Carmel Budiardjo, who died at the age of 96, campaigned for human rights and justice in Indonesia and made a significant contribution to the cause of freedom and self-determination in the areas she controlled – the East Timor (now Timor-Leste), Aceh and West Papua.
In the 1950s, Carmel, a Londoner, and her Indonesian husband, Suwondo Budiardjo (known as Bud), began working in Indonesia, helping to build a new independent nation after the long period of Dutch colonial rule. Carmel was an economics researcher for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Bud was deputy minister in the department of maritime communications.
Sukarno, Indonesia’s first president, was overthrown in a coup in 1965 and in the years that followed General Suharto’s “new order” military regime presided over the murder of an estimated 500,000 to 1 million people, as well as the detention of tens of thousands without trial, in purges aimed at crushing dissent. In 1969, Carmel and Bud were both jailed, separately, as part of this crackdown.
Three years later, after a British lawyer, Sarah Leigh, defended her cause, Carmel was recognized as a British citizen. This led to his release, but also to his forced exile from Indonesia. Upon her return to London, she began campaigning for the remaining political prisoners in Indonesia. With other activists, in 1973 she founded the organization Tapol, the Indonesian acronym of political tahanan – political prisoner, dedicating the rest of her life to the cause of freedom and justice there. Eventually, after 12 years in detention, Bud was also released and came to the UK to be with his family.
In addition to the politics of post-colonialism and the Cold War in Southeast Asia, Indonesia has always fought the tensions of a multicultural and multiethnic archipelago dominated by its largest island, Java. Suharto’s 30-year regime was built on a central Javanese hegemony, supported by cronyism and dependent on the support of military and Western powers to control political freedoms throughout Indonesia.
Over the years, Carmel and Tapol have increasingly focused their attention on these struggles for self-determination of the peoples of the Indonesian regions, and the human and environmental rights violations that have been used as tools to maintain control of Jakarta, especially over East Timor, Aceh and West Papua. At a time when these conflicts were little known in the West, ignored or hidden, Tapol has been consistent in his work to make the voices of these people heard.
Born in London, one of four children of Jewish immigrants, Rebecca (née Chaplin) and Simon Brickman, Carmel grew up above her father’s tailor shop in Greenwich during World War II. She attended John Roan School for Girls, then got a scholarship to study sociology and economics at the London School of Economics, where she developed an interest in politics.
After graduating in 1946, she went to work for the International Union of Students in Prague, where she met Suwondo, an Indonesian government official. They married in 1950, against the wishes of both parents, and after the birth of their first child, they moved to Indonesia. Carmel’s later life led her to become a beacon of hope for her people.
In 1988, Carmel and his colleagues at Tapol were among those who founded Down to Earth, a campaign focused on ecological justice in Indonesia in response to the ruthless exploitation of the country’s vast natural resources. In 2007, Carmel and Tapol helped found the London Mining Network to counter the impacts of the UK’s role in the global mining industry.
Early on, Carmel identified allies such as Liberal Democrat peer Lord Avebury and the Intergovernmental Group on Indonesia (IGGI), focusing attention on the government’s sale of military weapons to the Indonesian state. British, regardless of the political party in power.
Those who have fallen victim to such military, commercial and political relationships have come to regard Carmel as one of their own. In 2009, the newly independent state of Timor-Leste awarded him the Order of Timor-Leste. The following year, she was adopted as a girl from West Papua. His human rights work also won him the Right Livelihood Award in 1995, sometimes referred to as the “Alternative Nobel Prize”.
Carmel and Bud divorced in 1983. She is survived by their daughter, Tari, and their son, Anto, and four grandchildren, Claire, Larry, Luke and Oliver.