Munir Sebuah Kitab Melawan Lupa (Munir A Book of Remembrance) Jaleswari Pramodhawardani, Andi Widjajanto, eds. 607 pp
Munir's sudden death on Sept. 7, 2004, came as a big blow to many people. Most of his close friends and acquaintances were shocked upon hearing the news -- not a single one of them had ever had even the slightest premonition that Munir, a rather lean and small human rights fighter, would die young.
The news was all the more shocking, as he died while on a flight to the Netherlands, where he was to pursue further studies at Utrecht university. Indeed, he had decided on this course so he could take a sabbatical from the violence and injustices he had long been fighting.
Nobody ever had the slightest notion that he would have his eternal rest, especially because it was known that Munir had never contracted a life-threatening disease. Suspicion arose afterwards that he did not die a natural death. A post-mortem of Munir's body conducted by the Dutch Forensic Institute (NFI) found 465 milligrams of arsenic in his stomach and 3.1 mg and 4.6 mg of the same substance in his blood and urine, respectively.
The finding confirmed that Munir had been poisoned. Upon learning of this, many people were angered that the circumstances of Munir's death was tantamount to murdering human rights and democracy in the country.
In an effort to ensure that Munir's efforts will not soon fall into the abyss of forgetfulness, publishing company Mizan has published a book in memory of this great human rights champion and in commemoration of the 100th day anniversary of his demise.
Sebuah Kitab Melawan Lupa, or Munir A Book of Remembrance, was written by Munir's closest friends, leading community figures, journalists and lawyers.
Divided into two parts, the first part presents the fond memory these contributors hold about Munir and his deeds, while the second part focuses on the struggle and agenda initiated by Munir -- and which must be continued beyond his death.
As a person, Munir was not particularly remarkable in appearance or dress, but his individual courage was beyond belief. He was never afraid to defend factory workers in East Java who were being unjustly treated.
People will remember how hard he worked when investigating the case of Marsinah, as Teten Masduki writes in "Kenangan dengan Munir; Mengenang Tragedi Marsinah" (Remembering Munir In Memory of the Marsinah Tragedy).
Munir was not only a courageous activist but he was also astute and intelligent. Six months after he joined the Malang branch of the Legal Aid Institute/Foundation of the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute (LBI/YLBHI), his work drew the attention of Adnan Buyung Nasution. And soon after he had completed his terms at the LBH/YLBHI Surabaya and Semarang branches that he was assigned to the Jakarta head office.
Munir was engaged in ever more activities in Jakarta and also gained great recognition in this city. He was an indefatigable worker, so much so that according to Rachland Nashidic, one of his closest friends, he neglected his own health.
A.A. Sudirman writes that Munir always believed in taking risks in the interest of furthering nationalism and humanism. Another friend, Bambang Widjojanto, said Munir was a hard worker who conducted investigations creatively and with flexibility. Because of his dedication and tireless commitment, Munir was later assigned a senior position at LBH/YLBHI, and worked alongside Bambang.
In the final days of the Soeharto administration, which were marked by many human rights violations, Munir emerged at the forefront again with an organization of his own, Kontras, the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence. In addition, he was highly critical of the human rights cases of Tanjung Priok, East Timor, Aceh and Papua -- needless to say, all of which are high-profile and dangerous cases -- and he boldly dared to lash out at the Indonesian Military (TNI) for their involvement in these cases.
Noted journalist and essayist Goenawan Mohammad describes Munir as a courageous man who never feared fighting "the darkness". Munir's unparalleled work in fighting for human rights and against violence deserves these acclaims from both home and abroad. Ummat, an Islamic magazine, named him Man of the Year 1998 and Asiaweek (now defunct) included him among its Young Leaders for the Millennium 2000, the same year he was awarded the Alternative Nobel Peace Prize.
Analyst Sidney Jones writes that Munir "had everything that a human rights fighter should possess", and Bambang notes that he was a "true human rights defender". Munir was truly one of a kind, says Haidar Bagir, and likens the late activist to a mirror "The mirror that was Munir was so transparent that all the scars on my face was clearly visible."
Undoubtedly, Munir's too-early departure from this world has brought grief to many -- and many question why the life of this great man was cut short, how anyone could have murdered him. Munir was still far from his life's goal, and thus his work against human rights violations must be preserved, carried on and developed even further.
It is therefore only proper that the contributors to this book dwell on the subjects of civilian supremacy, upholding democracy and enforcing the rule of law, among others, Kudos to the publisher for producing a book that records Munir's great deeds, which is reflected in its title. Munir is, ultimately, a book about a struggle that must be upheld as a model of great courage against seemingly insurmountable odds. Munir's courage against gross injustices merits a place in the annals of Indonesian history.
If one must mention a shortcoming of Munir, it is the absence of Munir's biography, without which his intellectual development cannot be mapped out. It is also a pity that some essays miss the central theme of the book; in addition, no essay explores Munir's philosophy. While Munir was better known as an activist, he was also a prominent thinker who did as he believed.
However, it must be said in all fairness that no book, no matter how thick a tome, will ever be able to do justice to Munir, an exemplary and true vanguard of human rights.
*) The reviewer is a journalist with the Jakarta-based Hidayah magazine, and is also a short story writer.