Searching for the disappeared Timorese children in Indonesia: The work of IKOHI

The NHRF has recently finalized the third year of support to the Indonesian Association of the Families of the Disappeared (IKOHI), an organization that works on strengthening the search for the disappeared Timorese children in Java. On this occasion, and looking forward to continuing the collaboration with IKOHI, we wish to highlight and contextualize their valuable work.

The aim of IKOHI’s project carried out in 2019 was to search for, document and uphold the rights to truth, justice, and non-repetition of disappeared children in Java Island, and to reunite them with their families. Through participation in the Stolen Children Working Group – a network that consists of different NGOs from Indonesia and Timor-Leste – IKOHI has advocated for the Indonesian government to do policy changes to recognize the victims’ rights and redress the human rights violations.

Enforced disappearances in Indonesia has occurred since the massacre in 1965 to 1966 and onward, to separatist groups in East Timor, Aceh and West Papua, and also to pro-democratic students in 1997 and 1998. More than 4000 East Timorese children were forcibly moved to Indonesia during the Indonesian occupation of Timor-Leste between 1975 and 1999. This issue remains unresolved and only about 80 children have been reunited with their families, thanks to the work of organizations like IKOHI. In its report to the UN General Assembly in 2015, the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances acknowledged and appreciated this reunion initiative by Timorese and Indonesian NGOs.

IKOHI reunited disappeared children with their families in Timor-Leste (Photo: Indonesian Association of the Families of the Disappeared - IKOHI).

In July 2009, Timor-Leste submitted a short proposal to Indonesia to consider the establishment of a sub-working group related to the issue of missing persons, including separated children. But Indonesia continues to be reluctant to establish a commission for the disappeared, despite the fact that it was part of the recommendations made by the bilateral Commission of Truth and Friendship (CTF) in 2008. Even though the national human rights mechanisms were able to garner official support in providing passports, visa-free status and more, the role of NGOs is crucial in finding the stolen children and identifying their family members.

IKOHI has documented the stories of disappeared children, worked on building public awareness about them, facilitated community meetings and workshops for survivors to empower themselves mutually. They have also advocated for the creation of a Commission for Disappeared Persons between Indonesia and Timor-Leste and the ratification of the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance by the Indonesian government.

A family reunion made possible through IKOHI (Photo: Indonesian Association of the Families of the Disappeared - IKOHI).
"This is truly great humanitarian work. It goes beyond ideology, politics and national borders. In the end, the truth will continue to live, and justice will continue to be fought.” Zaenal Muttaqin, Secretary General of IKOHI.

At the end of the project period, IKOHI observed positive developments: numerous families were reunited, more governmental support was available, and civil society was more active - especially the youth. But at the same time, the need to continue seeking justice for the victims and creating networks of empowerment remains. Indonesia has not yet ratified the Convention on Enforced Disappearance after signing it in 2010 - when the government followed the recommendations of the national parliament in response to the victims’ families demands for truth and justice on what happened to their disappeared family members. There have also been no serious measures by state authorities to implement a commission on missing persons. Therefore, IKOHI will continue its advocacy campaigns, victims support and participation in the Working Group. The NHRF is proud to support IKOHI's important work and looks forward to continuing working together with them in the next year.

Main photo: Secretary General of IKOHI, Zaenal Muttaqin (center), with the family of Antonio Ribero at their reunion after being apart for 30 years (Photo: Indonesian Association of the Families of the Disappeared - IKOHI).


IKOHI's Secretary General, Zaenal Muttaqin, has told his story as a human rights defender on the I Defend Rights platform.

Listen to his story