Last Updated: Friday, 27 November 2015, 12:04 GMT

World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Indonesia

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date June 2008
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Indonesia, June 2008, available at: [accessed 30 November 2015]
Comments In October 2015, MRG revised its World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples. For the most part, overview texts were not themselves updated, but the previous 'Current state of minorities and indigenous peoples' rubric was replaced throughout with links to the relevant minority-specific reports, and a 'Resources' section was added. Refworld entries have been updated accordingly.
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Last updated: June 2008


The Republic of Indonesia is a sprawling archipelago of nearly 14,000 islands, which divides into two tiers. The main islands of the more heavily populated southern tier include Sumatra, Java, Bali and Timor. The northern tier includes Kalimantan (most of Borneo), Sulawesi, the Moluccas and Papua (the western half of New Guinea). Sumatra lies west and south of peninsular Malaysia and Singapore across the narrow Strait of Malacca. Kalimantan, the Indonesian section of Borneo, is bounded to the north by Sarawak, Sabah and Brunei. North of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi is the Celebes Sea and beyond that the Philippines. Indonesia's geographic position has made it a gateway for human migration throughout history.


Humans may have inhabited parts of today's Indonesia from between 2 million to 500,000 years ago, but most Indonesians today are of Austronesian stock whose ancestors may have migrated into this part of the world in waves, starting perhaps from Taiwan some 4,000 years ago, displacing in the process an already existing population of Papuan people.

The main islands of Sumatra and Java had flourishing pre-colonial empires and long-established commercial links with China and India, Asia Minor and Europe. In 1511, the Portuguese captured Malacca, which controlled the sea lanes between India and China. The Portuguese fought the Spanish and local sultanates to establish armed forts and trading factories in the archipelago. The Portuguese held on to East Timor until the Indonesian invasion of 1975 (see Timor Leste), but elsewhere, in the early seventeenth century, they were pushed aside by the Dutch, who set up a monopolistic trading company and empire based in Batavia (present-day Jakarta).

The Dutch gained control of the coastal trading enclaves throughout the archipelago and developed mining and plantation agriculture. The Dutch largely ignored the interiors of the islands and ruled through alliances with local sultans. Only in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries did the Dutch seek to unify control, greatly extending plantation agriculture, based on forced labour, and repatriating huge profits to the Netherlands.

Chinese immigration was encouraged to provide intermediaries between the colonial authorities and the indigenous peoples. The Dutch were ousted by the Japanese at the beginning of the Second World War. The Japanese installed Sukarno and Hatta, leaders of the Indonesian nationalist pro-independence movement, in nominal power. In 1945, the Indonesians proclaimed independence. However, after the defeat of Japan, the Dutch sought to re-establish their rule, forcing the Java-based nationalists to fight a four-year war of independence. The Netherlands finally recognized Indonesian independence in 1949.

Indonesia's history since independence has been tumultuous, as its leaders have attempted to deal with its ethnic diversity, sheer size, lack of internal political cohesion and impoverished peasantry. Indonesia had military and political confrontations with Malaysia and the UK over the creation of the eastern Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak and the Sultanate of Brunei on the island of Borneo, sharing the island with the Indonesian province of Kalimantan.

Indonesia confronted the Dutch over the forced incorporation of Irian Jaya (West Irian) into Indonesia and the Portuguese over East Timor (see East Timor). There have been rebellions on the provinces of West Java, Aceh Central and North Sumatra, Papua, East Timor, North Sulawesi and the Moluccas; and recurrent outbreaks of anti-Chinese violence.

To counterbalance the political strength of the army and the militant Islamic political parties in the 1950s, Sukarno, Indonesia's first President, encouraged the re-emergence and political strength of the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI). In 1965, left-wing military officers and some elements of the PKI attempted a coup, which was quickly suppressed by elite army units under General Suharto. The army launched a massive witch-hunt for PKI members and sympathizers, which saw the slaughter of an estimated 500,000 people, including many ethnic Chinese. Suharto was installed as President, a position he held until 1998. During his administration, the military, better known by its acronym ABRI, exercised a great deal of political power, enjoying special civic privileges and responsibilities, including unelected seats in Parliament and local legislatures, in addition to its defence and security roles.

The Asian economic crisis of 1997-8 brought Indonesia to its knees. Popular discontent with the Suharto administration led to mass protests and widespread rioting that forced Suharto to step down in May 1998. This was followed by a quick succession of changes and reforms towards a more open and democratic society, a process referred to as 'Reformasi'. East Timor voted to regain its independence after 1999, and despite violence and serious obstacles in its path was allowed to do so. Islamic fundamentalism seemed to gain strength during this period of upheavals, including an upsurge in confessional attacks in different parts of the country, and terrorist bombings in Bali and Jakarta.

