Rights activist says genocide continues in Indonesia

When Carmel Budiardjo visited Auschwitz with Indonesian friends during the '70s, she was overwhelmed by parallels between the fate of European Jewry under Nazism and Indonesia's reign of terror under Suharto.

Budiardjo's observations came from experience. She is a Western Jew who grew up in London during the Depression and World War II, and lived in Indonesia from 1952 until she was expelled 20 years later. While there, she lost many friends and was imprisoned for three years.

"It's been referred to as the second great holocaust of the 20th century," says Budiardjo of the killing of 1 million Indonesians by Suharto during a six-month period in 1965 and 1966.

Budiardjo was in the Bay Area last week as part of a nationwide tour addressing groups on Indonesia and East Timor and also to promote her most recent book, "Surviving Indonesia's Gulag: A Western Woman Tells Her Story."

She spoke in the East Bay at U.C. Berkeley and Laney College in Oakland, as well as at San Francisco State University and New College, also in San Francisco.

But one major difference, she says, is that Germany has had time to heal. In Indonesia and more recently in East Timor, an island east of Indonesia, the genocide continues.

Growing up in a fiercely anti-fascist family, the former Carmel Brickman said her passion for the oppressed was rooted in her childhood.

"My left-wing politics have a lot to do with my Jewish background," she says.

In 1973, Budiardjo founded the London-based organization Tapol, The Indonesia Human Rights Campaign. "Tapol" means political prisoner in Indonesian.

For 26 years, Budiardjo has spoken all over the world, reported to the United Nations and, in concert with other organizations, drawn international attention to the plight of Indonesians and East Timorese.

Two weeks ago, Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo and Jose Ramos-Horta received the Nobel Peace Prize for their work in the East Timorese independence movement. Budiardjo has shared many platforms with Ramos-Horta, a former journalist.

"I do believe that we can probably take credit for this Nobel Prize," says Budiardjo of the work done by Tapol to publicize the issue.

Last December, Budiardjo, 71, was recognized for her work when she received the Right Livelihood Award. This international award was created in 1980 as an alternative to the Nobel Prize to honor those at the grassroots level. Presented in the Swedish Parliament, the $250,000 prized is shared by four people every year.

Budiardjo's involvement with Indonesia started shortly after World War II. A graduate of the London School of Economics, she went to Prague as a representative of the National Student Union. While there, she got to know a group of Indonesians.

"[Indonesia] was a new and unknown country," says Budiardjo, who married an Indonesian and moved there in 1952. Intending to stay permanently, she renounced her British citizenship.

But in 1965, when Suharto took over from Sukarno, founder of the Indonesian Republic, the climate changed. Suharto banned a large number of organizations and arrested their members. Freedom of association, expression, assembly and the press became things of the past. He enforced a state dogma requiring a belief in one God but only recognized five religions. Judaism was not one of them.

And the military began systematically murdering Indonesians.

"My whole world was turned upside down," says Budiardjo. "I was a member of one of the organizations he banned and was vulnerable to arrest."

Budiardjo thinks living in Jakarta, the nation's capital, probably saved her life, because the killings took place mainly in the countryside.

She lost her job and her husband was arrested several times, spending a total of two years in prison without ever being tried. Seeing no future in Indonesia, they decided to leave the country. But both were arrested before they could leave.

For three years, Budiardjo was jailed and repeatedly interrogated. The prison was overcrowded, food and medical facilities inadequate and communication with the outside world nonexistent. Because she was Caucasian, she was spared physical assaults and rapes her fellow female prisoners were endured.

Budiardjo was never tried.

In 1972, she was suddenly released on the condition that she return to England. The British government reinstated her citizenship, determining that her renunciation was flawed.

Her husband wasn't released from prison for another seven years. The two, who both live in London, have since separated.

Although Budiardjo launched Tapol to address abuses in Indonesia, Tapol quickly expanded to include East Timor in its human rights campaign.

Originally a Portuguese colony, East Timor became independent in 1975. But within months, Indonesia invaded and annexed it. It has been estimated that as much as one-third of the country's population has been killed by Indonesia's military.

In spite of the restrictions, the independence movement in East Timor has survived, largely due to Budiardjo and other advocates inside and outside the country.

Under the present regime, Budiardjo cannot return to Indonesia or East Timor. She is well-known to the regime and periodically castigated in the press.

"I'm actually quite delighted about that," she says.

But more than anything, Budiardjo hopes to live long enough to see the day when the genocide ceases and people can discuss problems openly. Then, she says, the healing can begin.

"I'd like to get back to Indonesia and be part of that rediscovery," she says.