In Indonesia, the minorities and indigenous peoples of the provinces of Aceh and Papua faced significant discrimination. The Acehnese are fighting the Indonesian state for an independent Islamic homeland. The Indonesian government has responded with military force, which has turned the entire region into a civil war zone for the past decade.

Aceh was the hardest-hit region in Indonesia during the tsunami disaster. The scale of the disaster was such that it gave the Indonesian state and the rebel movement, GAM (Gerakin Aceh Merdeka – Free Aceh Movement), the impetus to look for peace. After several rounds of negotiations in Norway, the Indonesian state offered the Acehnese autonomy and, on 15 August 2005, GAM and the Indonesian government signed a peace deal in Helsinki, Finland. The Indonesian parliament will have to ratify the autonomy deal but the Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has already promised to honour it. The deal will give the Achenese autonomy in almost all areas apart from foreign policy and defence, and Aceh will be allowed to keep 70 per cent of its oil and gas wealth. Local elections will be held in April 2006 and around 300 monitors from the European Union and South-East Asia will observe the implementation of the deal. The deal also calls for an amnesty for GAM members and a gradual withdrawal of Indonesian troops. Most observers are of the opinion that this peace deal is the most promising to emerge for the past decade.

Like the Acehnese, the Papuans on Indonesia's eastern front, are also fighting for an independent homeland. The Indonesia army has responded with force, and is widely believed to have murdered Theys Eluay, the leader of the Papua independence movement, a loosely knit movement called the Free Papua Movement (OPM). Although the Indonesian government has declared Papua an autonomous province (including changing its name from Irian Jaya to Papua), Papuans have complained that this is a ploy to divide the independence movement. They have also complained that they are still being actively discriminated against by the state. There is long-standing animosity between local Papuans and migrants from other islands, who were encouraged to settle in Papua by the Indonesian government, under its transmigrasi programme. In the provincial capital Jayapura, the migrant population, consisting mainly of Javanese and Maldurese, easily outnumbers the local population. The migrants also control the local economy. The autonomy given to the Papuans is not as extensive as that given to the Acehnese. In the past year, there are credible reports of clashes between the Indonesian army and Papuan rebels, including clashes in major Papuan towns such as Wamena, Wasior and Timika. Reports suggest that more than 100 people were killed in clashes with the military.

The Papuans are also unhappy with US mining giant Freeport-McMoRan. Its concessions in Papua amount to 3.6 million hectares, and it owns easily the largest gold mine in the region. Human rights activists accuse the company of paying protection money to the Indonesian military, who in turn use military force to stop Papuans from protesting against the operations of the mine. The company denies involvement in human rights abuses. Several OPM attacks on the operations of the mine have led to Indonesian army retaliation against local residents, including a controversial shooting of three American teachers travelling near the mine in 2002. Many Papuans complain that they do not benefit from the mine.

There was some positive news, however. Several laws that discriminated against the ethnic Indonesian Chinese have been scrapped, including the infamous Indonesian Citizenship Certificate (SBKRI) decree. Under this decree, ethnic Chinese Indonesians were given a special code in their ID which identified them as Chinese and gave the bureaucracy the opportunity to discriminate against them. Former President Megawati cancelled the decree in April 2005.

In the 2004 elections, there were several parties that openly claimed to be representing ethnic Chinese, something that was unheard of during the rule of former president Suharto. Although none of these parties made any headway, they did raise the profile of the Chinese community. Many senior Indonesian officials openly proclaimed their Chinese ancestry.

This 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.