Agence France Presse
January 31, 2003
Chinese Indonesians can holiday but still face discrimination
By Ian Timberlake
Jakarta – Indonesia’s small ethnic Chinese community takes another small step toward equality Saturday when they celebrate the Lunar New Year for the first time as a national public holiday.
But the red lanterns and dragons displayed in many shopping centres across the country ahead of the celebrations cannot mask the fact that discriminative laws and practices remain, ethnic Chinese say.
“The discrimination is widespread in many forms toward the Chinese Indonesians,” Eddie Lembong, general chairman of the Chinese Indonesian Association (INTI), told AFP Friday in comments echoed by others.
“There are still a lot of discriminative laws and practices that we need to abolish,” said Alvin Lie, a House of Representatives legislator.
Lie, 41, a third-generation Indonesian and one of the country’s few ethnic Chinese politicians, told AFP the mistreatment was a legacy of former president Suharto’s repressive 32-year rule.
However Lie said progress in restoring the rights of ethnic Chinese had been made since Suharto stepped down almost five years ago.
Suharto’s successor, B.J. Habibie, reversed a ban on the public display of Chinese culture as part of the equality measures.
Chinese-language newspapers and television programs also became more widely available and the “barongsai” lion dance began to be seen in public.
In 2001 President Abdurrahman Wahid then declared Imlek, as Lunar New Year is known here, an optional holiday.
And last year President Megawati Sukarnoputri said Imlek would in 2003 become an official national holiday for the first time.
“I believe we should be grateful for the political acknowledgment that we gain our official existence in Indonesia, ” said Lie, of the opposition National Mandate Party.
However there is a strong sentiment that the measures have not changed long-held feelings.
“Recognition it may be, but it is only a token gesture,” The Jakarta Post newspaper wrote in a Friday editorial.
Lembong, 67, also said there was still a long way to go to achieve equality for Indonesia’s ethnic Chinese.
“There are still about 60 different regulations which are discriminating against the Chinese Indonesians,” Lembong said.
Among these is the “mother law”, a requirement that began in Dutch colonial times for ethnic Chinese to be identified on their birth certificates, he said.
Ethnic Chinese are also banmed from becoming civil servants and there is a limit on their placement in medical schools.
In a nation where corruption is rife, ethnic Chinese also say they are frequently targetted for higher bribes than their non-Chinese countrymen seeking services like identity cards or passports.
A small group of extremely wealthy ethnic Chinese cronies backed the Suharto regime and contributed to a perception that all Chinese are extremely wealthy, which Lie says is false.
“The fact is that many Chinese descendants are not living wealthy lives, especially in Kalimantan they live as poor fishermen and farmers,” said Lie.
Lie urged his fellow ethnic Chinese, who number just three to four percent of
Indonesia’s more than 210 million people, to participate more fully in society despite the discrimination.
And Lembong said that while he hoped discriminatory laws could be revoked, it was more important to build a society of equality, mutual acceptance and understanding.
“We do not ask for special treatment, other than equality,” he said. (it/tn/kma/rl)
January 30, 2003
Indonesia to mark first official Chinese New Year quietly
Jakarta – For the first time in Indonesian history the Chinese lunar New Year starting this Saturday will be officially celebrated as a public holiday, although no fireworks displays or parades are planned.
“Lucky for the government it falls on a Saturday this New Year,” joked Eddie Lembong, chairman of the Indonesia Tiongha (Chinese) Association.
Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri, who is expected to preside over an official Chinese New Year ceremony on February 6, declared the lunar New Year a national holiday last year.
The New Year’s gesture has received a mixed response from the country’s heterogeneous ethnic Chinese population, numbering around 8 million, or 4 per cent of Indonesia’s 215 million people.
“It’s just a political ploy,” said Chinese-Indonesian lawyer Frans Hendra Winarta. “Megawati needs the Chinese vote in the 2004 election.”
Others have welcomed the gesture as long-overdue recognition of Chinese religious beliefs in a country where the Chinese comprise the largest ethnic minority and a powerful economic force, albeit a rarely appreciated one.
“We are grateful for the president’s decision to make the lunar New Year a public holiday as long as it is considered a religious holiday, because all religions should be treated equally,” said Lembong.
Confucianism, in fact, is not recognised as a religion under Indonesian regulations which demand every citizen chose one of five religions on their citizen ID cards, providing a choice between Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Catholicism and Protestantism.
The requirement dates back to the bad-old days of former President Suharto who came to power in 1965-66 with a military coup aimed at putting an end to the growing political influence of communism in Indonesia, and by association the Chinese-Indonesian nationalists who were once close to Sukarno, the country’s first president.
Suharto, who ruled Indonesia between 1966 to 1998, during his first years in power pushed through a handful of blatantly discriminatory regulations such as presidential decree No. 240/66 requiring ethnic Chinese to assume Indonesian names, decree 37/67 that limits the economic opportunities of Chinese-Indonesian and No. 455/68 that prohibits the building of Chinese temples and other public displays of Chinese culture.
Other laws discriminating against the ethnic Chinese and other minorities of foreign origin such as Indians and Arabs, predate even Suharto.
For instance, the Indonesian constitution of 1945 states that only an “indigenous Indonesian” may become president, while birth registration regulations inherited from the Dutch colonialists still classify newborns into three categories – Dutch and European, Orientals of foreign origin and Indigenous Indonesians.
Perhaps the most discriminatory regulation is the so-called SBKRI identification card, which every Chinese-Indonesian must get after turning 18 if they wish to receive an Indonesian passport, enter a public university or apply for a business permit.
Many ethnic Chinese complain that the SBKRI requirement is an open invitation to the notoriously corrupt Indonesian bureaucracy to milk them for money and an easy means of discrimination in education and public sector employment.
“In Indonesia there is an unofficial quota for Indonesian-Chinese to be accepted in state colleges of about 2 to 3 per cent,” said Benny Subanto, a researcher for Indonesia’s Centre for Chinese Studies. “And they can impose it b
ecause of the SPKRI requirement.”
While the Chinese-Indonesian community is generally pleased with the friendlier attitude towards them displayed by Megawati and her predecessor Abdurrahman Wahid (president from 1999 to 2001), there is disappointment that the “reform era” has resulted in so little progress in ridding the country of its discriminatory legislation.
None of the blatantly discriminatory decrees were repealed by either Wahid and thus far Megawati’s main move has been to declare Chinese New Year another public holiday, of which there are already plenty in Indonesia.
“Why haven’t they repealed these decrees?” asked lawyer Winarta, who has long campaigned for equal rights for the ethnic minority groups in Indonesia.
“It’s very easy for the president to repeal decrees, not even requiring an agreement from Parliament, said Winarta. “What’s lacking is the political will,” he said, answering his own question.
Lembong does not expect changes in Indonesia’s discriminatory laws in his lifetime.
“First there is negative economic motivation, because these regulations mean the bureaucracy can make a lot of money from this discrimination,” said the chairman of the Indonesian Chinese Association. “And second, some people in the government or public still feel the Chinese-Indonesians are not fully legitimate components of this nation.” (dpa/pj/js)
February 3, 2003
Political will needed to eliminate racial discrimination
By Zakki Hakim, Jakarta
Eliminating discrimination against Chinese-Indonesians will take a long time and require not only the revocation of some 60 discriminatory rulings, but also a commitment by all sides to promote tolerance, assimilation and equality, according to analysts.
The analysts appreciated the official recognition of the Chinese New Year, but said the real problem was the unequal and discriminatory treatment of so-called nonindigenous citizens.
Frans Winarta, a lawyer, said revoking discriminatory regulations would not guarantee equality unless all groups in society were committed to accepting Chinese-Indonesians as part of a pluralistic society.
“But refusing to revoke the discriminatory regulations, under the Roman Statute of the Human Rights Tribunal, means the government could be considered as committing a state crime against its citizens,” Frans said.
For the first time in the country’s history, the government declared Chinese New Year, or Imlek as it is popularly known here, a national holiday.
Indonesians of Chinese descent account for approximately 3 percent, or around six million, of the country’s 215 million population. However, they control over 60 percent of the country’s economy.
Following the abortive coup in 1965, which the government blamed on the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), the government introduced rules and regulations aimed at curbing the movement of Chinese-Indonesians in the country. PKI had a strong affiliation with the Chinese Communist Party.
Some of the discriminatory laws include the requirement for Chinese-Indonesians to acquire a citizenship certificate, popularly known as SKBRI.
Former president Abdurrahman Wahid revoked some of the discriminatory regulations, but around 60 laws and decrees of the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) are still in place.
Myra Sidharta, an observer of Chinese society, said eliminating racial discrimination would take a long time, as it did in the United States, often thought of as the most democratic country in the world.
She said the process would be lengthy and difficult because discrimination here had its roots in the Dutch colonial era.
During colonial times, participation by Indonesians of Chinese descent was limited to the area of trade only.
“Many people still have the misperception that the ethnic Chinese are businesspeople and second-class citizens, making them rich and perfect targets for extortion,” she said.
She said that besides revoking the some 60 discriminatory regulations, the nation’s political and religious leaders should set a good example in their dealings with people of other races, ethnic groups and religions.
She said the country’s leaders should demonstrate their respect for social diversity and promote cooperation and friendship among different races, ethnic groups and religions.
Juwono Sudarsono, former head of the Communication Body for the Appreciation of National Unity, suggested the relevant authorities hold a dialog about how to eliminate discrimination in the private sector and the bureaucracy.
“The government should provide equal opportunities for all its citizens, including ethnic Chinese, to enter the bureaucracy, the military and other state institutions such as the House of Representatives and the judiciary,” he said.
He said the discriminatory policy favoring indigenous citizens in Malaysia was not a good example for Indonesia.
“(Malaysian Prime Minister) Mahathir’s policy might have worked for 15 years, but I am not so sure it will be relevant in the next five years. I am quite confident that the model implemented in Indonesia will be more effective in eliminating discrimination and promoting diversity in the long run,” he said.
February 3, 2003
Chinese New Year celebrations proceed peacefully nationwide
Jakarta – Celebrations for Chinese New Year, known locally as Imlek, proceeded peacefully on Saturday in cities throughout the country, with people marking the holiday by visiting temples and watching barongsai (dragon dance) performances.
Chinese-Indonesians praised the government for declaring the Chinese New Year a national holiday. However, they regretted that numerous discriminatory legislations and regulations against those of Chinese descent were still in place, particularly a decree obliging Chinese-Indonesians to obtain a Republic of Indonesia Citizenship Certificate (SBKRI).
