Detention in Mass Violence

Policy and Practice in Indonesia, 1965–1968

Author: Douglas Kammen and Faizah Zakaria


This article examines the formulation and implementation of Indonesian Army policy regarding the detention of communists and other leftists in Indonesia from 1965 to 1968. The article highlights the relationship between the two primary forms of violence—killings and detentions—in the aftermath of the failed September 30th Movement.

Placing detentions at the center of analysis changes our understanding of the mass violence in several ways. First, it demonstrates that the policy to detain and "classify" large numbers of suspected communists helped to fuel the attack on the political Left. Second, it shifts the locus of analysis away from identification of the perpetrators and victims and instead seeks to highlight the processes that enabled and shaped the violence. Third, by examining the ratio between the estimated number of individuals killed and the number of individuals who remained alive in detention at a particular point in time, the article proposes a new explanation for variation in the scale and intensity of mass violence across Indonesia.

This analysis encourages comparison across a much wider range of cases within Indonesia than has previously been attempted and provides a framework for future work on the mass violence in Indonesia as well as in other cases in which mass detentions or forced relocations preceded mass killings.

Countries: Indonesia

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September 2012
© FAO/Giulio Napolitano