Party in the world, is eradicated in a series of killings over several months, resulting in the death of hundreds of thousands of people: the record is probably around 500 000 victims . This is a one of the worst killing of masses of xx th century 1 , 2 . Although the PKI and its supporters are the main victims of this wave of violence, it also targets, depending on the location, other groups such as Hindus , Christians , some moderate Muslims or the Chinese minority .

Triggered at the end of 1965 , which remains the symbolic date of the event, the killings last several months and extend over the year 1966 , some still taking place in places in 1967 . Hundreds of thousands of people – probably more than a million in all – were arrested, imprisoned or deported to camps 3 . General Soeharto , the main architect of this political purge, replaces Soekarno as head of the country. The repression, targeting both communists and other opponents, continues in Indonesia in the following years.

The PKI under Directed Democracy

A favorable political context for the party

A close alliance with power through policy Nasakom

Born in the context of the struggle for independence against the Dutch colonizers , the Indonesian Communist Party is one of the few PC Asia to benefit from the interwar period , significant numbers 4 . During the Indonesian national revolution , the PKI is in competition with the nationalists of Soekarno , who became president of Indonesia during the proclamation of independence . In 1948 , communists briefly control the city of Madiun , but they are then crushed by nationalist government troops The failure of their insurgency results in the death of several thousand PKI militants and some of its leaders. The party, however, is not eradicated, which Indonesian army leaders later consider to be a mistake. The PKI, which enjoys the support of China ‘s Mao 5 , is rebuilding and growing dramatically, becoming the country’s fourth largest party in the 1955 elections .

During the Cold War , Sukarno chose the neutrality and became one of the figures of the Non-Aligned Movement 6 . In 1959 , after several years of political instability Note 1 , he set up “Directed Democracy”. The political parties will definitely lose the lead in favor of an executive box, dominated by the figure of Sukarno proclaimed “great leader of the revolution” and declared ” President for life ” 5 . Parliament elected in 1955 dissolved in March 1960 : in the new Assembly appointed by the president, the seats go not only to parties but also to “functional groups” representing workers, peasants, entrepreneurs, armed forces, religious groups … While this policy may seem at first sight harmful to the interests of the PKI , Soekarno announces, in his speech of– which will become the “Political Manifesto” (or Manipol ) of the regime – the establishment of a “directed economy” against the “exploitation of man by man”, thus taking up the communist rhetoric. Similarly, in 1960, he passed an agrarian reform that limited the size of properties and provided for a redistribution of land, two long-standing objectives of the PKI.

This closeness between the ideology of the ruling power and that of the PKI takes a new turn when, in 1961, Soekarno decides that the orientation of Indonesia will be based on the alliance of nationalism , religion and communism : this Politics is called Nasakom Note 2 . The PKI thus gains a place in the center of power while Indonesia begins to maintain close relations with several communist countries of Asia .

A growing influence on Sukarno

As soon as Nasakom was set up , Partai Nasional Indonesia (PNI), Nahdatul Ulama (NU) and the PKI – respective representatives of nationalism, Islam and communism – began to clash for control of power. This struggle materialized in the countryside from 1963, when landless peasants began to impose, by “unilateral actions”, the agrarian reform voted three years earlier but remained unimplemented. Often members of the BTI, a peasant organization affiliated with the PKI, they occupy land owned by wealthy landowners, mostly voters from the PNI and the UN. The confrontation is particularly bitter in Java, of which the Center and the East are communist bastions and where the NIP and the NU are also well established. In the early 1960s , the Communists are going to require public executions for “economic criminals” 5 . Rapidly, previously divided anti-communist forces combine to fight more effectively against the BTI, thus isolating the PKI in rural areas. This isolation soon spread to the whole country and it is only thanks to the protection of Soekarno that it benefits that the PKI managed to survive between 1963 and 1965.

Indeed, the “Father of Indonesia”, eager to counterbalance the powerful Indonesian army and the very popular NU Note 3 , protects the PKI from the latter who try to silence his press and prevent his congresses. But gradually Soekarno is no longer content to defend the PKI and begins to approach the party, considering it the best able to support its revolutionary ideals. Indeed at PNI Note 4only a fraction of the party, the Soekarnist wing, supports Soekarno’s policy while its “right wing” and the entire NU reject it. In comparison the PKI had, since the proclamation of the “Directed Democracy”, accepted the new regime and made ideological concessions. In 1959 he adopted a policy of “united national front” which put national interests above class interests.