On Saturday, Chinese communities in Jakarta expressed joy during the festivities and prayed for the nation’s unity and people’s prosperity.
“We are happy to be able to celebrate the Chinese New Year after years of discrimination,” said Muchtar, a priest at the Tri Tunggal Temple on Jl. Dwiwarna in Central Jakarta.
Shopping malls in Jakarta put on a festive mood for the New Year with red lanterns, colorful banners and other symbols characteristic of the holiday. Many of the malls organized dragon dances.
In Surakarta, where a racial conflict exploded in the early 1980s between Chinese-Indonesians and Javanese locals, celebrations also went untroubled, Antara reported.
The holiday was marked with the exhibition of a giant cake. The manager of the Indonesian Record Museum (MURI), Paulus Pangka, said the cake had been added to the museum’s collection of records as the biggest one ever made in Indonesia.
Weighing 3.2 tons, the cake will be shared among people attending the city’s dragon dance performance, which is scheduled for Wednesday.
The Chinese community in Banda-Aceh celebrated the New Year amid improving security following a peace deal between the government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).
Chinese-Indonesians in Banda-Aceh said they were happy for the peace, which allowed them to celebrate the New Year.
Traditions held in conjunction with the Chinese New Year are observed not only by followers of Confucianism, but all Chinese-Indonesians, regardless of their religious or social background.
People in Bandar Lampung, the capital of Lampung, flocked to the Thai Hin Bio temple to pray. Built in 1986, it is the oldest temple in
Coa Kee Soen, a priest at the temple, said celebrations would last for 15 days. He said everyone of Chinese descent would celebrate the event, and not only Buddhists.
Chinese-Indonesians in the regency of Belu, West Timor, celebrated the New Year in modesty. They visited friends and relatives to ask for their forgiveness and enjoy meals together.
The Chinese population in the regency stands at 1,000 and they have mixed with the local community.
Jhon Atet, who was celebrating the New Year, said that the holiday meant the recognition of the Chinese community. He added that the government’s move to declare it a national holiday would strengthen national unity.
In the North Sulawesi capital of Manado, the celebration was marked with heavy rain throughout Saturday. A Buddhist cleric at Ban Hing Kiong Temple, Edgar Karundeng, said the rains augured a sign of luck for this year.
Most shops belonging to those of Chinese descent in downtown Manado were closed for the holiday.
Ko Han, a resident of Manado, thanked the government for acknowledging the New Year and placing it among the other national holidays. He said the decision had allowed him to enjoy a special New Year’s celebration this year.
In Pontianak, the capital of West Kalimantan, which is home to 4,000 people of Chinese descent, people visited temples and churches on Saturday to celebrate the New Year.
Candles standing two meters high were lit in the temples.
After praying at the temples, people visited the elder members of their family. Children and teenagers usually receive angpao, a red envelope that contains money, from elder family members.
The Jakarta Post
February 5, 2003
Govt appears to be reluctant to end discriminatory policies
By Fabiola Desy Unidjaja and Moch. N. Kurniawan, Jakarta
Despite increasing calls for an end to racial discrimination, the government appears reluctant to eradicate institutionalized discrimination against Chinese-Indonesians.
This reluctance was amply demonstrated by a letter dated Sept. 6, 2002, from Minister of Justice and Human Rights Yusril Ihza Mahendra to State Secretary Bambang Kesowo, a copy of which was seen by The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.
Responding to President Megawati Soekarnoputri’s instruction to revoke a ministerial decree requiring Chinese-Indonesians to acquire a Republic of Indonesia Citizenship Certificate (SBKRI), Yusril said that the issuing of a ministerial decree revoking the SBKRI requirement would run contrary to Law No. 62/1958 on citizenship and Presidential Decree No 52/1977 on demographic
Presidential Decree No. 56/1996, however, stipulated that all the laws and regulations on the SBKRI requirement were no longer effective. Nevertheless, according to Yusril, the decree applied only to wives and children whose husbands, fathers, or mothers possessed an SBKRI.
“To avoid legal uncertainty, the revocation of the SBKRI requirement must await the House’s deliberation of the new citizenship bill,” read the letter.
The House has initiated and is currently deliberating a bill on citizenship.
The SBKRI is required by various institutions, such as the immigration office and state universities for Chinese-Indonesian applicants.
Chinese-Indonesians, who number about six million, have consistently complained about the SBKRI requirement and called on the government to take action to abolish it.
Besides the SBKRI requirement, there are a number of other discriminatory requirements that need to be abolished.
Chinese-Indonesians, however, have recovered some of their civil rights, a development highlighted by the designation of the Lunar New Year (Imlek), as a national holiday by the government.
Director for State Administration at the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights Ramly Hutabarat said the revocation of the SBKRI rules depended on the House.
“We have not yet included an article on the revocation of the SBKRI requirement in the bill,” he said.
Deputy Cabinet Secretary Erman Radjagukguk said that Yusril had sent an official letter to his office regarding the latter’s stance.
“He said in his letter that for security reasons and due to citizenship technicalities, it would be difficult to revoke the discriminatory laws at the moment,” Erman told the Post.
“His response is a setback to our efforts. We have been involved in repeated debates with him over his letter,” the official added.
Erman said that according to Yusril, it would be impossible to revoke the SBKRI ruling as there would be too many citizenship documents that would need to be revised in such an eventuality.
The Jakarta Post
February 6, 2003
Citizenship bill maintains institutionalized racism
By Moch. N. Kurniawan and Berni K. Moestafa, Jakarta
Demands for the elimination of institutionalized discrimination against Chinese-Indonesians have fallen on deaf ears as both the government and House have moved to reinforce existing discriminatory laws.
In the citizenship bill that is about to be deliberated in the House, the government makes no attempt to reverse regulations requiring Chinese-Indonesians to obtain the controversial Republic of Indonesia Citizenship Certificate (SBKRI), long seen as a blatant piece of discrimination against Indonesians of ethnic Chinese origin.
Article 39 of the bill, which was submitted to the House in 2000, stipulates that every one is required to prove their Indonesian citizenship, and those who have citizenship may apply to the justice minister or official to obtain it.
Chinese-Indonesians, who account for over three percent of the country’s population of 215 million, are still required to have an SBKRI as stipulated in the Citizenship Law No. 62/1958. Many had hoped that the new citizenship bill would scrap this requirement.
President Megawati Soekarnoputri, who declared the Lunar New Year, or Imlek, a national holiday, is scheduled to attend the national celebration for the Chinese New Year on Thursday.
It is still unclear, however, if she will revoke some of the over 60 laws that discriminate against Indonesians of Chinese ethnicity.
Megawati had reportedly asked Minister of Justice and Human Rights Yusril Ihza Mahendra to revoke the SBKRI ruling, but the later declined saying that this would go against the 1958 citizenship law.
Yusril was referring to the closing article IV of the 1958 citizenship law and Presidential Decree No 52/1977 on demographic affairs.
Chinese-Indonesians are the most affected by the SBKRI requirement, and frequently complain that institutions like the immigration office and state universities still require them to present an SBKRI if they want to get a passport or enroll.
The government has actually scrapped all laws and regulations on the SBKRI requirement through Presidential Decree No. 56/1996 on the SBKRI, but many institutions have been reluctant to implement it.
The bill also regulates the citizenship of children born out of both legitimate and illicit relationships.
Article 2 (e) stipulates that a child born in Indonesia from a lawful marriage between an Indonesian mother and stateless father will be recognized as an Indonesian citizen.
A child born here from a lawful marriage between an Indonesian mother and foreign father will also be declared Indonesian.
Compared to the existing laws, the bill provides greater protection for Indonesian women who get married to foreign citizens.
Meanwhile, a member of the National Commission on Human Rights, Saafroedin B
ahar, said on Wednesday that with enough commitment, legislators should have no problem deliberating the citizenship bill.
“When we submitted the bill to the House, there was already a broad understanding among legislators to end discrimination,” said Saafroedin,
explaining that the government had asked the commission along with several non-government organizations to help draft the bill.
But he doubted that legislators would start debating the bill anytime soon. The House has yet to start or finalize the deliberation on a a number of bills that the government submitted last year or even earlier.
University of Indonesia constitutional law expert Jimly Asshiddiqie agreed that the government had little choice but to wait for the legislators to start working.
He advised against bypassing the present citizenship law with an ad-hoc government regulation, fearing that this would create damaging loopholes in the regulation without a law to back it up.
But he suggested that the government launch an anti-discrimination campaign to support the implementation of the new citizenship law.
February 8 2003
Jakarta eases the pressure on Chinese
By Matthew Moore
Indonesia is gradually winding back the elaborate system of discrimination against its Chinese citizens.
Foreign travellers arriving in Indonesia are still asked if they are carrying pornographic magazines or more than a litre of liquor, but the question asking if you possess material printed in Chinese has suddenly disappeared.
For the first time in nearly 40 years, this requirement to declare Chinese language books, magazines and newspapers has been scrapped.
In Indonesia’s bookstores, Chinese titles now sit side by side those in Indonesian and English. Until a few years ago, Chinese-Indonesian dictionaries could be sold only if they used Latin letters throughout.
Schools are now teaching children how to read and write with Chinese characters. Chinese films screen on television and in cinemas. Any town with a sizeable Chinese population has a Chinese radio station.
Everywhere there are public signs that the elaborate system of discrimination against Chinese Indonesians refined over decades by former president Soeharto is being gradually wound back. In the most dramatic gesture of all, President Megawati Soekarnoputri declared this year’s Chinese New Year, known as Imlek, would be a national holiday.
Jakarta’s Chinatown was once famous as the only Chinatown with no Chinese writing. Now it is festooned with banners and lanterns decorated in Indonesian and Chinese language welcoming the year of the sheep.
These new freedoms have helped begin to erase some of the bitterness and fear among the Chinese Indonesian community whose members were murdered and raped and had their businesses burnt in the nationwide riots of 1998.
But many Chinese say much of the change is gloss and predict full equality will only come with years of struggle.
At the heart of their resentment is the issue of identity.
Indonesian adult citizens must carry an identity card. If you are a Chinese Indonesian you cannot get one without first getting another identity document called an SKBRI (Republic of Indonesia Citizenship Certificate).
And if you are a Chinese Indonesian living in Jakarta the local Government insists you also have a card called a K-1.
Getting the SKBRI can require approval from a dozen Government institutions starting at the local neighbourhood administration office, moving through the local Government bureaucracy, on to the police, the courts and finally to the Ministry of Justice. In a country as corrupt as Indonesia, officials can seek bribes at every step.
