Last Updated: Friday, 27 May 2016, 06:40 GMT

USCIRF Annual Report 2005 - Indonesia

Publisher United States Commission on International Religious Freedom
Publication Date 1 May 2005
Cite as United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, USCIRF Annual Report 2005 - Indonesia, 1 May 2005, available at: [accessed 27 May 2016]
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 ongoing sectarian violence in Indonesia, and the Indonesian government's inability or unwillingness to hold those responsible to account. Since 2002, the size, scope, and intensity of religiously-related violence has decreased. There are expectations that Indonesia's recent democratic elections and the growing number of organizations devoted to religious reconciliation will further reduce sectarian conflict. Nevertheless, violence between Muslims and Christians has continued in Central Sulawesi, the Malukus, Papua, and parts of Java. In some of these regions, militant and terrorist groups operate freely and with impunity. Greater protections for the human rights of all Indonesians, including the right to freedom of religion or belief, will strengthen that country's commitment to pluralism and its transition to democracy, interests shared by both the United States and Indonesia. The Commission continues to place Indonesia on its Watch List.

Over the past six years, Christian-Muslim violence in the Malukus 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 spurred by religious motivations and religious actors. Peace agreements, known as the Malino Peace Accords, were signed in late 2001 and early 2002, formally ending the conflicts in these regions.

Despite the signing of these peace agreements, violence has continued. In the past year, sectarian conflict claimed at least 46 lives in Central Sulawesi and at least 47 in the Malukus, an increase over the previous year. In Sulawesi in particular, new violence between religious groups is especially troubling. Attacks on Christian villages staged on the second anniversary of the October 2002 Bali bombing resulted in the loss of 13 lives; in that instance, police responded quickly to the attacks and killed six of the perpetrators. Despite the swift response by security forces in this case, reports suggest that Sulawesi may be a staging ground for additional terrorist violence by extremist organizations. Leaflets have appeared in the capital of Poso calling for "jihad." Indonesian human rights activists link these calls to the increased number of bombings and shootings of religious leaders in the past year.

During the last year, attacks on places of worship increased slightly. At least ten churches and one mosque were attacked in various regions including Central Sulawesi, Maluku, the West Java districts of Purwodadi, Margahayu, Tangerang, Bogor, and Benten, the Jakarta suburbs of Ciputat and Pamulang, and the Central Java city of Yogyakarta. Indonesia's "Regulation on Building Houses of Worship (Joint-Ministerial Decree No. 1/1969)" requires community approval for the expansion of existing or the building of new religious venues. In areas where Christians or Muslims are in the minority, new building permits are often difficult to obtain and militants have burned or destroyed places of worship for which permits had been sought.

After the Malino Accords were signed, the Indonesian government pressured a number of Islamic militant groups responsible for the worst violence, including the Islamic Defenders' Front and Laskar Jihad, to cease their activities and disband. The dissolution of Laskar Jihad in particular was prompt and extensive. However, former members have reportedly joined other, more militant organizations such as Laskar Jundullah and Mujahidin Kompak. These groups openly operate training camps in Sulawesi and are reported to be behind much of the recent sectarian violence in that province.

The Indonesian government has made little progress in holding accountable those responsible for past sectarian violence in Central Sulawesi and the Malukus. In one of the few actions taken to date, officials recently issued indictments for two deaths that occurred during 2001 in Ambon, the capital of South Maluku. Moreover, concerns about judicial independence continue to fuel grievances that exacerbate religious tensions. Jaffar Thalib, the leader of Laskar Jihad, the group responsible for killing thousands of people in the Malukus, was acquitted after standing trial on charges of instigating violence and weapons possession. Yet, Sulawesi Christian leader Rinaldy Damanik was sentenced to three years in prison on similar charges, even after the trial court itself acknowledged that there was little evidence to support the allegations against him. After two years in prison, Damanik was released in November 2004, one year ahead of his scheduled release. The disparate treatment of Damanik and Thalib suggest that serious inadequacies remain in the Indonesian judicial system.

