Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Black May 1998: 5th Commemoration (3 of 24)

Political will needed to eliminate racial discrimination
By Zakki Hakim, Jakarta
Jakarta Post (February 3, 2003)

Eliminating discrimination against Chinese-Indonesians will take a long time and require not only the revocation of some 60 discriminatory rulings, but also a commitment by all sides to promote tolerance, assimilation and equality, according to analysts.

The analysts appreciated the official recognition of the Chinese New Year, but said the real problem was the unequal and discriminatory treatment of so-called nonindigenous citizens.

Frans Winarta, a lawyer, said revoking discriminatory regulations would not guarantee equality unless all groups in society were committed to accepting Chinese-Indonesians as part of a pluralistic society.

"But refusing to revoke the discriminatory regulations, under the Roman Statute of the Human Rights Tribunal, means the government could be considered as committing a state crime against its citizens," Frans said.

For the first time in the country's history, the government declared Chinese New Year, or Imlek as it is popularly known here, a national holiday.

Indonesians of Chinese descent account for approximately 3 percent, or around six million, of the country's 215 million population. However, they control over 60 percent of the country's economy.

Following the abortive coup in 1965, which the government blamed on the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), the government introduced rules and regulations aimed at curbing the movement of Chinese-Indonesians in the country. PKI had a strong affiliation with the Chinese Communist Party.

Some of the discriminatory laws include the requirement for Chinese-Indonesians to acquire a citizenship certificate, popularly known as SKBRI.

Former president Abdurrahman Wahid revoked some of the discriminatory regulations, but around 60 laws and decrees of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) are still in place.

Myra Sidharta, an observer of Chinese society, said eliminating racial discrimination would take a long time, as it did in the United States, often thought of as the most democratic country in the world.

She said the process would be lengthy and difficult because discrimination here had its roots in the Dutch colonial era.

During colonial times, participation by Indonesians of Chinese descent was limited to the area of trade only.

"Many people still have the misperception that the ethnic Chinese are businesspeople and second-class citizens, making them rich and perfect targets for extortion," she said.

She said that besides revoking the some 60 discriminatory regulations, the nation's political and religious leaders should set a good example in their dealings with people of other races, ethnic groups and religions.

She said the country's leaders should demonstrate their respect for social diversity and promote cooperation and friendship among different races, ethnic groups and religions.

Juwono Sudarsono, former head of the Communication Body for the Appreciation of National Unity, suggested the relevant authorities hold a dialog about how to eliminate discrimination in the private sector and the bureaucracy.

"The government should provide equal opportunities for all its citizens, including ethnic Chinese, to enter the bureaucracy, the military and other state institutions such as the House of Representatives and the judiciary," he said.

He said the discriminatory policy favoring indigenous citizens in Malaysia was not a good example for Indonesia.

"(Malaysian Prime Minister) Mahathir's policy might have worked for 15 years, but I am not so sure it will be relevant in the next five years. I am quite confident that the model implemented in Indonesia will be more effective in eliminating discrimination and promoting diversity in the long run," he said.

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