Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Black May 1998: 5th Commemoration (21 of 24)

Expert, activists seek end to state-sponsored discrimination
By Kurniawan Hari, Jakarta
The Jakarta Post (September 16, 2003)

Analysts and human right groups urged the government on Monday to end "state-sponsored discrimination" of Chinese-Indonesians and family members of suspected communist party members, rather than wasting more time on a mostly "toothless" truth and reconciliation commission.

"Ending all discriminatory policies would do far more good than establishing a truth and reconciliation commission," Ikrar Nusa Bhakti of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) told legislators in a hearing here on Monday.

Currently, the House of Representatives (DPR) is deliberating a bill on the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission to deal with past human rights abuses in the country, but activists claim it has all come too late.

Citing "state-sponsored discrimination" against Indonesians of Chinese descent and relatives of former members of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), Ikrar said putting an end to government racism and political biases would promote reconciliation without the need to establish a special commission.

Chinese-Indonesians, for instance, are still required to obtain a special letter issued, ironically, by the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, which specifically states their ethnicity, along with dozens of other government policies that are designed to discriminate against them. As such they are barred from most government institutions.

Children and relatives of former PKI members have their IDs marked, making it almost impossible for them to obtain a job with government institutions as civil servants. The PKI was blamed by then Maj. Gen. Soeharto and his military colleagues for a coup d'etat attempt in 1965, and that incident led to the ascension of Soeharto as president, as well as hundreds of thousands of brutal deaths of suspected PKI supporters throughout the country.

Munarman, director of the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI), said the House should have begun deliberation on the truth and reconciliation commission right after Soeharto's downfall. Current talks on the creation of such a commission had lost momentum, he added.

"The implication is that most articles in the bill are just technical matters regarding the work of the truth commission," Munarman added.

Fellow activist Robertus Robert criticized the bill, saying that the power given to the truth commission was too insignificant to make much of a difference.

According to Robert, with such limited powers as stipulated in the bill, the truth and reconciliation commission would be as "toothless" as the ad hoc inquiry committee set up by the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM).

In the proposed bill, the truth and reconciliation commission is only in charge of investigating and revealing human rights violations and promoting reconciliation between the victims and perpetrators.

With such limited powers, the commission would never be able to perform its tasks, he said.

Legislator Sidharto Danusubroto meanwhile said that the bill on the truth and reconciliation commission was important and lawmakers planned to "hear more input from society."

"We plan to spend two months to hold hearings with elements in society and government officials. If necessary, all presidential candidates must explain their opinions (on the planned commission) in hearings," Sidharto said.

Some articles in the bill:
  • Article 4: The Commission functions to disclose the truth over gross human rights violation and to seek reconciliation.
  • Article 6: The Commission coordinates with the court to summon victims, perpetrators, or others for clarification and get documents either from civilian, military, or private institutions.
  • Article 26: Compensation and rehabilitation can be given (to the victims) should the request for amnesty (from the perpetrators) be approved.
  • Article 43: The Commission works for a period of three years and may be extended for another two years.
Source: Truth and Reconciliation Commission Bill

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