“It’s a lengthy, costly, miserable process,” says head of the Chinese Indonesian Association Eddie Lembong.
In theory, no one should even need one any more as the SKBRI has been abolished by presidential decree, but the officials who still benefit from its existence are not about to forget it.
Without one, Mr Lembong says, Chinese still struggle to get into state universities, get credit from a bank, get a birth certificate for their children or a passport for themselves. Lawyer Frans Winarta, who founded anti-discrimination group GANDI to push for Chinese equality, says he has documented 64 separate but interwoven laws, regulations, presidential decrees and other instruments forbidding or restricting Chinese activities.
President Soeharto used them in part to force Chinese assimilation, calling on Chinese to abandon their “exclusiveness”, banning public practice of religion and cultural festivals.
Special rules applying to the Chinese were around long before Mr Soeharto seized power with the Dutch colonisers dividing the population into three categories, with Chinese included in one called “foreign orientals”.
Mr Winarta describes the decades of restrictions on Chinese language and culture as “a kind of cultural genocide” that poisoned Indonesian minds and left many believing all Chinese culture was bad.
“This sticks in the minds of so many people… even some of my friends who claim they are human rights advocates,” he says. Mr Winarta says even scrapping all the regulations would do little unless the Government and Chinese Indonesians work to overcome a legacy of discrimination.
The Jakarta Post
February 11, 2003
Reform is only skin deep
President Megawati Soekarnoputri and Chairman of the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) Amien Rais impressed many when they attended the Chinese New Year reception in Jakarta last week.
How could the public not be impressed?
The presence of the two top national leaders, both looking sleek in their Chinese attire befitting the occasion, lent credence to the country’s commitment to pluralism, and to respecting the rights of the Chinese, the country’s largest minority racial group, to observe their cultures and tradition.
This is the first time that Chinese New Year was made a national public holiday, as a recognition not only of the size of the Chinese community in Indonesia, but also of the important role it plays in the nation.
The many colorful lion and dragon dances performed in public places, banned during the Soeharto regime, are further testimony of the country’s improving race relations.
It is therefore easy to conclude that Indonesia has made significant progress during these last five years of Reformasi when it comes to race relations, especially with regard to the question of the ethnic Chinese here.
But as far as the reform credentials of both Megawati Soekarnoputri and Amien Rais, they probably do not go much deeper than the silk of the fine Chinese clothing they wore a few nights ago. They just look like “reformists”, but their commitment and actions are highly questionable.
Both Megawati and Amien’s rise to the national leadership is owed, in large part, to the 1998 reformation movement. They have both failed to address the question of racial discrimination that still exists in this country.
They could have used the reception last week to convey the message to those present, including many leading Chinese-Indonesian figures, of their commitment to wipe out all of the remaining discriminatory laws and regulations.
Instead, they have chosen not to act or comment, even while the issue has been fiercely debated in public during the observance of the Chinese New Year.
The bad news came from the government’s staff at the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, and the State Secretariat, who, amidst the debate,
dropped the bombshell last week: The racist rules are here to stay, at least for a little while longer.
Both government agencies pointed to the existing 1958 citizenship law as the basis of the government practice of requiring Indonesians of Chinese descent to obtain a court document as proof of citizenship (SBKRI). This rule is applied even if one is born in this country. Even if one’s parents already have the document, it is still required, and will likely be for one’s children and grandchildren.
The government says that as long as the 1958 law is not repealed, the practice will continue. The government is drafting a new legislation on citizenship, but with the House of Representatives flooded with more than 50 bills to deliberate, it will be a long time before the new law can be enacted, if ever.
This SBKRI ruling is one of about 60 other government rules and regulations that discriminate against Chinese-Indonesians on the basis of the color of their skin.
Sadly, going by the government’s attitude to ignore altogether the entire issue of discrimination against the Chinese community, it looks like changes, if they ever come, will only come slowly.
Most of the changes that we saw in the last five years have been largely cosmetic.
The Chinese already celebrated the New Year — albeit secretly — annually even when the government forbade an open display of their cultural expressions. A holiday to mark the new year is certainly welcome, but that is not the biggest issue confronting the Chinese community in Indonesia today.
Racism, and especially one that is institutionalized through laws and government regulations, is the challenge that needs our urgent attention.
Institutionalized racial discrimination, in turn, breeds the prejudices that still exist in our society. You eliminate the racist rules, you will gradually phase out these racial prejudices in society.
By ignoring the problem, and by refusing to revoke the laws and regulations, this government is not only condoning racism, it is also promoting and nurturing it.
This, in short, is a racist government.
All that we really needed in this campaign to eliminate racism was a strong political will from the top.
President Abdurrahman Wahid, perhaps the only true pluralist among present day leaders, started the process to eliminate racist laws and regulations after he was electd president in 1999. Sadly, he did not see his work completed as he was toppled prematurely in 2001.
President Megawati Soekarnoputri or MPR Chairman Amien Rais, who is a presidential hopeful himself, could have used the Chinese New Year reception last week as a platform to make their position on the issue clear. They chose not to.
But then, as we have learned about some of our leaders by now, their reform credentials are only skin deep.
February 20, 2003
Jakarta irks ethnic Chinese
By Richel Dursin
Bekasi, Indonesia (Inter Press Service) – “We’re Indonesians. Why do we have to get a citizenship certificate proving that we’re Indonesians?” asked Tjiong Tjoei Liong, 70.
Liong, his wife, three children and 14 grandchildren are among thousands of Chinese-Indonesians who are practically “stateless” because they do not have the document called the Republic of Indonesia Citizenship Certificate – mandatory only for Indonesians of ethnic Chinese origin.
In the small village here of Kampung Teko in Bekasi, West Java, where Liong and his family live, most residents do not possess the citizenship document, which is required to obtain identification cards. Kampung Teko is home to more than 100 poor Chinese-Indonesian families whose ancestors have lived here since the 1930s. Some of them work as farmers, motorcycle drivers, and hawkers.
Chinese-Indonesians, who make up 3-5 percent of the country’s 215 million, mostly Muslim population, have long protested against the citizenship-document requirement, which was technically abolished in 1996 by then-president Suharto, but still remains enforced today.
The requirement was introduced by the Suharto regime after the 1965 abortive coup, which Jakarta blamed on the Indonesian Communist Party that had strong links with the Chinese Communist Party.
Today, more than three decades that coup and seven years after Suharto reversed the requirement, authorities at the immigration and other government offices still require Chinese-Indonesians to present citizenship certificates when applying for documents such as passports.
They say they continue to do this because there are no implementation guidelines that enforce the revocation of the decree on citizenship documents for Chinese-Indonesians.
President Megawati Sukarnoputri, who declared the Lunar New Year day on February 1 a national holiday, has asked Justice and Human Rights Minister Yusril Ihza Mahendra to issue another decree abolishing the citizenship certificate requirements for Chinese-Indonesians.
But he said it would be “difficult and impossible” to do this in one go, not least because of security reasons.
He said a new citizenship bill must first be passed to remove legal uncertainty – but this bill, about to be deliberated upon by the House of Representatives, is of little comfort: it still contains articles requiring Indonesians of Chinese ethnicity to obtain the controversial document.
“The current draft of the citizenship bill is double-faced,” said Eddie Lembong, chairman of the Chinese-Indonesian Association (INTI). “We’re struggling to eradicate this state-mandated form of discrimination against Chinese-Indonesians.”
Lyang Ling, 23, who got her citizenship papers when she was barely eight years old, said, “We can’t understand why we must have the papers when in fact our grandparents and parents are Indonesians.”
“Requiring Chinese-Indonesians, even newborns, to get it creates only troubles,” said Lembong, reflecting resentment by many at having in effect to “prove” that they are as Indonesian as the next person.
State universities still require the citizenship document from Chinese-Indonesian applicants. Indigenous Indonesians only submit their birth certificates. Even private banks oblige Chinese-Indonesians to produce their citizenship papers when applying for loans.
Chinese-Indonesian expert Andrie Wongso said that the problem lies in a lack of technical instructions from high-ranking officials on how their subordinates should implement new decrees like the scrapping of the citizenship papers.
Others say the vagueness around the revocation of the need for these papers encourages corruption and extortion that many Chinese-Indonesians have to live with. “Extortion is rampant in the government,” said Gondomono, who is also deputy president for academic affairs of the Jakarta-based Darma Persada University.
Obtaining a citizenship certificate costs millions of rupiah, depending on the wealth of the claimants and requires significant effort and time.
Last year, renowned badminton player Hendrawan had a hard time getting a citizenship document even though he had represented Indonesia at many international events, including helping the country win last year’s Thomas Cup world men’s team championship. Hendrawan finally got the document, but only after Megawati intervened.
There are at least 12 bureaucratic institutions involved in the process of issuing the citizenship papers, according to data from the non-governmental group Solidaritas Nusa Bangsa.
In reality, critics say there is no need to wait for a new citizenship bill since the ruling revoking the citizenship document requirement for Chinese-Indonesians still holds.
For some, Mahendra’s reluctance to follow Megawati’s instructions is politic
ally motivated. Mahendra, who chairs the Crescent Star Party, plans to run in the 2004 direct presidential polls.
“It was already the president of Indonesia who asked for the elimination of the [citizenship papers] requirement. But how can a minister like Mahendra defy the president?” Lembong asked.
Ironically, Mahendra was born in Belitung, South Sumatra, where there are many Chinese-Indonesians, and can speak Hakka, a south Chinese language.
“If we want to get legal documents from the government, we must provide additional certification and pay higher fees,” said Guo Hui Xia, 26.
She says she still fears for her life when taking a public bus because of the gruesome series of violent attacks and rapes of ethnic Chinese women in 1998. “If I have to take a public bus, I have to think many times,” she said.
Those riots remain a painful episode for Chinese-Indonesians, often perceived to control a disproportionate amount of the economy despite the fact that many of them are struggling to make ends meet like other Indonesians.
Today, “there are 62 discriminative rulings against the Chinese ethnic community still valid in Indonesia”, said Ester Jusuf, chairperson of the non-government group Solidaritas Nusa Bangsa.
Other discriminatory laws against Indonesians of ethnic-Chinese origin include a decree by the Ministry of Religious Affairs, which does not include Confucianism or Konghucu among the country’s recognized beliefs.
Marriages between Konghucu believers are regarded as illegal and their children illegitimate unless the wedding ceremony is conducted by a Buddhist priest and witnessed by an official at the Religious Affairs Ministry, or they convert to one of the five religions recognized by the government – Islam, Catholicism, Christianity, Protestantism, Hinduism or Buddhism.