The rapprochement between the PKI and Soekarno, which began in 1963, is also reflected in the foreign policy of the latter. Thus, in early 1965, Indonesia left the “imperialist” United Nations in protest against Malaysia’s entry into the Security Council Footnote 5, while Soekarno announced the impending formation of a rival organization called “New Forces”. rising ” Note 6 , around an axis Jakarta – Hanoi – Phnom Penh – Beijing – Pyongyang . The Indonesian president is preparing an alliance with four Asian countries, three of which arecommunists and the fourth – Cambodia’s Norodom Sihanouk – neutralist . The USSR , although having no important political relay on the spot (the PKI is indeed closer to China, in rupture with Moscow ), supports generously the Indonesia of Soekarno, to which it provides material and a economic aid that allows it to develop its industry 5 . Dipa Nusantara Aidit and Njoto , top executives of the PKI, become members of the government of Soekarno. In the context of military escalation in Vietnam and the crisis in Laos , the United Statesare particularly worried about Soekarno ‘s policy which seems to augur, according to the logic of the ” domino theory ” , of a shift of a whole part of South – East Asia in the communist sphere 7 .

The growing influence of the PKI on Soekarno is particularly visible in the speeches of the latter, which is becoming increasingly critical of those who oppose communist actions. Thus, on several occasions, he castigates the “communistophobia” of those who protest against the communist maneuvers, especially during the wave of occupations of land by the BTI. In speeches of the National Day of the, the president maintains the concern by reaffirming his turn to the left, and declaring that the country is going through a year where one would live “dangerously” 7 . Similarly, during his August 17 speech , he attacked the army, the long-standing enemy of the PKI, by accusing “certain generals” of getting in the way of the “people’s revolution”. On the eve of the massacre, the rapprochement between Soekarno and the Indonesian communists is so sensitive that for the vast majority of Western observers, the transition to communism of Indonesia – possibly by an equivalent of the ” coup de Prague ” , or even a decision of the bloody power – it’s just a matter of time.

During the year 1965, the PKI’s activism, which multiplies the anti-religious demonstrations, occupies lands and attacks small landowners, contributes to maintain the apprehension of the Indonesian elites, even as the country undergoes a major economic crisis. Rumors around Soekarno’s health, which is experiencing public discomfort on, reinforcing concerns about the country’s political stability. During the summer, rumors of coup military are increasingly insistent 5 .

Considerable numbers

The PKI claims, in, 3.5 million members, making it the third largest communist party in the world after the Chinese Communist Party and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and the largest in the world outside those of the regimes Communists 6 . However, the PKI is only one element of a much larger structure composed, in addition to the party, of six mass organizations affiliated with it. These officially gather 23.5 million people, or almost a quarter of Indonesia’s population at the time Note 7 . More precisely, the communist union SOBSI claims, in 1965, 3.5 millionof members, the BTI peasant association, 9 million , the communist federations of writers and artists, 5 million , while the Pemuda Rakyat youth movement Note 8 and the Gerwani women’s movement claim 3 million each . Before the massacres Indonesian Communists say that more than 27 million people are directly or indirectly related to them.

However, adding up the official numbers of each organization mentioned above does not give the actual number of people affiliated with the PKI. Indeed, a large number of communist militants belong to several of these organizations at the same time and are thus, in the previous calculation, counted multiple times. In addition, all the aforementioned figures from the PKI, it is likely that they were inflated for the purpose of propaganda. Nevertheless, if the PKI’s mobilization capacity is probably much lower than what it claims, it remains very important and allows it to organize large-scale actions (waves of land occupations, demonstrations gathering tens of thousands people, etc. ) throughout Indonesia.

Major tensions with the army and religious circles

As its power grows, the PKI arouses the fear of the military and of all conservative circles. The communists are trying to play simultaneously on all the tables: while they multiply the knapsacks to enforce the law of agrarian reform, they work to increase their infiltration at the top of the State. If they have only three ministers in the government (which, overflowing, has eighty), they have activists in all circles. The army remains on the whole very anticommunist, but the aviation is close to PKI, that supports a non negligible number of officers. In addition, the PKI requests the establishment, in addition to the four traditional sectors of the”Fifth force of the armed workers and peasants” – hitherto vaguely mentioned – and theoretically supposed to help Indonesia to face Malaysia. The Army is doing everything to sabotage this initiative but, inthe first contingents of “peasant workers” – almost all communist militants – begin their training at Halim airbase in Jakarta. The army sees with growing concern the PKI strengthen his influence in its traditional domain 5 .

The anti-Indonesian military elites is further enhanced by their close proximity to the economic elites of the country: some industries is controlled either directly by high ranking military or by their family members 6 .

The communists also know, because of their militant atheism , growing tensions with the Muslim circles which represent the other great organized force of Indonesia. In Java , demonstrations of communist irreligiosity lead to clashes with fervent Muslims. In Bali , the Communists interrupt religious ceremonies and Hindu temples occupy, whom they accuse of monopolizing land and property: the confrontations multiply, causing numerous deaths 5 . In 1962 , the NU created a paramilitary branch , the “Banser” (“Barisan Serbaguna”, or “polyvalent brigade”), intended primarily to resist the communists. In the years before the massacres, the men of the Banser physically confront repeatedly communist militants who attempt to confiscate land belonging to Muslim schools 8 .

