Sat, 25 Mar 2000

Discriminative laws still abound

By Ester Jusuf

The following article is adopted from a presentation at the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights in Geneva on March 24, 2000.

GENEVA (JP): Indonesia's ethnic minorities have had to face the stigmatic smudge of racism and discrimination ever since the New Order came to power 35 years ago.

The new regime immediately churned out a series of regulations and laws to disseminate racial sentiments within the society.

Some of the laws were specifically targeted at the ethnic Chinese community. A least 62 of these enactments are in force in Indonesia today.

These enactments regulate various aspects of life, such as religion, economy, education, customs and culture, in such a way as to restrict the rights of the targeted ethnic group in those fields.

However, President Abdurrahman Wahid, or Gus Dur, recently eliminated one of these regulations through a presidential decree. We know that this measure is far from adequate, but we support Gus Dur's political will to fight racial discrimination and eliminate political segregation in Indonesia.

If racial violence has become a common phenomenon, it is only the result of these numerous discriminative laws. In 1998 women of Chinese descent were the main target for mass rape; the rest of the ethnic Chinese community was assaulted, murdered and had their properties looted.

Such atrocities occurred in major cities such as Medan, Makassar, Jakarta and Surakarta. Ethnic riots also broke out between the Dayaks, Malays and Madura in Kalimantan in 1997. More recently in Maluku, Christians and Muslims were engaged in mass killings. On a smaller scale, religion persecution also occurred in Mataram, near Bali, and anti-Chinese riots took place in Pekalongan, Central Java.

The military's involvement in all these racial crimes was a passive one, mainly due to its failure to protect Indonesian citizens of a particular ethnic group, and the racial riots serve as blatant examples of such neglect by the military.

So far there has never been serious prosecution for racial crimes, nor has there been any sort of protection scheme for victims and witnesses. The few remedies, which were only rarely offered, were in the form of show arrests and superficial symbolic reconciliations.

These racial divisions and violence in Indonesian society are based on a well-supported and well-nurtured sense of hatred and stigmatization of the ethnic Chinese.

The Indonesian word cina, literally meaning Chinese, has a very strong negative racial connotation. The use of officially approved words and terms with very strong negative racial connotations to describe Indonesians of Chinese descent, has the effect of building a thick dividing wall between ethnic Chinese citizens and all other ethnic groups.

This stigmatization of the Chinese ethnic group is also further supported by the assimilation policy adopted by the government, which implies that being Chinese is something which should be hidden, condemned and as much as possible minimized in order to blend in with the rest of society.

This in turn detrimentally affects ethnic Chinese Indonesians both psychologically and physically.

Religious affairs have been a highly regulated aspect of Indonesian society. Government intervention in this sector is most significant in the limitation of only five officially recognized religions: Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism and Buddhism.

Segregation based on religion is obvious from the restraint placed on interreligious marriages. Further, many religions are seen as undeserving of official recognition. The Chinese belief of Confucianism, for instance, is one such religion. Again here discrimination targeted at the ethnic Chinese comes into play.

Not surprisingly, this is also a basis on which many riots and atrocities have occurred in Indonesia, most markedly during 1999 when racial and ethnic issues triggered much mass violence.

Discrimination at its most extreme manifestation took the form of warfare between religious groups, mass killings of civilians of a certain religion, destruction and burning of places of worship. These riots seemed to be well organized, but have also occurred spontaneously. In a number of cases, the active role of the military and provocateurs has not been insignificant, for instance in the riots in Maluku all through 1999, in Mataram in the latter part of 1999 and previously in Ketapang, in downtown Jakarta, in November 1998.

We urgently call on the international community to pressure the Indonesian government, having ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, to fulfill its obligations and enact legislation against racial discrimination to protect all Indonesian citizens from all forms of discrimination.

We also call on all right-thinking people to campaign for the elimination of all racially and religiously discriminative regulations.

Specific attention should be given to the resolution and prevention of racial conflict, as well as to the prosecution of those who have initiated and incited racial conflict.

Furthermore, the Indonesian government should refrain from interfering in religious affairs. Only after these issues have been resolved can reconciliation and the establishment of a peaceful society free of terror, violence and human rights abuses take place in Indonesia.

The writer is chairwoman of Solidaritas Nusa Bangsa, a Jakarta-based non-governmental organization for the abolition of racial and ethnic discrimination.