“We’re tired of being discriminated against. What we only want from the government and society is to treat us fairly. But we know that this is a thousand-mile journey,” Lembong said.
The Jakarta Post
April 3, 2003
‘Gross human rights abuse took place in May riots’
By Tiarma Siboro, Jakarta
The National Commission on Human Rights declared on Tuesday that gross human rights violations had occurred during massive riots in Jakarta in May 1998, which preceded the fall of long-time ruler Soeharto.
After carrying out an investigation for about two months, the commission’s ad hoc team, led by Solahuddin Wahid, concluded that “security authorities at that time failed to curb the widespread riots that took place simultaneously.”
The team also found that the riots erupted as a result of a specific policy, because of “a similar pattern at almost all places where the riots took place, which began with provocation, followed by an attack on civilians”.
During three nightmare days in the nation’s history, between May 12 and May 14, around 1,200 people were killed. Thousands of people attacked or looted shops, markets and housing estates during the violence. Mass rapes reportedly targeted ethnic Chinese.
The rioting followed mass demonstrations demanding the resignation of Soeharto, which were marked by the shooting dead of four Trisakti University students. He fulfilled the demands on May 21.
Solahuddin said that, during the last two months, his team had examined reports of a government-sanctioned, joint fact-finding team investigating the riots, which, until now, remains unheeded by law enforcers.
Solahuddin, also a younger brother of former president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid, said the team planned to collect more evidence by questioning several witnesses mentioned in the previous report, including the then Jakarta Military commander and Jakarta Police chief.
The team plans to submit the report to the House of Representatives.
Accompanying Solahuddin during the media conference were team deputy chairman Hasto Atmodjo and member M.M. Bilah.
Under the administration of president B.J. Habibie, also Soeharto’s hand-picked successor, the government established a joint team to investigate the May riots and, if possible, reveal the perpetrators and masterminds of the riots.
The 18-member team, which comprised representatives of the Indonesian Military (TNI), government institutions, the rights body and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), presented its report to the justice ministry, office of the state minister of women’s affairs, security and defense ministry, foreign ministry and the Attorney General’s Office.
The team confirmed that at least 66 women, mostly Chinese-Indonesians, were raped during the riots.
Former Jakarta Military commander Maj. Gen. Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin was the first official to testify to the investigative team. The team also questioned several military officers in charge at the time, including former Army’s Strategic Reserves Command chief Lt. Gen. (ret) Prabowo Subianto, former city police chief Maj. Gen. Hamami Nata and former TNI Intelligence Agency chief Maj. Gen. Zacky Anwar Makarim.
The team told the House in 2000 of its belief that there was a link between the unrest, the abduction of political activists and the killing of Trisakti University students by police officers.
But the House rejected public demands and declared no gross human rights violations had taken place in the incidents in Trisakti, Semanggi I in November 1998, and Semanggi II in September 1999. Consequently the House did not recommend the establishment of an ad hoc court to prosecute the suspects in the incidents.
The House further recommended the trial of civilian suspects at the district court and military and police suspects at the military tribunal.
May 9, 2003
It’s About Time
Almost exactly five years after the May 1998 riots that killed nearly 1,200 people in Jakarta, the government-sponsored National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) has finally said what everyone already knew: the riots were systematically organized.
However, Komnas HAM stopped short of naming the members of the military and political elite who masterminded that May 13-15 riots that precipitated the downfall of former dictator Suharto.
“[The riots] did not take place spontaneously, but were systematically planned for widespread mayhem,” Komnas HAM spokesman Enny Suprapto was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse on Thursday (8/5/03).
He said the riots were instigated by groups of provocateurs that encouraged mobs to loot shops and buildings.
The riots started a day after state security forces shot dead four students at the end of an anti-government protest at West Jakarta’s elite Trisakti University. The breakdown in security amid spiraling inflation and economic collapse resulted in Suharto resigning on May 21, 1998.
Although Suprapto declined to name those suspected of organizing the violence, he said a team of Komnas HAM investigators plans to question several high-ranking military and police officers who were in charge of security at the time of the mayhem.
Among those to be questioned are former Indonesian Armed Forces commander General Wiranto, former chief of the Army’s Strategic Reserve Command (Kostrad) Prabowo Subianto, and former Jakarta Military Police chief Major General Sjafrie Sjamsuddin.
Suprapto said the commission will send a letter to incumbent military commander General Endiartono Sutarto and ask a Jakarta district court to issue an order to summon the officers, by force if necessary.
Investigators won’t be able to question former Jakarta Police chief Inspector General Hamami Nata, who was responsible for the capital’s securit
y during the unrest, because he died on May 1 at the age of 57.
The Komnas HAM team said the riots were due to a power struggle among the country’s political forces and the deteriorating economic situation.
The main victims of the riots were looters who entered buildings and malls that were subsequently set alight and destroyed.
Also among the victims were ethnic Chinese, who have long been resented for their financial acumen. Hundreds of shops owned by ethnic Chinese were looted and destroyed during the riots.
Human rights activists say several hundred ethnic Chinese were killed and at least 168 ethnic Chinese females were systematically raped or gang-raped during the unrest.
The riots were first officially investigated by the so-called Joint Fact-Finding Team (TGPF), which established that some of the rioting had been provoked by individual members of the military under orders of some of their senior officers. However, the team said the military institution as whole could not be blamed.
TGPF head Marzuki Darusman on November 3, 1998, said that members of the military and the political elite were directly involved in the riots and had instigated the atrocities in the hope that by provoking chaos, they could justify the imposition of martial law.
One of the names mentioned as being responsible for the riots was then Sjafrie Sjamsuddin, who is now spokesman of the Indonesian Defense Forces.
The TGPF said it had verified 66 cases of rape were perpetrated during the riots, but could not say whether the crimes were organized or spontaneous. However, sources say the team failed to announce the full results of its investigations because of strong outside pressures.
Wiranto repeatedly insisted there was no evidence that mass rapes had taken place, although he later conceded that troops were “involved” in the riots.
The TGPF’s findings and recommendations were never acted on.
Several of the most momentous and bloody events of Indonesia’s history remain shrouded in mystery and have never been satisfactorily resolved.
Agence France Presse
May 16, 2003
Vice president reassures Indonesian Chinese on riots anniversary
Jakarta – Vice President Hamzah Haz reassured Indonesia’s ethnic Chinese on the anniversary of deadly anti-Chinese riots five years ago that they are fully part of the nation, it was reported Friday.
“You are Indonesian citizens of Chinese descent. Such similar perceptions of this should be built as you are part of the Indonesian nation,” Haz said in a Thursday evening prayer ceremony.
The ceremony was organised by the Chinese Reforms Party of Indonesia, the state Antara news agency said.
It commemorated the Jakarta riots of May 13-15, 1998 in which ethnic Chinese and their businesses in the Glodok district were a leading target. Thousands fled the country or transferred funds overseas following the violence.
Haz described the riots as a national tragedy. He urged ethnic Chinese Indonesians to repatriate funds to assist national economic recovery.
Indonesia’s official human rights commission said last week the riots were systematically planned.
It said it wanted to question senior military officers who were in charge of security in the capital at the time.
The riots, which broke out just before long-time dictator Suharto resigned, killed at least 1,100 people and destroyed 1,400 buildings, a previous state fact-finding team concluded.
Many victims were trapped inside burning buildings.
Demonstrations of Chinese culture were banned during Suharto’s rule.
The culture has reasserted itself since then and Lunar New Year has been declared a public holiday. But some ethnic Chinese, who account for about three percent of Indonesia’s 212 million people, still complain of discrimination.
Retailers still remember May tragedy five years later
By Arya Abhiseka, Jakarta
City News – May 13, 2003
Five years ago, Ibu Linda and her four daughters did not leave their home throughout the horrifying incidents of the May riots that triggered the downfall of despot Soeharto, especially after she had heard that some Chinese women had been raped.
“We stayed home for days and constantly watched television, praying that nothing horrible would ever happen to us,” she said.
She added that her electronics shop never crossed her mind, because the family’s safety was the only priority at that time.
She later found out that the electronics shop had been looted, leaving her with nothing.
Ibu Linda was among the hundreds of Chinese-Indonesian shopkeepers working in the city’s largest retail center of Glodok, West Jakarta, whose businesses were attacked by mobs as resentment against Indonesians of Chinese descent escalated during the riots of May 13 and May 14, 1998.
The May Tragedy, as it was widely known, brought about the fall of Soeharto’s 32-year dictatorship, which drove the country into both euphoria and violence.
The shooting of four Trisakti University students on May 12 ignited riots nationwide, particularly in the capital.
The riots mostly targeted the Chinese-Indonesian ethnic group, as many native Indonesians believed they had unfairly dominated the country’s economy.
“As soon as we heard that a mob had burned a gas station in Grogol, near Trisakti University in West Jakarta, the Glodok retail center closed,” explained Ngadimin, a retailer, of what happened in May 1998.
Ngadimin, who is of Chinese descent, said that he and many other vendors immediately closed their shops and left Glodok to take refuge at home.
He found out the next day on television that his shop and many others that were located on the ground floor of the retail center had been robbed.
“We did not dare return to the place for over a week,” he said. When he finally went to his store, all that was left of his shop was shattered glass from the display window.
“For about seven days straight, we had been hearing horrible stories, especially about the rape of Chinese women.
“I just couldn’t imagine it,” Ngadimin added.
During the authoritarian rule of Soeharto, the Chinese were restricted from the political arena because of communism. Part of Soeharto’s strategy to oust Indonesia’s first president Sukarno, was to blame Chinese Communists for allegedly assisting the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) in their attempt to take over the government in 1965.
Soeharto’s economic strategy was also limited to only a handful of close contacts, generally relatives, who were given opportunities in the country’s most important business sectors.
It was during this time that several Chinese-Indonesian businessmen took advantage of the situation to bribe their way into becoming Soeharto’s economic aides, to amass great personal wealth and stature while enjoying Soeharto’s protection.
This, in turn, heightened the resentment against Chinese-Indonesians, which spread to encompass all Chinese-Indonesians, even those in the middle and lower-middle classes.
As riots spread leading up to the fall of the New Order regime, the Chinese and their assets became a prime and easy target of prejudice, and the government, law enforcers and law practitioners often displayed a lack of political commitment to protect their rights.
The climax came in 1998, after the country had just been hit by the economic crisis, and some 5,000 homes, offices, shops and malls, mostly belonging to Chinese-Indonesians, were reportedly looted and burned. The total amount of losses has been estimated at about Rp 2.5 trillion (US$280
“I lost everything in 1998. Even now, I am cautious of what may happen in the future, especially because the upcoming general elections will be held next year,” said Alex, another electronics vendor.