Triggering the repression

The coup d’état of September 30

Related article: Movement of 30 September 1965 in Indonesia .

The Presidential Guard officers, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Untung, are trying to seize power in Jakarta . After seizing some of the key points in the capital, the coup leaders announced that they had carried out a preventive coup to save the Soekarno regime , and thwarted a coup that was planned by a “reactionary” council of generals with the support of the CIA . At the same time, they kidnap and assassinate six top commanders of the army, including Chief of Staff Ahmad Yani. Their seventh target, General Nasution – who led the suppression of communists in Madiun in 1948 – managed to escape narrowly, but his daughter, aged 5 , was fatally wounded in gunfire. Two other senior officers are killed in Yogyakarta . The morning ofthe “progressive officers” announce the formation of a “Council of the Revolution” to take the reins of the country. However, contrary to what they hoped, the insurgents do not get the support of Soekarno who refuses to give them official security. The exact role played by the PKI in the case has been controversial: most of its leaders are not members of the Revolution Council and it does not formally take a stand, being content with an ambiguous position, which is mainly to support Soekarno. An editorial in the official newspaper of the PKI, the Harian Rakjat , however, approve the action of the coup and supporting events are organized in several parts of the country 5 .

For some historians, the PKI would not have played a leading role in the putsch, and would have been invited by the left-wing military after the event to participate in the seizure of power. In a 2006 study, Canadian researcher John Roosa concludes that some of the PKI’s leadership, including its leader Aidit , did participate in the coup preparation, but only a small minority of communist militants were conspiracy current 8 .

Crushing the coup and seize power by Soeharto

Hours after the coup, General Soeharto , head of strategic reserve forces (KOSTRAD) takes control of the army with the support of Nasution . He launched an offensive against the conspirators and, in less than 24 hours , regained control of the capital and the Halim airbase , the headquarters of the rebels. Since thethe failure of the conspirators is obvious.

Soekarno , destabilized by the attempted coup, feels compelled to congratulate Soeharto, who stands out very strongly from the events. From the top of his new position at the top of the army, the latter begins very quickly to accuse the PKI as well as the air force to be at the origin of the coup d’etat. The fact that the officers who took part in it – soothed by Soeharto the nickname with negative connotations “Gestapu” – shared for most the communist positions is according to him an indisputable proof.

In a very short time Soeharto managed to consolidate his position as army chief among the other generals even though Soekarno tried to dislodge him at all costs. Since the the new chief of staff feels strong enough to publicly challenge the president, reproaching him for not acting against those responsible for the , who are in his eyes the leaders of the PKI 5 .

Triggering the anti-PKI propaganda

The Indonesian right wing exploits immediately the emotion aroused by the coup attempt and the death of Nasution’s daughter. The tension reaches its peakwith the exhumation, carefully orchestrated, of the bodies of the victims, whose photos are widely disseminated. Soekarno commits the mistake of declaring that the failed coup d’état is just a “ride on the ocean of revolution” and refusing to attend the funerals of the victims. The tension is further heightened by the rumor of a shipment of small arms that communist China has reportedly sent to Indonesia. Communist or left-wing newspapers are quickly banned and the right, which controls almost all other media outlets, launches into a victim propaganda campaign, denouncing communist crimes. Propaganda then continues in the same tone for months, even as the killings take place 5 The media close to the army spread horrific details about the killings during the coup attempt, claiming, for example, that members of the PKI’s women’s organization, the Gerwani, perpetrated genital mutilation on the victims. The death of the daughter of General Nasution is one of the most recurrent themes of this campaign 8 .

The funeral of the child takes place  ; an officer took the opportunity to convey to the leaders of the Muslim students attending the ceremony the Sikat order! ( “Eliminate them!” ). Jakarta is covered with posters calling for “hanging Aidit ” or “crushing” the PKI and the “whores” of the Gerwani. The slogans denounce the communists as “traitors to the fatherland” – because close to China – even “traitors to the revolution” , “without-God”, criminals and enemies of society. The army took advantage of the event to strengthen its alliance with the Muslim groups, undermining the power of President Soekarno 5 .

Role of Western countries

Soeharto is from the outset the master of the game, and seems to have acted freely. There is no evidence that by inciting mass violence against part of the Indonesian population, the Indonesian army chief has obeyed an order from the West, although they have given him carte blanche. The practical role of the United States has been controversial: while the CIA seems to have given its blessing to the military, even providing them with active support , 9 it appears to have been marginal, limiting itself to providing a walkie -talkiesor some light weapons. With no effective relays among the new Indonesian elites, the Americans seem to have initially relied more on Nasution than on Soeharto, and then limited themselves to assuring the latter that they would not intervene. The arguments that the British have played a role in triggering the crisis are not confirmed 5 . The Indonesian military also received the concurrence of the Government of Australia , who orders his troops to Borneo to not intervene, and relays via Radio Australia ‘s military propaganda against the PKI 10 .

