Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Black May 1998: 5th Commemoration (6 of 24)

Citizenship bill maintains institutionalized racism
By Moch. N. Kurniawan and Berni K. Moestafa, Jakarta
The Jakarta Post (February 6, 2003)

Demands for the elimination of institutionalized discrimination against Chinese-Indonesians have fallen on deaf ears as both the government and House have moved to reinforce existing discriminatory laws.

In the citizenship bill that is about to be deliberated in the House, the government makes no attempt to reverse regulations requiring Chinese-Indonesians to obtain the controversial Republic of Indonesia Citizenship Certificate (SBKRI), long seen as a blatant piece of discrimination against Indonesians of ethnic Chinese origin.

Article 39 of the bill, which was submitted to the House in 2000, stipulates that every one is required to prove their Indonesian citizenship, and those who have citizenship may apply to the justice minister or official to obtain it.

Chinese-Indonesians, who account for over three percent of the country's population of 215 million, are still required to have an SBKRI as stipulated in the Citizenship Law No. 62/1958. Many had hoped that the new citizenship bill would scrap this requirement.

President Megawati Soekarnoputri, who declared the Lunar New Year, or Imlek, a national holiday, is scheduled to attend the national celebration for the Chinese New Year on Thursday.

It is still unclear, however, if she will revoke some of the over 60 laws that discriminate against Indonesians of Chinese ethnicity.

Megawati had reportedly asked Minister of Justice and Human Rights Yusril Ihza Mahendra to revoke the SBKRI ruling, but the later declined saying that this would go against the 1958 citizenship law.

Yusril was referring to the closing article IV of the 1958 citizenship law and Presidential Decree No 52/1977 on demographic affairs.

Chinese-Indonesians are the most affected by the SBKRI requirement, and frequently complain that institutions like the immigration office and state universities still require them to present an SBKRI if they want to get a passport or enroll.

The government has actually scrapped all laws and regulations on the SBKRI requirement through Presidential Decree No. 56/1996 on the SBKRI, but many institutions have been reluctant to implement it.

The bill also regulates the citizenship of children born out of both legitimate and illicit relationships.

Article 2 (e) stipulates that a child born in Indonesia from a lawful marriage between an Indonesian mother and stateless father will be recognized as an Indonesian citizen.

A child born here from a lawful marriage between an Indonesian mother and foreign father will also be declared Indonesian.

Compared to the existing laws, the bill provides greater protection for Indonesian women who get married to foreign citizens.

Meanwhile, a member of the National Commission on Human Rights, Saafroedin Bahar, said on Wednesday that with enough commitment, legislators should have no problem deliberating the citizenship bill.

"When we submitted the bill to the House, there was already a broad understanding among legislators to end discrimination," said Saafroedin,

explaining that the government had asked the commission along with several non-government organizations to help draft the bill.

But he doubted that legislators would start debating the bill anytime soon. The House has yet to start or finalize the deliberation on a a number of bills that the government submitted last year or even earlier.

University of Indonesia constitutional law expert Jimly Asshiddiqie agreed that the government had little choice but to wait for the legislators to start working.

He advised against bypassing the present citizenship law with an ad-hoc government regulation, fearing that this would create damaging loopholes in the regulation without a law to back it up.

But he suggested that the government launch an anti-discrimination campaign to support the implementation of the new citizenship law.

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