Jakarta groups blast proposed citizenship law
By Devi Asmarani (Straits Times, Indonesia Bureau)
The Straits Times (Friday, January 11, 2002)
Critics say new Bill being drafted still discriminates against minority Chinese by requiring 'proof of citizenship' papers
Jakarta - A new Bill on citizenship being drafted by a government team has drawn criticism from rights groups and others here for allegedly preserving discrimination against the minority ethnic Chinese group.
A team of Justice and Human Rights Ministry officials is preparing the second draft of the Bill and plans to submit it to Parliament later this year. If passed, it will replace the 1958 Law on Citizenship.
Anti-discrimination groups which got wind of details of the Bill say it continues to include a clause which has led to widespread discrimination against the Chinese, despite demands for its removal.
The contentious article stipulates that Indonesians 'who need to prove their citizenship can get Letter of Proof of Indonesian Citizenship (SBKRI) at the relevant department'.
Although the article implies that the need for the document is optional, in practice it is a 'must-have' for most Indonesians of Chinese descent if they want to obtain passports, business or marriage licences, or loans.
The government has argued that keeping the article intact in the new Bill is important for administrative purposes.
But according to Ms Sondang Simanjuntak of the Solidaritas Nusa Bangsa non-governmental organisation (NGO): 'It may sound insignificant but, in reality, this problematic article has provided a legal basis for many governmental or non-governmental institutions to discriminate against the ethnic Chinese.'
The original purpose of the article was to distinguish native Indonesians from Westerners and other ethnic minorities in the country, including the Chinese, Arabs and Indians.
During the Suharto administration, the requirement outlined in the 1958 law was applied primarily to ethnic Chinese Indonesians in what observers believed was part of a mechanism to suppress them.
The SBKRI is issued to those who are aged over 21.
Those who are not of this age have to show their parents' documents in order to prove their citizenship.
It is also widely understood that the need to have the document was a major factor behind the prevalence of extortion and corruption.
The Lower Court issues the SBKRI after a hearing in which applicants must prove their citizenship.
But most people hire middlemen, who often collude with officials to skip the exhaustive court procedures.
Getting the document can cost between 500,000 rupiah (S$95) and one million rupiah.
Ms Sondang said: 'Maybe it is not so hard for rich people, but we tend to forget that there are many poor ethnic Chinese too.'
Ethnic Chinese make up 4 per cent of the population but are believed to hold sway over 60 per cent of the economy, leading to the perception that most of them are well off.
But most ethnic Chinese Indonesians are small traders and businessmen.
Mr Wahyu Effendi, of the Movement of Struggle Against Discrimination (Gandi), said: 'It is unfair that the ethnic Chinese have to prove they are Indonesian citizens by producing SBKRI while other minorities like the Arabs and those of Indian origin need only show their identity cards and their birth certificates.'
He said having the documents can also make them an easy target for discrimination.
The government-issued identity cards for the Chinese are subtly marked, either with specific numbers, a dot or extra white space. State universities have also imposed quotas on the ethnic Chinese.
Gandi and several other NGOs are currently drafting their own version of a new citizenship Bill which they plan to submit to Parliament.