In 1990 , a controversy erupts in the United States when the journalist Kathy Kadane publishes an article accusing members of the State Department , the CIA and the American Embassy in Jakarta – and in particular the ambassador of the time, Marshall Green – to have played a direct role in the killings, including providing the Indonesian military with a list of 5,000 namespeople to eliminate. The article quotes the name of Robert J. Martens, a US Embassy official at the time, as the main person responsible for this list, whose compilation he would have monitored by a team of agents over a period of two years. After the article was published, Martens challenged the journalist’s claims and said that although this list did exist, she did not play a determining role. He said that he had submitted the list to the Indonesian anti-communist forces on his own initiative, without being prompted by his superiors and without the ambassador’s intervention. Martens also denies having used CIA documents and says that he simply compiled the list of people from the Indonesian press,11 , 12 . Joshua Oppenheimer , director of two documentaries on the Indonesian massacres, believes that Western responsibility is important. It emphasizes in this regard the role played at the time by Martens and the provision by the US of the radio transmission system that has coordinated the massacres 13


The massacres


The military seeks to operate rationally, preserving unity within them, and then gradually taking power after reducing Soekarno to powerlessness. To eliminate their opponents, they take full advantage of the climate of “hysteria” of previous months, the threatening actions of the communists, and the trauma caused by the coup attempt. They will, for months, let or actively help militias of civilians who carry out part of the massacres. The hatreds and resentments accumulated over the years in the face of the communist wars, the release of fear after the rapid failure of the, the campaign of propaganda about the atrocities which are lent to them during the attempted coup, help to disinhibit the anticommunists and to motivate them to take their revenge in an outburst of violence. The Indonesian communists, disoriented by the imbalance of forces and whose party is quickly beheaded, oppose only limited resistance: in some villages, the inhabitants succeed in repelling the slaughterers, of which a few dozen are killed during shootings, but the PKI does not succeed at any time in setting up a global response, nor does it try to exterminate its opponents in return. Some communist militants managed to hide, but others – who hoped no doubt the benevolence of the authorities and did not had not taken the measure of what was happening – do not even try to get away. Some garrisons try to limit the violence by threatening – sometimes even stopping – the perpetrators of”Undesirable excesses” but they do not go so far as to defend local communists 5 .

Although the Indonesian army has a leadership role in the massacres, it relies to carry them out on large sectors of civil society , mobilized against the Communists 8 . The executors of the killings in Indonesia are members of the regular armed forces – including Special Forces units such as the Resimen Para Komando Angkatan Darat led by the extremist colonel Sarwo Edhie – as well as civilian militias, including from the Muslim organization Nahdatul. Ulama , its Ansor youth movement, the Banser, organizations close to the military such as the SOKSI trade union confederation, or some Hindu and Christian circles. The NU takes the opportunity to gain the upper hand over thePNI , which he considers a party of “lukewarm” Muslims . The Muhammadiyah , another major Indonesian Muslim organization, also participates in the crackdown, and proclaims that killing the communists is a religious duty. If religion is not the main factor of the massacres, it provides a motivation for the civil organizations that seek to defend a divine and societal order threatened by the Communists, which in their eyes means the complete physical elimination of ” atheists ” 8 , 5 .

As for the religious circles mobilized against the “infidels” and the “atheists” , the killers are mainly recruited in Java from Muslims, while in Bali Hindus play a similar role; Protestant and Catholic student organizations are also involved. Youth movements are particularly active: students and high school students – relatively few in Indonesia, poor and poorly educated – occupy a disproportionate place in the squads of killers, in which they are sometimes led by their teachers. Many high schools stop working during the killings, students being “on tour” 5. The Indonesian Catholic Party plays a leading role in the formation of the KAP-Gestapu an action front with the Muslim Youth of Ansor to combat the “Gestapu” putschist 8 .

The fact that large sections of Indonesian society participate in the massacres is explained by the climate of fear maintained by the political clashes with the Communists, then exacerbated by the propaganda campaign that follows the failed coup. Killers often act out of ideological motivation, mainly because of anti-religious violence or expropriations committed by the PKI. The military broadcast lists – probably falsified – of Muslim personalities, asserting that they were drawn up by the communists to eliminate the religious notables. This helps to motivate Muslims, who feel they have only the choice between killing the Communists or being killed by them. Some performers seem to have taken part in the killings to keep up with the movement, and to avoid8 .