There eventually followed in 2004 Indonesia's first direct presidential election, and changes which were to reduce, though not extinguish the military's political power. A series of calamitous natural disasters have struck Indonesia in recent years, but at least one of them, the 2004 tsunami, may have contributed to the 2005 settlement of the separatist conflict involving the Acehnese minority.


Main languages: Bahasa Indonesia (official), Javanese, Sundanese, etc.

Main religions: Islam, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism

Main minority groups: Javanese 85.9 million (41.7%), Sundanese 31.7 million (15.4%), Malay 7 million (3.4%), Madurese 6.8 million (3.3%), Batak 6.2 million (3.0%), Minangkabau 5.6 million (2.7%), Betawi 5.2 million (2.5%), Buginese 5.2 million (2.5%), Bantenese 4.3 million (2.1%), Banjarese 3.5 million (1.7%), Balinese 3.1 million (1.5%), Sasak 2.7 million (1.3%), Makassarese 2.1 million (1.0%), Cirebon 1.9 million (0.9%), Chinese 1.9 million (0.9%), Acehnese 890,000 (0.43%), Torajan 762,000 (0.37%), etc. (Indonesia Census, 2000)

Apart from Papua, whose indigenous groups remained for the most part in isolation, the remainder of the archipelago was, over two millennia, subjected to successive waves of cultural and religious influences. The transmission and absorption of these were, however, not uniform, which has contributed to the ethnic diversity of modern Indonesia.

Even so, more than 85 per cent of Indonesians consider themselves to be Muslim, making Indonesia nominally the largest Muslim nation in the world. Indonesia is linguistically extremely diverse. West of Java, the majority language group is the Malayo-Polynesian family of more than 250 languages, usually distinguished into 16 major groups. Four of the 16 groups of the Malayo-Polynesian family are Malayan. One of the four is Riau Malayan, the primary literary language of Indonesia, which in modernized form is Bahasa Indonesia, the official language of Indonesia.

The larger islands support several ethno-linguistic groups. Central Java is the homeland of the predominant Javanese ethnic group, members of which have migrated over time to many of the other inhabited islands in the archipelago. East Java also contains substantial numbers of Balinese and Madurese from the islands of Bali and Madura, the Balinese being distinctive for having maintained a Hindu-based religion while the other Malay peoples of the archipelago adopted Islam. On the island of Bali itself, about 92 per cent of the population is Hindu. West Java also has a large Sundanese population, who are similar to the Lampung peoples of South Sumatra. Java supports more than half of Indonesia's total population.

The economically important island of Sumatra contains a number of significant ethno-linguistic groups besides Javanese. These include the strongly Islamic Acehnese of north Sumatra; Minangkabau, a Muslim group noted for its matriarchal structure and tradition of commerce and trading; and Batak, a half-dozen related tribes, many of which have become Christianized. Kalimantan is dominated by Dayak, Murut, coastal Malay peoples and ethnic Chinese.

The Moluccas are inhabited by peoples who were exposed to Islam and Christianity at around the same time, in the sixteenth century, but managed a peaceful coexistence between the two faiths at community level until the collapse of the Suharto regime in 1998, when there was brutal communal fighting. Sulawesi is inhabited mainly by Muslim Buginese and Makasarese in the south, and Christianized Minahasans and Manadonese in the north. Papua is home to some 800,000 indigenous people divided into many hundreds of groupings. The names of smaller islands, or clusters of islands, are often coterminous with the ethno-linguistic groups.

Ahmadiyah Muslims number between 200,000 and 2 million, according to media reports. In many ways the life of Ahmaddiyas conforms to Islam, although there are significant differences between orthodox Muslims and Ahmaddiyas. Orthodox Muslims claim that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the founder of the Ahmaddiya sect, proclaimed himself as a prophet, thereby rejecting a fundamental tenet of Islam - Khatem-e-Nabowat (a belief in the finality of the Prophet Mohammad). Such extremist Islamist organizations as the Islamic Defenders' Front have criticized Ahmadiyahs for heresy and launched violent attacks on them.


Since the end of the Suharto presidency in 1998, Indonesia has been moving towards a more liberal democratic system, with increased human rights provisions and mechanisms and other major political and structural changes: presidential elections in 2004 were the first where the president and vice-president were directly elected.

The constitution contains a number of human rights guarantees. There are a number of human rights institutions such as the National Human Rights Commission (KOMNASHAM), and a human rights court set up in 2000. Despite some good work in the past by KOMNASHAM, the government appears to be unable to address very serious human rights violations such as extra-judicial killings, torture and other abuses by the security forces, which often target minorities in restive provinces. Corruption - including within the judicial system - and inadequate training, resources and leadership, all combine to weaken the potential legal and constitutional protections. The human rights court's effectiveness is limited because cases involving military personnel fall instead under the jurisdiction of the Indonesian Military Court.