Government progress to examine and report on the causes of sectarian violence has also been slow. As part of the Malino Peace Accords, a panel of experts was required to prepare a report on the causes of the 2000-2001 violence in Central Sulawesi and the Malukus. The report was completed in 2003, but to date has not been publicly released. The report reportedly is critical of the role played by the Indonesian armed forces (Tentara Nasional Indonesia, TNI) in fueling sectarian conflict, including allegedly aiding radical militia groups, such as Laskar Jihad.

Human rights organizations have been critical of the TNI's activities in regional conflicts throughout Indonesia. The TNI operates independently of civilian political control and only 30 percent of its revenue is allocated by the National Assembly, the Indonesian legislature; the other 70 percent comes from the TNI's private business investments and other ventures. The TNI held expansive political and economic power during the former Suharto regime, and has only recently relinquished its reserved seats in the National Assembly. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has cautioned that a move to assert civilian control of the TNI too quickly could have ominous consequences for democratic stability in Indonesia. Nevertheless, reigning in the TNI's power and holding its senior officers accountable for human rights violations is a critical element of addressing ongoing sectarian violence and other human rights problems in Indonesia.

The State Department's 2004 human rights report notes that the TNI has begun prosecuting junior officers and enlisted men for human rights violations. However, senior officers are rarely held accountable for abuses against civilians, including extra-judicial executions, forced disappearances, beatings, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and drastic limits on freedom of movement and association. For example, senior officers escaped with small sentences, most of which were overturned on appeal, for atrocities committed in 1999 what is now independent East Timor.

Some of the very officers indicted for human rights abuses in East Timor, including Timbul Silaen and Eurico Guterres, now hold similar positions of authority in the eastern region of Papua. Papua's population has swelled in recent years, due to large flows of economic migrants and other civilians fleeing conflict elsewhere in Indonesia. Indigenous Papuans are predominantly rural and Christian, while the migrant groups are predominantly urban and Muslim, creating a volatile mix similar to that found in Central Sulawesi and the Malukus at the time those violent sectarian conflicts erupted. The presence of Silaen and Guterres in the area has raised fears that additional sectarian conflict and human rights abuses will occur in Papua.

The Indonesian government has taken some important steps to root out domestic terrorist groups, particularly after the terrorist bombings in Bali in October 2002 and Jakarta in August 2003. The government arrested and sentenced Abu Bakr Ba'asyir, the alleged leader of Jemaah Islamiah (JI), and 23 of his former followers for their role in planning and carrying out the Bali bombings and for links with terrorist groups in the Philippines. Despite the limited sentence given to Ba'asyir, his two trials are seen as milestones in Indonesia's efforts to address Islamic extremism. The government announced in March 2005 that it will ban JI. However, some senior government officials continue to deny that JI even exists in Indonesia.

A vocal and influential minority of Indonesians continue to call for implementation of Islamic law, or sharia, in Indonesia. An August 2002 proposal to implement sharia at the national level was withdrawn from consideration by the National Assembly when it became clear that the motion would not have sufficient support to pass. Efforts to revive the legislation continue and could reemerge during the current National Assembly session, though the effort is unlikely to gain further support, as most parliamentarians and the country's two largest Muslim organizations remain opposed to the proposal.

In June 2003, the National Assembly passed an education bill, which, if enforced, would require both public and private schools to provide religious instruction to their students. Because few non-Muslim students attend Indonesia's Islamic schools, the impact of the law would fall most heavily on private Christian schools, where Muslims comprise a significant percentage of the student body. To comply with the law, those schools would have to hire instructors and institute religious instruction, as well as create spaces for worship, for students of other religions. Catholic and Protestant organizations, church groups, and parochial schools view the law as inappropriate state interference in private religious affairs. Many moderate Muslim political parties, organizations, and intellectuals opposed the legislation for similar reasons. The law does have considerable popular support, however. At this time, the government has not yet implemented the controversial provisions of the law described above.

Some notable advances in inter-religious tolerance and cooperation occurred during the past year. Indonesian government officials continued to work with local Muslim and Christian community leaders to diffuse tensions in conflict areas, and a growing number of inter-religious non-governmental organizations initiated discussions on pluralism, democracy, religious tolerance, and human rights.

U.S. government assistance currently supports limited programs in conflict resolution, multi-religious dialogue, pluralism, and education, programs that are in line with previous recommendations by the Commission.

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 Malukus.

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