Indonesia Still Struggling With Violence, Religious Intolerance


Indonesia Still Struggling With Violence, Religious Intolerance
Daniella White & Eileen McInnes | February 03, 2013
The embattled congregations of GKI Yasmin and HKBP Filadelfia hold a church service outside the State Palace. Human Rights Watch reports that religious intolerance is rising. (JG Photo/Afriadi Hikmal) The embattled congregations of GKI Yasmin and HKBP Filadelfia hold a church service outside the State Palace. Human Rights Watch reports that religious intolerance is rising. (JG Photo/Afriadi Hikmal) 

The year 2012 was a turbulent time for minority rights in Indonesia. Incidents of violence, sometimes resulting in death, were frequent and countless communities are still being denied the opportunity to practice their religion, despite laws guaranteeing their inherent rights. 

An annual report by Human Rights Watch released this week suggested that very little effort was being made to protect religious minorities’ rights in Indonesia. The watchdog organization says that radical decentralization as well as discriminatory and ineffective legal infrastructure are major obstacles to achieving equality. 

The report focused on Indonesia’s religious violence, discriminatory local bylaws and the imprisonment of Papuan and Moluccan activists as inhibiting Indonesia’s path to becoming a “rights-respecting democracy.” 

The group will issue a separate report on religious freedom in Indonesia at the end of the month. 

Joseph Saunders, the New York-based deputy program director at HRW, said on Thursday that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s lack of leadership on the issue was damaging. 

He said that Yudhoyono, not considering the issue a “political winner,” avoids confronting it in any meaningful manner. 

“This isn’t something that is going away quickly,” Saunders said. “This is something that has grown over time. It’s something [that has] roots a generation or two ago, and the manifestation is now. 

“And the question is, do you want it to be better in 10 years, 20 years, or do you want it to be worse? Our fear is that it’s being allowed to fester, and it’s growing worse. It could get a lot worse.” 

Figures from the Setara Institute, an Indonesian human rights watchdog, show that cases of religious intolerance have been steadily increasing over the past five years. 

The group recorded 264 incidents of intolerance last year, almost double from 135 cases in 2007. 

Setara is not optimistic for the coming year, especially taking into account the upcoming elections, according to its Report on Freedom of Religion and Belief in 2012, released in December. 

Yudhoyono has not been silent on the issue. In January, in a lecture organized by the Indonesian National Youth Committee (KNPI), he urged the country to respect minority beliefs and cultures. 

“The views and aspirations of the majority indeed have to be accepted, but we should not ignore the voice of minorities, of the different groups in this country,” the president said. “Every community should build a culture of resolving conflicts in a peaceful manner that avoids the use of force.” 

Saunders says that Yudhoyono’s words on the issue are mostly “empty rhetoric.” The president “needs to take decisive action against acts of violence,” he said. 

“That hasn’t happened at all ... often it is the victim that ends up behind bars ... it’s disturbing.” 

According to HRW, one of the primary barriers to minority rights and freedom of religion is “radical decentralization,” the shift of power away from a central government in favor of local administrations, since the fall of authoritarian leader Suharto. 

The power of the Supreme Court is often limited or unable to be enforced in local disputes. 

A 2012 report by the International Crisis Group, a nongovernmental organization that advises governments and intergovernmental bodies on conflict resolution, found that local institutions are allowing conflicts to simmer after being empowered by decentralization. They ignore the country’s highest courts with “impunity.” 

“If the regions become overconfident in their new powers and the central state continues to respond weakly, this lack of commitment to rule of law could encourage more conflict as the national political temperature rises ahead of the 2014 presidential election,” the report said. 

That sentiment is echoed by HRW. 

“Local officials refuse to implement laws,” Saunders said. 

He said that there needed to be a provision in the contempt of court act that “expressly gives ability to dismiss someone who doesn’t implement a ruling.” 

However, the existing constitution can at times be considered discriminatory in itself, recognizing only six official faiths. 

“If you don’t fit into the category you are much more vulnerable,” Saunders said. 

Yudhoyono’s most recent attempts to quell various conflicts have been his Presidential Instructions on security. As a result, governors, mayors and district heads will have greater powers in dealing with communal conflicts. He said they were intended to increase the ability of administrations to “swiftly” solve conflicts. 

“There should be no more delays in addressing [conflicts] and no one is allowed to stop something preventable from being prevented. Something that could be solved should also not be left unsolved. Don’t keep a time bomb,” he said on Monday in a meeting with government officials in Jakarta. 

However, the move has been criticized by some rights groups. 

Rights lawyer Asfinawati Ajub said the newest security measures from the president will only result in further weakening of the rights of minorities, as local governments gain more power to take decisive action in conflicts. Local governments, she explained, are usually representative of the majority. 

“The local governments should not arrange security. It should be the Indonesian government that has the power, not the local government,” she said. 

In two well-known cases, the Filadelfia Batak Christian Protestant Church (HKBP Filadelfia) in Bekasi and the Yasmin Indonesian Christian Church (GKI Yasmin) in Bogor have been closed since 2007 and 2006 respectively, denied permits to operate by local authorities. 

Even after a ruling in its favor was handed down by the Supreme Court, GKI Yasmin has still not been granted permission by the Bogor administration to reopen. 

Every two weeks, the churches come together and hold a service outside the State Palace in Central Jakarta to remind Yudhoyono of their constitutional right to worship, and his obligation to uphold it. 

In some Christian-majority areas, similar problems exist for Muslim citizens. In Kupang, the predominantly Christian capital of East Nusa Tenggara, construction of a mosque was halted in 2011 as a result of public protests.

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