The violence begins at the beginning of October. On the 8th , the headquarters of the PKI in Jakarta is stormed by Muslim and Catholic militants of KAP-Gestapu 8 .

The scenario is similar in all parts of Indonesia: the armed forces support, supervise and protect the militia responsible for the massacres, who can then act with impunity. From thethe para commandos regularize and systematize the “purge” . Moderate parties are silent, or participate in the assault on communists, like some socialists or a large part of the PNI . No province in Indonesia is immune to the massacres, but some are more affected than others, either because of the density of the population or because of the implantation of communists. These two factors come together in Java , where four-fifths of the victims appear to have been born. Bali and Sumatraare the other two most affected regions. The massacres are accompanied by a large number of arrests: the PKI and its affiliated organizations are, for many, killed outright, but others are imprisoned to be sentenced later, often to death; the treatment of grassroots activists differs from region to region, with some being killed and others imprisoned. Killers arrest their victims, often at their homes, and take them away for interrogation, often accompanied by torture. Many are held in wealthy prisons and then taken to forests to be killed with knives, firearms and even beaten to death with sticks. Corpses are often thrown into mass graves, or into rivers,mutilated and exposed in the streets, to maintain the climate of terror 5 , 8 .

The local variations, at the level of the people targeted by the killings and the periods when the latter took place, were also very important. Indeed, the populations of the various islands or even different provinces of Indonesia , have sociological and religious profiles completely heterogeneous, so that in some parts of Indonesia, the massacres are aimed at both members of the PKI that persons not belonging to the majority religion. The main social marker of the massacres, however, is not religious or ethnic , but politico – social. Both perpetrators and victims are recruited from all communities and, with some exceptions such as the Chinese minority (which is mainly targeted in Borneo ), killers usually attack people belonging to their own ethnic group. This point makes it unsuitable the term ” genocide ” 5 , which is however used by some historians had regard to the scale of the killings 14 .

In Sumatra

It is in Aceh , north of Sumatra , that the series of massacres begins: in this Muslim stronghold, where the PKI is little implanted, the communists are exterminated in a few days by the local militias, without the military having to intervene. Perhaps disappointed to find so few communist militants to eliminate, killers routinely attack the families of their victims, even their servants. Massacres are much larger in the South and other parts of North Sumatra. In the Medan area, a plantation area, agricultural workers from Java , who are highly communized, are targeted first and foremost, this time by trade unionists from the SOKSI 5 , 8.

In Java

After the “pacification” of the capital Jakarta , identical scenarios are repeated in the second half of October in cities like Semarang or Magelang : after a show of force of the regular troops, the civilian militias – especially youths of the NU and the NIP – engage in a hunt for communists, also taking the passage, according to the place, to Hinduism or the Chinese minority(If the Chinese members of PKI-related organizations are targeted by the massacres like the other communists, the rest of the Chinese community in Java seems to have been mostly looted). The Embassy of the People’s Republic of China is also being sacked. Organizational headquarters and private homes are stormed and burned; survivors must flee to the countryside, where they are hunted down by right-wing militias. The violence is particularly intense in East Java , where the PKI and the NU are very well established; the main phase of the massacres lasted at least a month, after which the army intervened to stabilize the situation. The level of violence is also high in Central Java, especially in Surakarta, whose PKI holds the town hall. Dipa Nusantara Aidit is captured in mid-November, forced to “confess” , then summarily executed. Many other party leaders are killed. In the lowlands, Communists are massacred by whole families; testimonials speak of blood-red rivers, and many sexual mutilations. The killers take advantage of it to attack other political or religious enemies, be they PNI cadres, or members of non-Muslim religious associations who practiced Hinduism-style “javanism” . In the highlands of the Tengger regionwhere the Communists are very powerful, the massacres begin at the end of November. They are committed by Ansor men supervised by the army, who come to kill the militants that the chiefs of villages had had under house arrest; in this region, no attempt is made to attack Hindus or members of NIP 5 , 8 .

In Bali

In December 1965, nearly two months after the beginning of the massacres, the wave of assassinations wins Bali. As in Aceh, religion is of central importance in the killings, with the notable difference that the majority of Balinese are Hindu and that it is therefore often priests of this confession who are at the head of the killers. The massacres of Bali can also be compared to those of Aceh by their extreme savagery. Entire villages, considered as populated by “infidels”, are thus subjected to the vindictiveness of the Hindu militias, sometimes supported by Christian groups or Ansor militants from Java; the most moderate PKI sympathizers are murdered. The disproportionate nature of these massacres can be partly explained by the virulence of the “unilateral actions” committed by the PKI in Bali, but also by its stronger association with certain clans of power,5 .