Alex said that he and fellow retailers could not plan for any contingencies, since insurance companies refused to insure his goods, due to the events of the May Tragedy.
“For centuries, my family has been in the trading business — it is all we know. For now, we can only pray that history will not repeat itself,” he said.
A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission – AHRC
Due to harassment by militia gangs and political elites connected to the Soeharto military rule, Indonesia’s first preliminary investigations into the 1965-66 Massacre and the 1998 May Riot by the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) are both in danger of being shelved. The Commission was given a limited six-month timeframe to complete these inquiries. The period, which comes to a close on 15 May 2003, itself should be extended as it would be impossible for the execution of a proper and credible investigation; however, both of these inquiries have come under immense pressure to be terminated. Furthermore, the Commission has been pressured to make compromising recommendations calling for amnesty-based reconciliation efforts. Failure of the continuation of the inquiry will only reinforce and exacerbate the culture of impunity that continues to cloud the Indonesian government since the Soeharto regime.
Under the direction of General Soeharto, between 1965-66 approximately 500,000 to two million people alleged to be communists were murdered, tortured, detained and abused by military order. In May 1998, 1,217 unarmed Indonesians, most of whom were Chinese Indonesian, were killed and 66 raped in riots organized by the military its final attempt to maintain Soeharto’s power.
Though both these military instigated massacres are well known in the domestic and international community, none of those engaged in the crime, including Soeharto and his cohorts, have been prosecuted. Authorities have ignored evidence compiled by families of the victims, eyewitness reports and the uncovering of dozens of skeletons from mass graves. In particular to the 1965 Massacre, for years AHRC and other organizations have been calling for a thorough investigation, as the Massacre constitutes a crime against humanity, impunity for which completely undermines the entire Indonesian justice system. AHRC has also noted that unless there are serious and persistent efforts towards truth, justice, reconciliation regarding this massacre, there can be no hope for human rights, rule of law or democracy in Indonesia.
AHRC commended the initiation of the overdue investigation process overdue of this essential preliminary investigation, but there is concern that threats will undermine or even terminate the inquiry process. Investigators have received threats via phone and General Wiranto demanded that the investigation into Soeharto-era be ended. A 500-strong militia gang protested at the Komnas HAM headquarters, threatening grave violence if the investigation into the 1965 case continued. Top-level professors from the University of Indonesia have lobbied the Commissioner to keep silent about the massacre. Furthermore, there are concerns that some of the commissioners themselves have a personal interest in stopping the investigation because of their personal relationship to the Soeharto years, and as some of them were selected by Soeharto himself. Termination of the inquiry, however, is not an option if justice is to be achieved. Even from the beginning of the investigation, anonymous persons were threatening the Commission, but the Commission must persevere and complete the inquiry if it seeks to be seen as credible.
AHRC has also noted the difficulty the team would face to do a credible job in exhuming the many mass graves identified by the late human rights activist for the disappeared in Indonesia Ibu Sulami and other human rights defenders within the limited few month timeframe. The 1966 mass grave unearthed in November 2000 in Wonosobo, Central Java and the 1968 mass grave exposed in August 2002 in Blitar, East Java have yet to be investigated by the Commission. In fact only two locations – Buru Island prison camp and in Semarang, Central Java – were investigated by the team, leaving countless mass graves untouched. Even this minuscule part of the crime should be enough to warrant a much deeper investigation, as necessary for any gross violation of human rights. In addition to the inadequate timeframe, resources necessary for a proper investigation were not provided.
For years AHRC has continued to raise concern over how failure to bring the person and agencies responsible for the 1965-66 Massacre has resulted in a culture of impunity in Indonesia. The failure of the state to investigate or prosecute perpetrators has resulted in their enjoyment of de facto impunity, no redress to the victims, and general loss of public faith in the administration of justice in Indonesia. If the National Human Rights Commission is to fulfill its mandate to encourage the promotion and protection of human rights, in spite of threats, the Commission must take all the necessary time and measures to investigate the November 2000 and August 2002 mass graves, in addition to the dozens of mass gravesites identified by human rights defenders.
Asian Human Rights Commission – AHRC, Hong Kong
May riot rally blocked by police
By Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak, Jakarta
City News – May 16, 2003
About 200 victims of the May 1998 riots were forced by police to change the route of their march on Tuesday to commemorate the fifth year of the tragedy.
Officers from the Central Jakarta Police blocked off Jl. Kramat Raya and dispersed the rally participants an hour after they left Atrium Plaza en route to the Megaria movie theater, one of the locations destroyed in the riots.
“The police said we were late in informing them about the event. They said they need to receive notice three days before an event takes place,” the chairman of the march’s organizing committee, Wignyo, a member of Solidaritas Nusa Bangsa, said.
Due to the police’s actions, the rally participants — victims of the May 13 to May 15 riots, activists from the New Order era and victims of the 1965 massacres — had to end their march at the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute office on Jl. Diponegoro instead of at Proklmasi Monument on Jl. Proklamasi.
“We are here to demand the government resolve all past human rights abuses, which is the most substantial requirement of the reform process,” Wignyo said.
The May riots, which followed the shooting deaths by the police of four Trisakti University students taking part in nationwide protests to demand the resignation of former president Soeharto, are regarded as a vital event in the country’s reform movement.
The authoritarian Soeharto stepped down on May 21, but the riots — which were fueled by anti-Chinese sentiment — had already claimed 1,217 lives, according to the Volunteer Team for Humanity.
The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) only recently established an ad hoc team to investigate the riots. It will summon for questioning next week several high-ranking military officers who were in charge of security during the violence.
According to the initial findings of Komnas HAM, the state committed gross violations of the people’s rights during the May riots. This finding is based on the fact that no security officers were present to prevent the looting, burning of shops and houses, and rape.
Many witnesses have said that smartly dressed men with walkie-talkies were seen in different locations of the city provoking people to burn shops, even providing jerry cans of gasoline.
Ori Rahman of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), who is also a member of Komnas HAM’s ad hoc team, told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday the facts of the riots alone were sufficient to bring the case to a human rights tribunal, because they prove a conspiracy systematically to quash the people’s movement.
Events and aftermath of the May 1998 riots
May 12, 1998: Four Trisakti University students are shot and killed by security forces.
May 13-15, 1998: Mass riots in Jakarta, Medan, Palembang, Lampung and Surakarta. A total of 1,217 people die in the riots.
May 21, 1998: Soeharto resigns as president, is replaced by vice president B.J. Habibie.
Nov. 13, 1998: Protesters opposed to a Special Session of the People’s Consultative Assembly are fired on. A total of 17 people are killed and 456 injured
1999: A government-sanctioned fact-finding team is established to investigate the May riots. Its unpublished findings reveal that at least 66 women, mostly Chinese-Indonesians, were raped during the upheaval.
Sept. 22-24, 1999: Protesters opposed to the imposition of an emergency bill are fired on. Nine people are killed.
June 18, 2001: A military court is called to try 11 members of the police’s Mobile Brigade for the Trisakti shootings. Only nine suspects appear.
July 9, 2001: The House of Representatives finds no human rights abuses occurred in the Trisakti shootings, the Nov. 13, 1998 shootings or the September 1999 shootings. The House refused to include the May riots in its inquiry because it said those events were not related to the shootings.
January 2003: The National Commission on Human Rights sets up an ad hoc team to investigate the May riots.
The Jakarta Post
June 16, 2003
Ignoring May 1998: Impunity continues
By Ati Nurbaiti, Staff Writer, Jakarta
An infant has been born out of rape, at least one rape victim is mentally ill and 20 others have died, including by suicide. Many still mourn for missing relatives. This is just a small part of the legacy from the May 1998 riots, which has joined other mysteries in our history.
To little enthusiasm, last month the National Commission for Human Rights announced it was reopening the investigation into the riots. On June 3 the National Commission for Violence Against Women released a new book on the tragedy, Disangkal! Tragedi Mei 1998 Dalam Perjalanan Bangsa (Denied! The 1998 May tragedy in the nation’s course).
It is painful reading. One survivor says she hopes to become a plastic surgeon to help other women — she was one of two women forced by four men into a van on May 14, 1998, where their breasts were cut off.
In the tragedy, at least 1,200 died, mainly in burning shopping centers in a number of cities. A week after the riots, triggered by the fatal shooting of four students at a peaceful rally, Soeharto stepped down as president.
There has been little hope of solving the mystery of May 1998, for a number of reasons. First, cases piled on top of other cases, both old and new, leaving no room to decide which to forget and which to pursue.
The “reform” euphoria quickly faded in the face of so much to cope with — the announcement by the human right’s commission that it was reopening the case came amid still confusing plans for next year’s elections and a war in Aceh, while the economic crisis is yet to abate.
The challenge in reopening the case will precisely be because it is a strong candidate to be forgotten. What makes the 1998 riots difficult to face is that it involves sexual assault and rape, mostly targeting Chinese-Indonesians.
It means facing the issue of racism, which is so uncomfortable that “it wouldn’t do” to open up the wounds of victims and survivors. This is despite the fact that a team set up by the government concluded that the May tragedy was well-planned and systematic. Sociologist Ariel Heryanto has written that “rape has not been part of a public expression of hatred”, echoing observations that the perpetrators likely had some prior conditioning.
Ariel and others have pointed out how the May riots were a horrible display of political violence, though far from new, and that racism happened to be a convenient tool.
Yet while there are many confirmed testimonies of the May riots being orchestrated, many here may think that precious time and energy may be better spent on things other than reopening a case that will nag them about their feelings on racism.
The attacks on Chinese-owned shops and Chinese-looking women were surely based on the assumption of existing prejudices against this minority, and what offended people was the impression that people resented the Chinese so much that they raped them.
It was rather surprising and deeply saddening that this feeling of offense dominated public discourse, oblivious to how the victims and survivors must have felt. The evil masterminds of the riots must have watched the ensuing mudslinging with glee. Many pointed to the “exclusivity” of the Chinese resulting in “social jealousy”, others said that the riots and reports of hundreds of gang rapes were meant to discredit the majority of society, the Muslims.
The debates went on and on while such arguments failed to explain why women were sexually assaulted — though a few feminists attempted to point out that rape is a regular, ancient tool for conquering the enemy — and activists quietly fumed over the fact that scores of urban poor, who died in infernos, were stigmatized as “looters”, buried in unmarked graves and forgotten.
