“Sorcerer” Killings in Banyuwangi: A Re-Examination of State Responsibility for Violence

This article interrogates the operation of an assumption of state responsibility frequently found in current scholarship on violence in Indonesia. There has recently been “an up surge of interest in violence in Indonesia by the media, by NGOs, and by the academic world”. Important contributions have been made by anumber of conference panels; a special issue of the Asian Journal of Social Scienc(2006); and five recent volumes edited by Anderson (2001a), Wessel and Wimho ¨fer (2001), Colombijn and Lindblad (2002a), Hu¨sken and de Jonge (2002a), and Coppel (2005). Some of the new studies – for example, de Jonge (2002) – clearly elucidate local causes of violence and the role the state has played in attenuating this violence. Nevertheless, at times the recent literature is characterised by an assumption of the state’s responsibility for violence, and a corresponding sense that members of society are its innocent victims. This assumption operates in the discussion of other historical eras,but is most commonly presented in relation to the “New Order” regime (c.1966–98) of President Soeharto. One can find reference to “[t]he massive scale of state violence”(Wessel, 2001b, pp. 70–71) during this era, with the New Order being characterised as “among the most repressive and violent states of the twentieth century” (Barker, 2006,p. 203) or simply as a “state of violence” (Henk Schulte Nordholt, cited in Hu¨sken and de Jonge, 2002b, p. 4). The new literature appears to be driven by a well-meaning and vigilant concern not to let states off the hook. But from my perspective, two problems characterise the notion of state responsibility for violence as it is proposed in the new literature. These are addressed, respectively, in this article’s two parts.
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