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Laws 'still unfair' to ethnic Chinese

Straits Times - February 15, 1999

Susan Sim, Jakarta – Institutional discrimination is still visible in Indonesia because the government has not removed its legal basis, human rights activists said as they took issue with President B. J. Habibie's recent statement that he has abolished all discriminatory policies here.

"In many quarters, his statement would be seen as a misleading statement," National Human Rights Commission chairman Marzuki Darusman said.

"Social discrimination is certainly visible here. I think in fact his statement brings out another dimension, which is whether or not we ourselves are a racist community. We have to address ourselves to this question more now than ever."

The Habibie government, despite early pledges to dismantle a system of active discrimination against the eight million to 10 million ethnic Chinese, has done nothing, the deputy chairman of the ruling Golkar charged, adding: "The government just wants the problem to go away on its own. It has not ... laid the legal basis for getting rid of discriminatory policies."

Officials say the inertia is as much symptomatic of Dr Habibie's administrative style – he believes issuing a decree can resolve problems – as the fact that the practices are a gold mine for the bureaucracy.

For example, ethnic Chinese are required to obtain citizenship certificates before they can apply for identity cards even if they were born here and their lineage date back generations.

The ID cards, issued free to any other Indonesian, is the lifeline to documents like a driving licence, passport, bank credits, university places and job interviews. The documentation process also requires layers of security screening and authentication, and commands hefty fees.

"In 1978, I had to pay 300,000 rupiah to get my citizenship certificate authenticated so I can get an ID card," said lawyer Frans Winarta, who counts himself a seventh generation Indonesian.

"You can imagine how many million rupiah we have to pay now for that certificate book. And each time we move house, we have to pay some more to record the change of address. When our children are 18, we have to go to court and get separate citizenship certificates for them."

And although ID cards are no longer supposed to carry special identification codes for ethnic Chinese, officials have since devised a numbering system "so they can still tell", he said.

The President did issue a decree last September instructing all officials to "end the usage of the term pribumi and non-pribumi" and provide equal treatment and service to all – regardless of race, religion or ethnicity. Yet, not all ministers, much less lower-ranking officials, have seen the decree, campaigners say.

Meanwhile, unwritten quotas in state universities and the civil service discourage ethnic Chinese from applying, Mr Winarta said. "These are the most difficult to combat because they are informal barriers to entry," he said, adding that getting unfair laws repealed was only the first step. So long as the Chinese are considered foreigners here, there will be no peace."