In the rest of Indonesia

The circumstances in which the massacres take place differ according to the local populations, and especially the dominant religions. In the small islands of the Eastern Sunda , the agents of the killings are recruited mainly among the Moslems and the catholics, who attack not only the communists, but also the Hinduists, the Protestants , and the faithful of local cults, qualified of ‘ Atheists’ (so-called communists). In the Minahasa peninsula ( Celebes ), it is the Protestants, numerous in the region, who seem to have been the main agents of the repression. In Kalimantan ( Borneo ), it is the minorityDayak is put to use: the massacres take place later, around October-November 1967 , and seem to have mainly targeted the local Chinese community, whose members animated in the region a small communist guerrilla 5 .

Balance sheet and suites of repression

Number of victims

The massacres in Indonesia are the worst carnage suffered by a Communist Party since the Great Purge of Stalin in the interwar period 9 . The exact number of people killed during the 1965-1967 crackdown has never been established with certainty. In the autumn of 1965 , after the first killings, Soekarno ordered an official commission to draw up a report, but it gave its report – which underestimates the number of victims by evaluating it at 78,500 – in December 1965, while the massacres are far from over. To take stock of the repression in Indonesia is all the more difficult because few data were collected at the time. Serious work on the subject has been rare, access to sources is also difficult for foreign researchers who, during the decades of the presidency of Soeharto , could be denied visas; Similar pressure was put on journalists who risked Indonesian prosecution or, for foreigners, expulsion from the country. It is admitted, however, that the victims number in the hundreds of thousands. In, while killings continue in some areas, US diplomats advance the figure of 300,000 casualties ; a Lifecorrespondent’s inquiry concludes at the same time that 400,000 peoplehave probably perished. The figures from the Indonesian authorities are unreliable, as the different services have each had reasons, either to underestimate or to overestimate the number of deaths. In 1966, a study of the Indonesian army put forward a figure of about a million deaths, now considered by researchers as exaggerated; some have also put forward figures of up to two million victims. Admiral Sudomo, head of the army’s counterintelligence service, quoted in 1976 a figure of between 450,000 and 500,000 dead , quite close to current estimates. The Australian researcher Robert Cribb considers, in a study carried out in 2001, that the figure of 500 000 is undoubtedly the closest to reality 8 ,5 .


In addition to the victims of the massacres, between 600,000 and 750,000 people are incarcerated, for periods ranging from one to thirty years. The army divides the prisoners into three groups: Group A is made up of senior PKI cadres, supposed to have played a role in the September 30 coup attempt. They are held for many years before going to trial; none are acquitted and many are sentenced to death. Group B gathers PKI grassroots activists, considered “indirectly” involved in the coup: many of them are relegated to penitentiary colonies such as the island of Buruwhere they have to provide their own subsistence through agriculture. They are also often sentenced to hard labor. Group C is made up of supporters of the PKI, often members of its mass organizations ; many are less hard-pressed than members of groups A and B, and are held closer to their families who can visit and provide food. Most C detainees are released around 1972but they remain deprived of their civil rights and are excluded from certain categories of employment. In addition, political detainees are often very poorly nourished and many die of starvation, or diseases related to malnutrition. The activists of the Gerwani – the women’s organization of the PKI – are frequently raped in prison. The massacre of real or supposed communists leaves many children orphaned; some are removed from their remaining parents. The houses of those killed or imprisoned are often burned or confiscated, sometimes requisitioned by the army, or even turned into detention centers 8 .

Political consequences

In , Sukarno made a last attempt to regain control of events, redesigning its government. Nasution refuses to take note of his dismissal as Minister of Defense, while the capital knows days of confrontation between young pro-Soekarno and pro Soeharto activists . The latter seems to have deliberately incited violence to sell the president. TheSoekarno fled to Bogor after learning that the presidential palace was about to be encircled by the army. He then receives the visit of emissaries of Soeharto, who make him sign a document giving full powers to the latter with the mission of “restore order” and “protect the president in the name of the revolution . ” PKI is then officially banned. Deprived of all power, Sukarno remained President until March 1967, when Suharto formally succeeds him 15 .

The Indonesian Communist Party, whose executives were in their almost all killed or imprisoned and sentenced to death, is simply removed from the political landscape 9 . Anticommunist repression have eradicated much of the opposition, and the economic woes of Indonesia has discredited both the democracy and the ” authoritarian left” Sukarno, Soeharto can set up a new an authoritarian political system dubbed the “New Order” , whose operation is openly inspired by that of Imperial Japan between the wars 16 , 17 .

The risk of seeing an “axis” between Communist China and Indonesia is averted, which has the paradoxical consequence, by curbing the advance of communism in Asia, to reduce the geostrategic interest of the Vietnamese conflict even though the United States is in the midst of a military escalation in the Indochinese peninsula 18 .

