For the first time on Tuesday, a government agency confirmed what many people believe: that the mysterious petrus killings of the early 1980s, in which hundreds, perhaps thousands, of past and present criminals turned up dead throughout the country, were committed by the state and were crimes against humanity.
Yoseph Adi Prasetyo, commissioner of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), said at a press conference that his organization had found proof of crimes against humanity.
“Based on our analysis, there were evidence of attacks committed by a group of people who were actually part of law enforcement,” Yoseph said.
Komnas HAM has been investigating the petrus cases, which peaked from 1982 to 1985. At the time, strongman President Suharto was in power.
The security forces who carried out the killings chose their targets from a list they made of thugs and former criminals, Yoseph said. Most victims had tattoos.
Their killers’ bullets, however, did not always fly true.
“There were also cases of wrong targets, where the victims were never involved in any crimes but became victims because they happened to have the same names [as ones who were],” Yoseph said.
The rights commission acknowledged that corpses were found across Java and Sumatra, in places including Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Bantul, Semarang, Medan, Palembang, Magelang, Solo, Cilacap, Malang and Mojokerto.
“There’s also a possibility that incidents occurred in other locations such as Bandung, Makassar, Pontianak, Banyuwangi and Bali,” he said.
The term “petrus” is a portmanteau for penebakan misterius , which means “mysterious shootings.”
In his 1988 autobiography, Suharto acknowledged that the security forces had carried out the killings.
The killings were officially intended to reduce the crime rate, and in that they succeeded.
No official figure for the shootings were ever reported.