Last Updated: Tuesday, 01 December 2015, 13:36 GMT

USCIRF Annual Report 2004 - Indonesia

Publisher United States Commission on International Religious Freedom
Publication Date 1 May 2004
Cite as United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, USCIRF Annual Report 2004 - Indonesia, 1 May 2004, available at: [accessed 2 December 2015]
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.

The Commission is concerned about serious abuses of freedom of religion in Indonesia. Though the situation has improved since 2001, the government of Indonesia has been unable to halt all religiously-related violence or to consistently punish those responsible for perpetrating acts amounting to severe abuses of religious freedom. The Commission has again placed Indonesia on its Watch List and continues to monitor the actions of the Indonesian government to see if they rise to a level warranting designation as "country of particular concern," or CPC.

For the past five years, Christian-Muslim violence in the regions of the Moluccas and Sulawesi has resulted in thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons. While many factors added fuel to these conflicts, the killings, destruction of places of worship, and forced conversions were also religiously motivated. Violence was perpetrated by both Christians and Muslims, but attacks on Christians escalated significantly in the Moluccas due to the May 2000 arrival of Laskar Jihad, an Islamic militant group with the stated aim of driving Christians from the area. In the case of the Moluccas, the government allowed unimpeded entry into the islands outside groups such as Laskar Jihad, resulting in some of the worst killing and destruction. In Sulawesi, swifter government action to stop the aggression of militant groups managed to prevent a serious escalation of fighting.

As a result of efforts by the Indonesian government and security forces, peace agreements were signed in Sulawesi and the Moluccas in late 2001 and early 2002. Despite these agreements, violence has continued in some areas, especially in Sulawesi. In the last year, 55 people were killed and almost 300,000 remain displaced.

In 2003-2004, violence against religious groups in Sulawesi has been increasing, carried out by groups that oppose the peace agreements. After the most recent attacks, government authorities responded quickly to apprehend the perpetrators. Muslim and Christian leaders in Sulawesi joined together to call for calm. Despite the swift government response, there is disturbing evidence to suggest that Sulawesi may be a staging ground for a new violent Muslim extremist organization.

In Sulawesi, issues of judicial independence continue to fuel grievances that exacerbate religious tensions. In June 2003, Christian leader Rinaldy Damanik was sentenced to three years in prison for illegal weapons possession. The trial court itself acknowledged that there was little evidence to support the charges. The prison sentence given Damanik, and the earlier acquittal of Jaffar Thalib, the leader of Laskar Jihad, whose group was responsible for killing thousands, suggest that serious inadequacies remain in the Indonesian judicial system. Damanik appealed his conviction in August 2003, but the local High Court upheld the verdict.

Nevertheless, the Indonesian government has taken some important steps to root out domestic terrorist groups, particularly after the bombings in Bali and Jakarta. In the weeks following the October 2002 Bali bombing, a number of radical Islamist groups, including the Islamic Defenders' Front, Jemaah Islamiah, and the Laskar Jihad, were pressured to cease their activities and disband. The dissolution of Laskar Jihad in particular was prompt and extensive, though they continue to operate in some areas. A number of militant leaders have been arrested and sentenced, including Abu Bakr Ba'asyir, the leader of Jemaah Islamiah, and 23 of his former students for their role in planning and carrying out the Bali bombings. Ba'asyir's sentencing was seen as a "milestone" in Indonesia's efforts to address Islamic militancy. However, Ba'asyir's sentence was reduced on appeal, though fresh evidence of terrorist activity might forestall his scheduled release.

A vocal and influential minority of Indonesians continues to call for implementation of aspects of Sharia. These demands are strongest in the secessionist-minded province of Aceh. As part of the process of addressing Acehnese demands for independence, former-President Wahid agreed to allow the province to implement Islamic law beginning in January 2002. Local officials have reportedly said that non-Muslims could not be prosecuted in the Islamic courts. After the government's decision to allow Sharia in Aceh, several other provincial parliaments began debating whether to impose Islamic law. An August 2002 proposal to implement Sharia at the national level was withdrawn from consideration by the National People's Consultative Assembly when it became clear it did not have sufficient support in the Assembly. Efforts to revive the legislation continue, and as Presidential and legislative candidates vie for votes in this 2004 election year, the re-emergence of proposals for Sharia legislation is likely and bears close watching.

In June 2003, Indonesia's parliament passed a controversial education bill that would require public and private schools to provide religious education for all faiths if a student demands it. Many Christian schools have Muslim students and, as a result of this bill, will be required to provide classes on Islam. Although many moderate Muslim parties, organizations, and intellectuals opposed the legislation, it had considerable popular support. The bill has been challenged in court and as of this writing, has not yet been implemented.

U.S. government assistance supports limited programs in conflict resolution, multi-religious dialogue, and training of teachers from pesantrans, or Muslim religious schools, in line with recommendations of the Commission. These programs are small but important experiments in promoting religious freedom in a largely Muslim country. Congress included language in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2004 (H.R. 2673) which states that, among other conditions, funds for the "Foreign Military Financing Program" may be made available to Indonesia only if the President certifies that Indonesia is suspending and prosecuting those members of its military who have committed gross violations of human rights. A 2002 Commission recommendation called for the United States to ensure that, if resumed, U.S.-Indonesian military ties be directed toward reform of the Indonesian military, including upholding international human rights standards and holding members accountable for abuses.

In the past year, Commission staff met with Indonesian political leaders, human rights activists, and religious leaders. The religious leaders included representatives of Muslim, Christian, and Hindu communities from the regions of Aceh, Papua, Sulawesi, Java, Bali, and the North Moluccas.

With regard to Indonesia, the Commission has recommended that the U.S. government should:

  • continue to press the government of Indonesia to fully disarm all outside militia forces on the Moluccas and Sulawesi and to hold the leaders and members of these groups accountable for the violence perpetrated by them;
  • commend the government of Indonesia for its efforts that led to the signing of peace agreements in both the Moluccas and Sulawesi and press the Indonesian government to deepen the reconciliation work already begun;
  • monitor the implementation of Sharia in Aceh and other regions to determine if individual rights and freedoms, including religious freedom, as outlined in international documents, are being guaranteed;
  • ensure that, if resumed, U.S.-Indonesian military ties be directed toward reform of the Indonesian military, including accepting civilian control, upholding international human rights standards, and holding members accountable for abuses; and
  • earmark funds for the training of Indonesian police and prosecutors in human rights, rule of law, and crime investigation.

Search Refworld