International reactions

Despite their magnitude, the massacres in Indonesia do not provoke any wave of indignation around the world. The international press is prevented from doing its work, and reports only gradually and very imperfectly what is happening in Indonesia, the killings being first presented as a series of “incidents” . The Western Left, at the time deeply concerned by the Vietnam War , prefers not to dwell on this defeat of Asian ” progressism ” , which it hopes momentarily. The Netherlands and the United Kingdom , former colonial powers of the region, welcome the situation, as well as the United States US ambassador Marshall Green does not hide his enthusiasm for the messages he sends to Washington. Some Western media are also openly celebrating events: Time hails the elimination of Indonesian communists as the best news that the West has received from Asia for years ( “the West’s best news for years in Asia” ). The American left is more concerned about whether the United States played an active role or not in the affair, than by the massacres themselves; Robert Kennedy was at the time one of the few personalities to express outrage at the horror of events in Indonesia 5 . expresses publicly its satisfaction with the “reorientation” allowed in Indonesia by the elimination of ” 500 000 communist sympathizers ” 10 . In 1975, former US ambassador Marshall Green said, “We did what we had to do, and you have every interest in thanking us, because otherwise, Asia we know today would not exist” 19 .

In Southeast Asia , anti-communist governments applaud the action of the Indonesian army. This is particularly the case of Malaysia , which is then reconciled with Indonesia by ending several years of crisis . The reaction of Singapore is more mixed, because of the attacks on the Chinese community, closely linked to that of the city-state. The China isolated diplomatically, can only make futile protests. The USSRIf it is disappointed with the Indonesian communists’ crushing, however, it draws a reason for satisfaction because of their proximity to its Chinese rivals. Events in Indonesia also help China and the USSR, facing a geostrategic failure, temporarily withdraw from the Third World . China focuses on the period of internal upheaval that begins with the Cultural Revolution ; about the USSR, it must rethink its Third World strategy noting the failure of the method which was to foster alliances between local communist and non-communist progressive forces 5 , 17 .

Similar Massacres under the New Order

The “New Order” of Soeharto is accompanied by an economic recovery of Indonesia but it remains nevertheless, after the massacres of 1965, a regime marked by a very great structural violence. The remains of the PKI who seek to rebuild are the first victims: in 1968-1969, in the province of Purwodadi ( Grobogan Kabupaten , Central Java ), two hundred villages “infected” with communists are purged by the army , probably at the cost of 6,000 victimsabout. During the three decades of Soeharto’s reign, Indonesia has experienced several killings, targeting both delinquents and opponents (Muslim protesters and others). The worst massacres however place in East Timor after the invasion of the former Portuguese colony in : According to rough estimates, the repression following the Indonesian invasion causes the death of about 200,000 Timorese , nearly a quarter of the country’s population 5 .

No judicial action

Taboos under Soeharto, the events of 1965 are only very partially studied later in Indonesia. After the fall of Soeharto in 1998 , the subject was only reluctantly approached, elected officials wanting to spare an ever-strong army; the UN Commission on Human Rights is authorized to conduct an investigation into the fate of prisoners in Buru , but it has only limited time to carry out its work, which also has no follow-up. In 2004 , a law decides the formation of a Commission for Truth and Reconciliationbut the project is finally abandoned two years later after being overturned by the Constitutional Court, due to objections from NGOs on amnesty projects that would have guaranteed the impunity of the guilty parties. In 2008 , the Indonesian Human Rights Commission began work to gather information and testimonies about the events of 1965-1966, but its members as well as potential witnesses are under pressure, even threats. No consensus exists in the Indonesian opinion on the reprehensible nature of the events that saw the birth of the New Order, and no effort has been made to date to give a legal response to massacres 8. Fifty years later, some actors the 1965 killings continue to openly glorify 13 .

In 2015 , US Senator Tom Udall presents a draft resolution urging Indonesia to establish a commission of inquiry and national reconciliation and calling on the US government to recognize Indonesian “genocide” , to declassify its documents on the question, and to shed light on all operations at the time 20 , 21 .

In 2016, a tribunal of opinion based in The Hague, composed of jurists from various countries, recognized the Indonesian state guilty of crimes against humanity during the massacres and anti-communist repression of 1965-1966, and pointed out the complicity of the US, British and Australian governments, recommending that Indonesia launch investigations, recognize the crimes committed at the time and provide compensation to the families of the victims. The Indonesian government answers this occasion it does not recognize the opinions of third parties in its internal affairs, and he intends dealing with the problem on its own 22 , 23 .