Much of the coverage centered on locating evidence of reported gang rapes, and resentment grew against activists when the fact-finding team finally came in with the official number of “only” 56 rape cases. Numbers became vital — in one alleged rape case a woman turned out to have been “only stripped in public, not raped”, went one report. Activists were also accused of having a hidden agenda because they would not identify victims of rape and sexual assault to investigators or the media.
The emotional discourse ignored not only the victims and survivors, but greatly hampered the public’s capacity to understand the vulnerability of our society to ugly political games and provocation and the violence that these entailed.
Another related issue left unaddressed is the vulnerability of women here to be used as tools to silence the enemy, as has occurred in conflict areas across the country.
That vulnerable people are repeatedly selected for convenient targets was not lost on women — the above book reminds us how leading women such as psychologist Saparinah Sadli faced then president B.J. Habibie and demanded a public apology. On June 16 1998, Habibie declared that the government condemned and apologized for the riots and the losses entailed; that the government would immediately form a joint fact-finding team; and that the government would immediately set up a National Commission for Violen
ce Against Women, later chaired by Sadli.
In a recent interview with The Jakarta Post, Father Sandyawan Sumardi, among the activists assisting survivors of the May riots, said that survivors no longer hoped for compensation or to have the stigma of being labeled looters lifted from them. They even seem to hold out little hope for justice. Since May 1998, as the country witnessed an unprecedented spread of communal conflict, the survivors seemed to know better.
The priest said the survivors wanted “a total renewal of the whole system in society, so such a tragedy would not happen again in the future and the circle of violence would stop”.
They seem to be aware of the common sense of despair that anyone will be held accountable for even one of the many vicious crimes here. Without investigations into such violent incidents as the May tragedy, the circle of violence indeed continued — masses can be mobilized, at least to riot, while a few dozen groups can be trained to victimize any convenient target, even to merely create chaos, to make a point.
And, of course, they walk free.
The Jakarta Post
June 16, 2003
‘Ethnic Chinese parties unlikely to win in 2004’
By A’an Suryana, Jakarta
Political parties affiliated to the ethnic Chinese community in the country will not be able to gain major political support in the 2004 general election as happened in the past, says a prominent expert.
The grim prediction was attributed to the fact that in the 1999 election, such parties were unable to grow and did not gain sufficient votes to win any seats in the House of Representatives, provincial and regency legislatures, said Leo Suryadinata.
“The same experience will likely repeat in the next elections,” he told reporters after a discussion on ethnic Chinese in Indonesia and the launching of his book Negara dan Etnis Tionghoa: Kasus Indonesia (The State and Ethnic Chinese: Indonesia’s case) at J.W. Marriott hotel here.
The function itself was jointly coordinated by private think tank Sugeng Sarjadi Syndicated and the Chinese-Indonesian Association (INTI).
There are at least two Chinese-based political parties — the Indonesia Bhinneka Party (PBI) and the Tionghoa Reform Party (Parti).
The PBI could steal one seat in West Kalimantan provincial legislature.
Suryadinata added that another factor impeding Chinese-based political parties in gaining enough votes in the next election was the growing belief, even within the Chinese community itself, that the parties would not gain enough votes in the election, which then could assure that their constituents’ interests were given attention.
“Chinese-Indonesian voters will prefer to cast their votes for major nationalist parties that have already established a prominent position in the national political landscape, such as the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan), to fight for their political aspirations,” said Suryadinata, also a lecturer at the National University of Singapore (NUS).
There are currently six million Chinese-Indonesians, out of a total population of 215 million Indonesians.
Most Chinese-Indonesians are not interested in politics since their focus has always been on business, one reason why they have dominated the Indonesian economy, especially the retail sector.
Political apathy, together with the community’s small size, has left Chinese-Indonesians on the periphery of Indonesian politics.
Separately, Syamsuddin Harris, a political expert of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, shared Suryadinata’s views.
He said that it would be difficult for such parties to gain political support from people of other ethnic groups.
“Even, Islamic parties themselves, representing the majority of the people, have been unable to win a single majority in the previous elections,” Syamsuddin told The Jakarta Post.
The Muslim people have been divided into numerous Islamic and nationalist parties.
Besides, the absence of political support from other ethnic groups, Syamsuddin said, that any parties affiliated to Chinese-Indonesians would face difficulties in coming to power in the future.
“The Chinese-Indonesians may not vote for PBI or Parti, for fear that they and the parties will be labeled as exclusive by the majority. Therefore, it would be more beneficial for them to vote for nationalist parties,” said Syamsuddin.
The Jakarta Post
July 20, 2003
Tionghoa dalam Pusaran Politik
(Chinese-Indonesians in the Political Whirlwind)
by Benny G. Setiono, ELKASA, no publication year, 1,139 pages
Book Review by Lie Hua, Contributor, Jakarta
First impression: This is really a tome, in the real sense of the word. When you consider the topic of discussion, it must be agreed that a book 10 times as thick as this one would not be enough to make an exhaustive discussion of the subject.
Chinese-Indonesians have their roots in this country as far back as the 9th century A.D., when they began to arrive on this foreign shore in search of a new life. Although the biggest waves of Chinese immigrants were recorded in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, for over 1,200 years, Chinese-Indonesians have been part of the Indonesian people, albeit with a great many changes in fortune.
This book is interesting reading because it sets the discussion of the lives of Chinese-Indonesians against the backdrop of Indonesia’s history. Readers can find the history of this country unfolding before them and at the same time observe how Chinese immigrants became established in this country.
A period of over 12 centuries is long enough for the inter-relationship to develop between Chinese immigrants, their descendants and the indigenous Indonesians, especially considering that the first batches of Chinese immigrants were males.
They married indigenous Indonesian women, with these unions further strengthening ties between the newcomers and native Indonesians.
Understandably, Chinese-Indonesians have played a role alongside indigenous Indonesians in the historical stage of this country. There are quite a lot of examples in this respect and readers can find a fascinating description of how Chinese-Indonesians have helped shape the history of this archipelago.
One obvious example is the contribution of Chinese-Indonesians to the development of the Indonesian language. As Chinese immigrants first settled in coastal areas and conducted trading activities, they used Malay as the medium of communication, thereby helping in its spread throughout the archipelago.
Linguistically, this kind of Malay — the vernacular language — is called Low Malay, in contrast to High Malay, the language used by more educated people. It is this Malay that later developed as the present Indonesian language. Many things can be explored in the language area that can show the important role that Chinese immigrants played in the development of the Indonesian language.
The book also gives copious examples of Chinese-Indonesian literature, as well as evidence of Chinese-Indonesians’ interest in and concern for Indonesian affairs in general.
Another interesting feature of the book is its lengthy discussion of the group’s participation on Indonesia’s political stage, a subject which, as the title suggests, must be the main reason for the writing of this book. In all phases of Indonesian history — before and after the country’s declaration of independence on Aug. 17, 1945 — there are records of Chinese-Indonesians’ participation.
The book also gives quite a detailed account of how Dutch col
onial rule segregated Chinese-Indonesians from other Indonesians. To be sure, this “divide and rule” policy has left a legacy of unreasonable spite against Chinese-Indonesians.
Unfortunately, as the book says, Chinese-Indonesians used to be divided into two camps — the assimilationists and the integrationists. The former believed that Chinese-Indonesians had to abandon all things Chinese and assimilate into Indonesian culture.
The latter countered by saying that Chinese-Indonesians had to be integrated into the Indonesian community. While retaining their Chinese tradition and mores, they, just like any other ethnic group in multi-ethnic Indonesia, would naturally become part of the Indonesian nation. Forcing them to assimilate would always lead to the “Chinese issue”. Their argument was that Chinese-Indonesians had lived alongside indigenous Indonesians for hundreds of years without causing much trouble.
Of course, the presence of Chinese-Indonesians is a fact and in the reform era, it must not be manipulated for certain political motives. During the New Order era, the ruling regime issued many regulations that prohibited Chinese-Indonesians from sticking to their tradition and mores.
Instead of settling the problem once and for all, the issue remained a thorn in the side of national development of the country. The discriminative regulations just highlighted the government’s “special” treatment of Chinese-Indonesians.
If Chinese-Indonesians are allowed to lead their lives normally like every other ethnic group in Indonesia — reward them for their merits and punish them for their transgressions — the issue would disappear by itself.
The book does not explicitly say this, but it is the message that one can interpret after examining the saga of Chinese-Indonesians and how they have fared in their adopted homeland.
One word of warning: If you want to really digest the book, read it slowly and carefully as it contains a huge number of names that interact to weave a mosaic of how Chinese-Indonesians have fared during their many centuries in Indonesia.
Despite the cynicism of their countrymen, many of them have silently devoted their lives to increased prosperity and glory of this country. Their traces can be found in many aspects of life in this country, ranging from language, to architecture and food.
Such a thorough and detailed work is only to be expected from Benny, himself a Chinese-Indonesian and the founder of the Tionghoa Indonesia Association (INTI) and the Center for the Study of Nationality Issues (ELKASA).
The Jakarta Post
September 1, 2003
Wibowo strides between two worlds
By T.Sima Gunawan, Contributor, Jakarta
The problems of the Chinese in Indonesia are quite complicated. It seems the Chinese are doing well here as some of them have managed to develop business empires and even become conglomerates.
But the anti-Chinese riots in 1998, which later forced president Soeharto to step down, provide clear evidence that things are actually not as good as they look.
But at the beginning, that was not the reason why Ignatius Wibowo became a sinologist. In the late 1970s, he became a student at the University of Indonesia, majoring in Chinese Literature, because he was told to do so — not by his parents, but by his “supervisor”.
“Yes, I am a Jesuit priest,” said the 51-year-old man. He was directed to take Chinese studies to help try to find out why in such a great land, so few people believed in Christ.
The more he learned about China, the more interested he became. “It’s interesting and challenging,” he said.
He later enrolled in the graduate study program of the School of Political Sciences and the postgraduate program in Chinese politics.
Wibowo, a lecturer at the University of Indonesia, still preaches at Jakarta Cathedral once every month or two, the only time when he wears his clerical garb.
“Speaking before my students is much easier. I know exactly what they need and what to say. But I don’t know what the congregation have in their mind. I don’t know if they like my preaching or not, and I can’t use the sort of scientific terms that I use with my students. I have to … you know, it’s like changing my way of speaking,” he told The Jakarta Post last Monday.
Wibowo is the director of the Center for Chinese Studies, which has published two books and issues a bimonthly newsletter called Djeroek Poeroet. Once a month, it holds a discussion on Chinese issues in cooperation with QBWorld.