Recent attempts to address past breaches have encountered setbacks. The establishment of a special Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate human rights violations since the 1960s was struck down by the Constitutional Court in December 2006 as having no legal basis. The earlier conviction of a pilot for the murder of human rights defender Munir Said Thalib on board a flight to Amsterdam was overthrown by the Supreme Court in Jakarta in October 2006. The case remains unsolved.

Indonesia is not an Islamic state. The state ideology, Pancasila, requires only that citizens believe in one supreme God, and that they accept membership of one of five officially sanctioned faiths, Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism and Buddhism. Orthodox Muslim groups have argued since independence that Islam should play a greater role in government and society, with some pushing for an Islamic state based on Sharia law. Secular nationalists have countered that this risks provoking secessionist moves in regions of Indonesia where Muslims are not a majority.

The political divide between the state and orthodox believers caused riots and a wave of bombings and arson attacks in the mid- 1980s. However, Suharto successfully suppressed the more militant Islamic organizations, and co-opted the others. Under his authoritarian rule open reporting and discussion of religious and ethnic friction was banned.



Minority based and advocacy organisations


Aceh Legal Aid Foundation (LBH Banda Aceh)
Tel: +62 651 23321

Aceh NGO Coalition for Human Rights
Tel: +62 651 41998

PB-HAM Aceh Timur
Tel: +62 641 21068


Supreme Council for Confucian Religion in Indonesia - Majelis Tinggi Agama
Tel: +62 21 6509941


Institut Dayakologi
Tel: +62 561 884567

Lembaga Bela Banua Talino (LBBT - Institute for Community Legal Resources Empowerment)
Tel: +62 561 885623

Lembaga Bantuan Hukum Untuk Masyarakat Adat (The Law Assisting Institution for Customary Communities of West Kalimantan)
Tel: +62 561 731043

Serikat Gerakan Pemberdayaan Masyarakat Dayak
Tel: +62 561 886291

Yayasan Madanika
Tel: +62 561 573 276


Hindu Human Rights
Tel: 07984 966 798


Aliansi Demokrasi untuk Papua
Tel: +62 967 587890

Tel: +62 921 326733
Website: www.ide-

Foundation for Keeping Moluccan Civil and Political Rights (FKMCPR)
Tel. +31 633 305 149

Institute for Papuan Advocacy and Human Rights
Tel: +61 418291998 (Aus)

Lepa-Lepa Maluku Foundation (LEMA)
Tel: +62 91 622 163

Papua NGO's Forum (FOKER LSM Papua)
Tel: +62 967 573 511

West Papua Action
Tel: +353 1 860 3431 (Ireland)


Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum-Asia)
Tel: +66 2391 8801

Center for Human Rights Studies (PUSHAM)
Tel: +62 21 830 11 69

Center on Law and Human Rights Studies (satuHAM) (Pusat Studi Hukum dan HAM)

Tel: +816 6577 35 78

Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN)
Tel: +62 21 780 2771

Indonesia Anti-Discrimination Movement
Tel: +62 812 949 4284

Indonesia Forum for Human Dignity (Netherlands)
Tel: +31 20 777 4949

Indonesia Human Rights Committee (NZ)
Tel: +64 9 815 9000

Indonesia Human Rights Network (USA)
Tel: +1 202 544 1211

Indonesian Legal Studies Foundation
Tel: +62 21 4587 4046

Institute for Human Rights Study and Advocacy (ELS-HAM)
Tel: +62 967 581600

Institute for Irian Jaya/West Papua Indigenous People Study and Empowerment
Tel: +62 976 582681

Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM)
Tel: +62 21 829 6905

Institute for the Defense of Human Rights (LPHAM)
Tel: +62 21 858 3646

ICDHRE - Islamic Center for Democracy and Human Rights Empowerment
Tel: 0321 867283

PBHI - Indonesia Legal Aid and Human Rights Association
Tel: +62 21 8591 8064

PIJAR Indonesia (Pusat Informasi dan Jaringan Aksi Informasi)
Tel: +62 21 8519010

Sawit Watch - Defending Peoples Rights
Tel: +62 251 352171

Sekretariat Anak Merdeka Indonesia
Tel: +62 274 381101

The Indonesia Human Rights Campaign (TAPOL) (UK)
Tel: +44 20 8771 2904

Watch Indonesia (Germany)
Tel: +49 30 698 179 38

Yayasan Lembaga Hukum Indonesia (Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation)
Tel: +62 21 390 4227

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Balinese and Hindu

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Hindu Resources and Community in Indonesia:

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