Notes and references


  1. ↑ Seventeen successive governments between 1945 and 1958.
  2. ↑ Acronym formed from the Indonesian words NASionalism (“nationalism”), Agama (“religion”) and Komunism (“communism”).
  3. ↑ The party gets in the parliamentary elections of December 1955, 18.47% of the vote. However, if we add to these voices those Masyumi , another Islamist party banned in 1960, we get more than 39% of the vote.
  4. ↑ Party that Sukarno himself founded in 1927.
  5. ↑ Indonesia was undergoing a serious crisis with Malaysia . The Indonesian president accuses the Malaysian federation of being a puppet creation of the British to increase their control over the region and seeks to destabilize or even to break it.
  6. ↑ As opposed to “Old established forces”.
  7. ↑ 100.3 million people.
  8. ↑ The “Youth of the People” in Indonesian.


  1. ↑ ( in ) Robert Gellately and Ben Kiernan , The Specter of Genocide: Mass Murder in Historical Perspective , Cambridge University Press , ( ISBN  978-0-521-52750-7 , online presentation ) , p.  290-291.
  2. ↑ ( in ) Mark Aarons, “Justice Betrayed: Post-1945 Responses to Genocide” in David Blumenthal A. (ed.) And Timothy LH McCormack (ed.), The Legacy of Nuremberg: Civilising Influence gold Institutionalised Vengeance? Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, coll.  “International Humanitarian Law”, 2007 ( ISBN  978-90-04-15691-3 ) , chap.  5 [ read online ] , p.  80 [ read online ] .
  3. ↑ ( in ) Justus van der Kroef, ” Indonesia’s Political Prisoners ” , Pacific Affairs , vol.  49p.  625-647, 625.
  4. ↑ ( in ) Ruth T. McVey, The Rise of Indonesian Communism , Equinox Publishing, 2006, p.  7 .
  5. ↑ a , b , c , d , e , f , g , h , i , j , k , l , m , n , o , p , q , r , s , t , u , v , w , x and y Jean-Louis Margolin , ” Indonesia 1965: a forgotten massacre “,International Journal of Comparative Politics , 2001.
  6. ↑ a , b, and c ( en ) Archie Brown , The Rise and Fall of Communism , Vintage Books, 2009, p.  358-359 .
  7. ↑ a and b Georges-Henri Soutou , The Cold War 1943-1990 , Librairie Arthème Fayard, coll.  “Plural”, 2010, p.  649-651 .
  8. ↑ a , b , c , d , e , f , g , h , i , j , k , l , m, and n ( en ) Katharine E. McGregor, ” The Indonesian Killings of 1965-1966, ” Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence , August 2009.
  9. ↑ a , b and c ( en ) Robert Service , Comrades! A History of World Communism , Pan Books, 2007, p.  392 .
  10. ↑ a and b ” Australia’s Role in the 1965-66 Communist Massacres in Indonesia, ” International Affairs , September 30, 2015.
  11. ↑ ” CIA Tie Asserted in Indonesia Purge “, The New York Times , July 12, 1990.
  12. ↑ Robert Gellately and Ben Kiernan , The Specter of Genocide: Mass Murder in Historical Perspective , op. cit. p.  290-295 .
  13. ↑ a and b ” Joshua Oppenheimer Will not Go Back to Indonesia, ” The New York Times , September 9, 2015.
  14. ↑ ( in ) Robert Cribb, “The Indonesian Genocide of 1965-1966,” in Samuel Totten (ed.), Teaching about Genocide: Approaches, and Resources , Information Age Publishing 2004 ( ISBN  978-1-59311-074-1 ) , chap.  Case study 4 , p.  133-143 [ read online ] .
  15. ↑ ( in ) Ricklefs MC, A History of Modern Indonesia since c.1200 , Palgrave Macmillan, 2008, p.  326 .
  16. ↑ ( in ) Bruce Gilley, The Nature of Asian Politics , Cambridge University Press, 2014, p.  90-91 .
  17. ↑ a and b ( in ) David Priestland , The Red Flag: Communism and the making of the modern world , Allen Lane / Penguin Books, 2009, p.  400-401 .
  18. ↑ Laurent Cesari, Indochina in wars, 1945-1993 , Belin, 1995, p.  174 .
  19. ↑ Thibaud Kaeser, ” 1965: the year of all the plots ,” The Courier , ( read online ).
  20. ↑ ( in ) Joshua Oppenheimer , ” Suharto’s Purge, Indonesia’s Silence ,” The New York Times , September 29, 2015.
  21. ↑ ” ( en ) S.Res.273 – A resolution expressing the sense of the Senate regarding the need for reconciliation in Indonesia and the United States Government of the world around the mass killings during 1965 and 1966, 114th Congress (2015-2016 ) , On the US Congress website , January 10, 2015.
  22. ↑ ITP 1965 , [1] judgment of the 1965 International People’s Court for Indonesia.
  23. ↑ ( in ) ” Court finds Indonesia guilty of 1965 genocide; US, UK complicit “, CNN, July 22, 2016.