The center, which is in the process of setting up a website, was set up in 1999 to address issues affecting both mainland China and the ethnic Chinese in Indonesia.
“I am surprised that so little attention is paid to such major issues,” he said.
He observed that this lack of knowledge on the issues involved makes Indonesia unable to address them properly. “For example, the tremendous economic development of China … we can feel the impact in the form of an influx of cheap products here. Because we don’t really know what’s happened there, we might respond negatively by accusing them of unfair business practices, or even of attempting to destroy our economy,” he said.
“We would be able to respond more positively if we could reduce our image of China as a threat and instead build a better, more constructive relationship with China.”
According to Wibowo, the problems of the ethnic Chinese in Indonesia was another issue, but it has the cultural affinity.
“Understanding the problems of mainland China helps us to understand the problems here,” he said.
One of the biggest problems for the ethnic Chinese in Indonesia is confusing about their identity and how to position themselves in local society. There are some Chinese who still find it hard to adapt Indonesian society, while others have managed to integrate themselves well in the local milieu. “But the latter were also the victims of the May riots, which shows that the Indonesian people themselves have not fully accepted them.”
Despite the national motto of unity in diversity, the Chinese are not regarded as being on a par with other ethnicities like the Javanese, the Ambonese or the Batak people as the Chinese do not have a clearly defined territory, he said. “Once I asked a man if he was Chinese. But, instead of admitting he was Chinese, he said `I am Bandung man’.”
And how about Wibowo himself?
“I don’t really care about my identity. My Chinese blood, let’s say is about 20 percent. I have a Javanese grandparent, and from my mother, I also have Dutch blood,” said Wibowo
“One’s identity is subjective and identifying someone by the color of his skin is basic racism,” he said.
Born in Ambarawa, Central Java, in 1952, he grew up in Surakarta where he developed a fondness for wayang shadow puppet shows, Javanese traditional gamelan orchestras, and Javanese dance.
Wibowo, who lives in a house in Central Jakarta with seven seminarians, leads a modest life. He takes the train to his university in Depok, and hires a taxi only when necessary. Three times a week, early in the morning, he spends half an hour or so walking briskly around the block to keep fit. In his spare time, he reads, plays the organ or visits friends for a chat or a talk.
He said he is concerned about what he called the spirit of anti-intellectualism among scholars due to the lack of drive to deepen their knowledge and engage in research. They tended to quote foreign experts and only a few of them could contribute new thinking, he regretted.
Wibowo is currently conducting a comparative study on investment policies in China and Indonesia — how China can attract so many investors while Indonesia is being shunned. He takes the view
that China is successful because of collusion between investors and the authoritarian government. “Investors do not care whether a country is democratic or authoritarian. What counts is profits,” he said.
“But my research is still at an early stage,” he quickly added.
He enjoys his work very much, finding scientific activities “stupefying”. “They can make you crazy,” he said, laughing.
The Jakarta Post
September 16, 2003
Expert, activists seek end to state-sponsored discrimination
By Kurniawan Hari, Jakarta
Analysts and human right groups urged the government on Monday to end “state-sponsored discrimination” of Chinese-Indonesians and family members of suspected communist party members, rather than wasting more time on a mostly “toothless” truth and reconciliation commission.
“Ending all discriminatory policies would do far more good than establishing a truth and reconciliation commission,” Ikrar Nusa Bhakti of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) told legislators in a hearing here on Monday.
Currently, the House of Representatives (DPR) is deliberating a bill on the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission to deal with past human rights abuses in the country, but activists claim it has all come too late.
Citing “state-sponsored discrimination” against Indonesians of Chinese descent and relatives of former members of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), Ikrar said putting an end to government racism and political biases would promote reconciliation without the need to establish a special commission.
Chinese-Indonesians, for instance, are still required to obtain a special letter issued, ironically, by the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, which specifically states their ethnicity, along with dozens of other government policies that are designed to discriminate against them. As such they are barred from most government institutions.
Children and relatives of former PKI members have their IDs marked, making it almost impossible for them to obtain a job with government institutions as civil servants. The PKI was blamed by then Maj. Gen. Soeharto and his military colleagues for a coup d’etat attempt in 1965, and that incident led to the ascension of Soeharto as president, as well as hundreds of thousands of brutal deaths of suspected PKI supporters throughout the country.
Munarman, director of the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI), said the House should have begun deliberation on the truth and reconciliation commission right after Soeharto’s downfall. Current talks on the creation of such a commission had lost momentum, he added.
“The implication is that most articles in the bill are just technical matters regarding the work of the truth commission,” Munarman added.
Fellow activist Robertus Robert criticized the bill, saying that the power given to the truth commission was too insignificant to make much of a difference.
According to Robert, with such limited powers as stipulated in the bill, the truth and reconciliation commission would be as “toothless” as the ad hoc inquiry committee set up by the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM).
In the proposed bill, the truth and reconciliation commission is only in charge of investigating and revealing human rights violations and promoting reconciliation between the victims and perpetrators.
With such limited powers, the commission would never be able to perform its tasks, he said.
Legislator Sidharto Danusubroto meanwhile said that the bill on the truth and reconciliation commission was important and lawmakers planned to “hear more input from society.”
“We plan to spend two months to hold hearings with elements in society and government officials. If necessary, all presidential candidates must explain their opinions (on the planned commission) in hearings,” Sidharto said.
Some articles in the bill:
- Article 4: The Commission functions to disclose the truth over gross human rights violation and to seek reconciliation.
- Article 6: The Commission coordinates with the court to summon victims, perpetrators, or others for clarification and get documents either from civilian, military, or private institutions.
- Article 26: Compensation and rehabilitation can be given (to the victims) should the request for amnesty (from the perpetrators) be approved.
- Article 43: The Commission works for a period of three years and may be extended for another two years.
Source: Truth and Reconciliation Commission Bill
Reopening the May Riots & Power Struggle
September 23, 2003 11:31 PM, Editor
Laksamana.Net – As the trial of 11 military officers accused of involvement in the 1984 Tanjung Priok massacre got underway on September 15, the ad hoc team investigating the Jakarta riots of May 1998 released its final findings on the mass unrest allegedly engineered by some of ex-president Suharto’s powerful generals.
Head of the investigation team, Solahuddin Wahid, told reporters the May 13-15 riots were the result of systematic planning, attested by the facts that most of the violence was targeted at “a particular ethnic group” [read – ethnic Chinese] and that authorities failed to contain the mayhem, thus allowing the riots to spread.
The ad hoc team, which was set up by the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), identified some 20 military officers and civilians as being behind the disturbances. But the team has so far declined to publicly name the officers believed to have instigat ed the riots.
Despite that, the team’s findings could pave the way for bringing to trial several generals, including former Armed Forces commander Wiranto and former Strategic Reserve Command (Kostrad) chief Prabowo Subianto.
If the Attorney General’s Office follows Solahuddin’s recommendation to form an
investigation team with a view to bringing prosecutions, it’s possible that the full extent of the old personal rivalries among the high-ranking generals of Suharto’s inner circle could be revealed.
During the 32-year authoritarian rule of Suharto, certain scheming generals at times engineered unrest and chaos as a means of bringing about the downfall of their rivals. This was part of the power struggle within the military structure and hierarchy.
It goes without saying that a couple of weeks prior to the downfall of Suharto on May 21, 1998, the personal rivalry between Wiranto and Prabowo intensified when it appeared inevitable that the long- serving president would be forced to resign.
The killing of four students at West Jakarta’s Trisakti University during an anti-Suharto rally on May 12 was the trigger that sparked three days of mass riots in Jakarta that left 1,217 people dead, mostly looters trapped in burning buildings. Dozens of ethnic Chinese women and girls were victims of a campaign of systematic mass rapes.
In the aftermath of the violence, rumors flew about that the chaos had been orchestrated by Prabowo to show that Wiranto was incapable of maintaining law and order.
Many pundits at the time speculated that Prabowo had unleashed the violence in an effort to usurp Wiranto’s control of the Armed Forces. They later felt their speculation was justified after Prabowo was discharged from the military in August 1998 for his role in the abduction and torture of anti-Suharto activists.
This accuracy of this theory is debatable, given its tendency to hold Prabowo as the sole pe rson responsible for masterminding the May riots.
Wiranto, who at the time of the unrest held sway over district military command
s in the nation’s most vital provinces, later signaled that the riots must have been provoked to a certain extent, at the very least by the people who had incited the mobs on the streets.
In August 1998 he acknowledged that elements of the military were “involved” in the riots. At one point he reportedly said the identities of those behind the rioting were known, although their names could not yet be made public.
But ironically it was Prabowo – the man most often blamed for the Trisakti killings and the May riots – who was the first officer to mention the possibility that the violence had been deliberately instigated to destabilize the government.
Prabowo’s side of the story, which was later reported in Tajuk magazine (15/10/1998), naturally suggested he was not the mastermind behind the riots as had been impl ied by some of his military rivals. His strong denials of any wrongdoing were further elaborated in an extensive interview published in the May 3, 2000, edition of the now defunct Asiaweek magazine.
So who did Prabowo think was responsible the riots? He didn’t mention any names, but his close friend Achmad Sumargono did.
Sumargono, a strict Muslim with strong anti-Chinese views, is chairman of the Indonesian Committee for World Muslim Solidarity (KISDI). He did not preclude the possibility that former Armed Forces commander and intelligence chief Benny Murdani was the mastermind behind the riots, pointing to a secret meeting he had allegedly held prior to the unrest.
However, no hard evidence has ever been put forward to give any great credence Sumargono’s theory.
For the sake of historical comparisons, says one military analyst, much of the violence that took place during the Suharto era can be reasonably explained as the result of pow er struggles within the military.
A case in point is the mayhem that erupted in Jakarta on January 15, 1974, when a massive student demonstration against the corruption of Suharto and his generals transformed into deadly anti-Japanese rioting.
The riots, which were to become known as Malari (Malapetaka limabelas Januari – the January 15 Disaster), marked a power struggle between two powerful Army generals within Suharto’s inner circle: Ali Murtopo and Sumitro.
Sumitro, who at the time had been deputy Armed Forces commander and chief of the Operational Command for the Restoration of Security and Order (Kopkamtib), was forced to resign after the riots.
Sumitro’s undoing (or miscalculation) was his lenient attitude toward student protests in the months preceding Malari and his refusal to suppress the mass demonstration on January 15. His behavior raised suspicion that he had sought to erode the position of rival officers, such as intellige nce chief Murtopo and Armed Forces commander General Maraden Panggabean.
