Thu, 25 Mar 1999

Indonesia set to ratify antidiscrimination convention

JAKARTA (JP): The House of Representatives began deliberation on Wednesday of a United Nations convention against all forms of racial discrimination.

Minister of Justice Muladi told the House plenary session hearing the first reading of the ratification draft that the government wished to establish a legal basis for it to eradicate discriminative acts on the basis of ethnic origin.

"We want all Indonesians to have no fear of any discriminative acts. As stated in the United Nations declaration of human rights, everyone is entitled to freedom, regardless of their skin color, race, nationality or other aspects of their background," Muladi said.

Six months ago President B.J. Habibie ordered a halt to discriminative policies based on race in his administration.

Chinese-Indonesians, despite their economic clout, have for decades been chief targets of discrimination, which climaxed in the riots in May last year. Ethnic Chinese businesses were attacked and looted and Chinese-Indonesian women suffered sexual abuse.

Chinese-Indonesians often complain the government systematically treats them as second-class citizens. Some have said they still experience difficulties in processing documents despite Habibie's instruction. Careers in the military and government bureaucracy are practically closed to them.

If everything goes as expected, the House will ratify the UN convention before it ends its current sitting on April 1.

Muladi said that once the convention was ratified, a review would be needed on several policies in economic, social, cultural, political, educational and administrative fields.

"We may need to declare that every discriminative act is considered a crime. We should also familiarize antidiscrimination among the people," Muladi said.

In a presidential instruction dated Sept. 16, Habibie ordered ministers, heads of state agencies, governors, mayors and regents to dispense with the terms pribumi (indigenous) and nonpribumi (nonindigenous).

The instruction has been framed "to give equal treatment and service to all Indonesian citizens ... and to remove discrimination in any form or degree, whether based on tribal, religious, racial affiliations or origins".

There has been little response to the instruction from lower levels of the administration.

Meanwhile, House Commission II on administrative affairs agreed to pass eight bills on the formation of 11 regencies and mayoralties. Among the mayoralties are Cilegon and Depok in West Java and regencies including Singkil and North Luwu in Aceh. (edt)