In his 1994 autobiography ghostwritten by Ramadhan KH entitled Dari Pangdam Mulawarman Sampai Pangkopkamtib (From Chief of the Mulawarman Regional Military Command to Chief of the Operational Command for the Restoration of Security and Order), Sumitro suggested that his enemies within military had plotted against him and prevented him from acting instantly to regain control of the situation in Jakarta.
The first official investigation into the 1998 May riots commenced on July 23, 1998, with the formation of a Joint Fact-Finding Team (TGPF) chaired by Golkar politician Marzuki Darusman, who at the time was a deputy chairman of Komnas HAM.
The team was composed of 19 members, including military officers, senior civil servants from various ministries, Komnas HAM members, and representatives of non-government organizations.
One important piece of evidence came f rom the head of Armed Forces’ Strategic Intelligence Agency (BIA) Major General Zacky Anwar Makarim, who told the team that since April there had been indications that something in the order of the May riots was brewing. He said BIA had warned the military authorities, including those in Jakarta, of the possibility of large-scale unrest.
Makarim added that sensing an escalation on May 11, BIA had warned that whatever happened there should be no martyrs. The following day, the four Trisakti students were killed and immediately dubbed as “martyrs of the reform movement”.
It was probably Makarim’s statement on his early warnings to military authorities that prompted TGPF to recommend the prosecution of two Army generals.
One was Jakarta Military Command chief Sjafrie Sjamsuddin, who was responsible for the capital city’s security. TGPF ‘s final report accused him of having failed to take sufficient action to prevent and contain the rioting, which could h ave been anticipated.
The other general named by TGPF was Prabowo. The team’s report also concluded the rioting had been organized to create an emergency situation with the aim of enabling Suharto to invoke special powers granted to him two months earlier by the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) to take any action deemed necessary to restore order.
TPGF announced its findings on November 3, 1998. Almost five years later, Komnas HAM’s ad hoc investigation team announced findings that were essentially little different.
Komnas HAM chairman M.M. Billah said the team’s findings confirmed that security officers failed act appropriately during the May riots. “There was also a tendency to let the riots occur by not diverting the mobs away from the riot scenes or preventing the riots from spreading,” he added.
The one crucial difference between TGPF’s findings and Komnas HAM’s findings apparently lies in the identity of the masterminds.
TPGF , by referring to a meeting of between 20 and 30 people that had taken place on the evening of May 14 at Kostrad headquarters, tended to view Prabowo as logically the person most likely to have organized the riots.
The official summary of the TGPF report did not directly refer to him as the mastermind, but it recommended the Kostrad meeting be investigated “to find out the role of Prabowo and other parties in the process which led to the riots”.
Among those who attended the meeting were: Prabowo, Kostrad chief of staff Kivlan Zein, Special Forces (Kopassus) chief Muchdi Purwopranjono, Golkar politician Fahmi Idris, Prabowo’s brother tycoon Hashim Djojohadikusumo, Prabowo’s friend Fadli Zon, Prabowo’s tycoon friend Farid Prawiranegara, prominent lawyer and legal aid activist Adnan Buyung Nasution, outspoken poet W.S. Rendra, tycoon Setiawan Djodi, and Indonesian Legal Aid Institute Foundation (YLBHI) member/TGPF member Bambang Widjojanto.
Prabowo later pointed out that the report was illogical for suggesting he could have masterminded riots that started on May 13, by holding a meeting on May 14. He also pointed out that some of those who attended the meeting were opponents of the Suharto regime (such as Buyung, Rendra and Widjojanto).
In contrast to the TGPF report, the ad hoc team’s report – on the basis of testimony from Buyung – said the May 14 meeting at Kostrad headquarters was initiated by Setiawan Djodi for the purpose of finding a solution to prevent the rivalry between Wiranto and Prabowo from becoming more strained.
If the ad hoc team views Buyung’s testimony as accurate, there is less reason to implicate Prabowo as one of the most likely plotters of the May riots.
To many observers, it appeared somewhat absurd that TGPF had questioned a meeting at which one of its own members – Widjojanto – had been present. His explanation deserves special attention. According to Widjojanto, he had the impression that there had been several other meetings before and after the one he had attended.
This means that if one assumes Prabowo was the mastermind of the riots, it would be seriously misleading to focus solely on the May 14 Kostrad meeting to find out who instigated the unrest.
A source within the ad hoc investigation team told Laksamana.Net that several high-ranking officers who were questioned, tended to put the blame on Wiranto rather than Prabowo.
Whatever the truth might be, Wiranto and Prabowo will likely be back in the limelight over the May riots again. Especially as both of them are now taking part in the race to become Golkar Party’s candidate for next year’s presidential election.
While Prabowo’s reputation is still very much in tatters due to the insinuations made after the May riots and his role in the abductions of anti-Suharto activists, Wiranto has much more to lose. His image would suffer great damage if he were to end up in court accused of responsibility for the deadly May riots. And that could leave the door open for Golkar chairman Akbar Tanjung, a convicted corruption felon, to become the party’s presidential candidate.
But like so many other turbulent turning points of Indonesia’s history, much of what took place behind the scenes during the May riots still remains shrouded in mystery and the truth may never be told.
The Jakarta Post
Saturday, October 4, 2003
Parties urged to end discrimination
By Kurniawan Hari, Jakarta
Leaders of Chinese Indonesian organizations said on Friday that the ethnic community here would only vote for political parties that consistently fight against any forms of discrimination.
Chairman of the Chinese Indonesians Union (INTI) Edy Lembong and chairman of the Chinese Indonesians Community Hertanto Surya said that some 16 million voters of Chinese-descent across the country would seek an end to widespread discriminative practices.
“We will support parties that promote an end to discrimination, not just discrimination against Chinese but all kinds of discrimination,” Edy told a discussion here.
He said Chinese Indonesians were heterogeneous and had their own political affiliations.
Unlike other Indonesian citizens, Chinese Indonesians have to produce a certificate of their Indonesian citizenship, otherwise they will be considered foreigners, Edy said.
Currently, there are three political parties set up to accommodate Chinese Indonesians: The Indonesian Tionghoa Party (Partindo), the Tionghoa Reform Party, and the Bhinneka Party.
But most Chinese Indonesians prefer supporting the well known political parties.
Another speaker at the discussion, Lius Sungkarisma, the executive leader of the Tionghoa Reform Party, said he established the political party, not to contest the elections, but to educate Chinese Indonesians on politics.
Chinese Indonesians were isolated from politics during the 32-year rule of Soeharto. Many Chinese Indonesian businesspeople got special treatment from Soeharto at a high cost, namely the hatred of many native Indonesians.
He said that since Youth Oath Day in 1928, Chinese Indonesians had promoted nationalism among Indonesian people.
Lius said that following the downfall of Soeharto in 1998, there had been more space for Chinese Indonesians to express their political views.
He acknowledged that in past elections most Chinese Indonesians had voted for political parties on the basis of ensuring their safety.
According to him, the political awareness of Chinese Indonesians would help improve democracy because they would be critical of the performance of the existing parties.
The Jakarta Post
Monday, December 22, 2003
Chinese-Indonesians want discrimination abolished
By Urip Hudiono, Jakarta
With the elections fast approaching, Indonesians of Chinese origin have set conditions for legislative and presidential candidates to win their support, namely the ending of all discriminatory policies and regulations.
“We will support candidates who work to abolish the excessive number of permits and licenses imposed on us,” said Agus Susanto, the caretaker of a Confucian temple in Glodok, West Jakarta, over the weekend.
Indonesia will hold a legislative election in April 2004, and direct presidential election in July 2004. A total of 24 political parties have been declared eligible to contest the legislative election.
Agus was referring to the controversial Certificate of Citizenship (SBKRI) required of Indonesians of ethnic Chinese origin.
Although the SBKRI has been officially abolished, it is still required of Indonesians of ethnic Chinese origin if they want to obtain identity cards, passports, and registration forms to enter state-owned universities.
Aside from ensnaring people in complex bureaucracy, the SBKRI also imposes a financial burden for Indonesians of ethnic Chinese origin due to the high prices, sometimes millions of rupiah, they have to pay to obtain the certificate.
Chinese-Indonesians are also required to state ethnicity in their birth certificates, something that other ethnic groups are not required to do.
Since Confucianism, the traditional religion for many Indonesians of ethnic Chinese origin, has not been recognized by the state, there have also been cases of Chinese-Indonesian marriages not being registered by the Civil Registration Office, with children from these marriages simply considered to have been born out of wedlock.
“We were born here, work here, live here and blend in well with other ethnics here. So why are we still treated differently? I really hope the next government sincerely addresses this issue,” said Rina Komala, a doctor living in Kota.
Skepticism over the commitment of candidates to fulfilling their promises, however, remains high among Chinese-Indonesians.
“That’s politics. Politicians say one thing and then forget about it. What can we do?” Agus said exasperatedly.
Meanwhile, political apathy was shown by Irwan Kurnia, an electronics vendor in Glodok, though he said that he would still cast his vote in the upcoming elections.
“I don’t really know about politics. I just hope the elections will run smoothly and things will get better afterwards,” said Irwan Kurnia.
During a discussion organized by the Tionghoa Indonesian Association (Inti) on Friday, many Chinese Indonesians attending the event enthusiastically asked panelists Bara Hasibuan, Faisol Reza and Benny Susetyo whether they should support candidates with a military background, since they were seen as being more capable in ensuring security and stability in the country.
Responding to the question, Bara Hasibuan, a former National Mandate Party (PAN) activist now active in the Preparatory Committee for the Indonesian Movement (KPPI), pointed to the May 1998 mayhem had targeted Chinese Indonesians.
“Where was the military then? They were too busy with their own power struggles that they forgot their responsibility to ensuring the security of the nation, and, in this particular case, the security of Chinese-Indonesians,” he said.
Faisol Reza, former leader of the Democratic People’s Party (PRD), warned that though military figures portrayed themselves as being capable of ensuring security and stability in the country, “the military is still the military with all its authoritarian traits, which if given access to the nation’s sociopolitical scene will pose a threat to democracy in the country.”
Benny Susetyo from the Indonesian Bishops Conference (KWI) Crisis Center, meanwhile, proposed that the public closely scrutinize all legislative and presidential candidates, and black list those with bad track records.
“Any candidate who appears to have been involved in corruption and human rights violations must be kept out and not voted for,” he said.
nt for around 3 percent of the country’s 215 million population but control a big percentage of the country’s economy.
Continued to Black May 1998: 5th Commemoration (2)