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The elephant in the room: Racism in Indonesia

Jakarta Post - August 25, 2019

Ghina Ghaliya and Fadli, Jakarta and Batam – Fueled by a viral video that appeared to show alleged security personnel using the derogatory slur "monkey" against Papuan students in Surabaya, East Java, the longstanding racial prejudice against residents of Papua and West Papua boiled over during recent tensions in the two least developed provinces in the country.

The 2010 census conducted by Statistics Indonesia (BPS) found that the country had 1,340 etnicities, with the Javanese forming the majority at about 40 percent and Papuans comprising only 1.14 percent. Soeharto's New Order repressed sectarian tensions, including anti-Chinese and anti-Islam sentiments, by banning individuals from public expression of tribal affiliations, religion, race and societal groups (SARA).

Enacted during the New Order, Article 156 of the Criminal Code bans all SARA-based prejudice and carries a maximum sentence of four years in prison. Two additional laws were later issued – Law No. 40/2008 on eliminating racial and ethnic discrimination and Law No. 19/2016 on Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE) – to protect citizens from all discrimination based on their religion, ethnicity and race and to ban hate speech on the internet.

President Joko Widodo has instructed National Police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian to take legal action against acts of racial and ethnic discrimination in the Surabaya case. While the country has seen many religious conflicts, it has often overlooked racially motivated public tension and conflicts.

Has anyone been convicted of SARA?

The Tanjungpinang Police of Riau named on Thursday Bobby Jayanto, the chairman of the NasDem Party's Tanjungpinang chapter, as a suspect of "racist" speech following a nearly two-month investigation.

Bobby, who is of Chinese descent and a leader of the local Chinese-Indonesian community, reportedly used "black skin" to refer to non-Chinese-Indonesians in a public speech, and has been accused of violating the Criminal Code and Article 16 of the 2008 Anti-discrimination Law.

Citing the same law, the Foundation of the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute (YLBHI) demanded on Friday that the government investigate law enforcement personnel and members of the public for alleged racial abuse against Papuan students in Surabaya.

As the Anti-discrimination Law has not been fully implemented, it is rare for an individual to be convicted of racial discrimination.

Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan faced a civil lawsuit and was accused of violating the Anti-discrimination Law for using the term "pribumi" (native Indonesian) in his inaugural address in October 2017, which some people viewed as a revival of colonial racism. In June 2018, the Central Jakarta District Court dismissed the suit, saying that it did not meet the legal requirements.

Does racism persist in Indonesia?

According to the YLBHI, at least 33 alleged human rights violations against Papuan students have occurred over the last two years in areas such as Surabaya, Semarang, Yogyakarta, Bali and Makassar. These occurred through intimidation and threat, hate speech, raids, and arbitrary arrests or detentions. It said that the racially motivated acts were believed to have involved law enforcement personnel.

Emmanuel Gobay, a lawyer with the Papua Legal Aid Institute (LBH Papua), said that racial abuse targeting minority groups was rampant in the country. He added that racial discrimination was also prevalent in the criminal justice system, considering how quickly law enforcement responded when an alleged violator hailed from a minority ethnic group or religious background.

"When the perpetrators are Papuans, the police will process any crime swiftly," he said.

Human rights lawyer and activist Febi Yonesta of YLBHI said Chinese-Indonesians generally had socioeconomic privilege compared to Papuans, with greater access to good education, health care and other public services, as long they could pay more.

As most Papuans were underprivileged, any acts of discrimination against them would only add to their suffering.

"In terms of persecution, [Chinese-Indonesians] are more prone to [being victims of] racial violence because of their social status, while Papuans have been victims of state persecution due to their stigmatization as 'rebels' and racial profiling by state apparatuses. The negative public perception of Papuans is prompted by the actions of officials," he said.

Who has the power to end racial discrimination and abuse?

While the YLBHI's records show that racial discrimination and abuse are widespread against Papuans, the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) has different data.

Komnas HAM recorded only 12 reports on general acts of racial discrimination in 2018 and only two in 2017. The reports primarily concerned restrictions and hate speech, and the highest reported parties were regional administrations, law enforcement personnel and mass organizations.

Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM) researcher Wahyudi Djafar said that Komnas HAM was not fully aware of its functions, and that it had contributed to the persistence of racial discrimination and abuse.

Komnas HAM has a major role in upholding the law under Government Regulation (PP) No. 56/2010, and it may report on, review, provide counsel for, monitor and mediate racial discrimination and abuse cases. The PP also stipulates that Komnas HAM can recommend legal proceedings against any alleged acts of racial discrimination and racially motivated crimes it uncovers, whether they are perpetrated by individuals, community groups and private institutions, or even state institutions and the government.

The commission is also authorized to request that the House of Representatives or regional legislative councils (DPRD) pursue an investigation, in the event that the the government or state institutions do not act on its recommendations.

"As for the Surabaya case, Komnas HAM must oversee it until it is resolved, as it possesses many powers according to the regulation. It is important for Komnas HAM because if [the case] is resolved, it could be a benchmark of how to handle racial abuse [cases] in the future so that it does not happen again," said Wahyudi.

What can be done in the Papuan students case?

Although Komnas HAM has not yet issued a recommendation, commissioner Beka Ulung Hapsara said it was committed to overseeing the case until its completion, as the law was still discriminatory in its implementation. The greater an individual's political power, the easier it was for them to "play with the law", he said.

"At the same time, we urge the President to manage the implementation of the law and prevent similar cases from reoccurring in the future," Beka said.

The House has also expressed its willingness to closely monitor the military and police to ensure sure that all perpetrators were tried and convicted.

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2019/08/25/the-elephant-in-the-room-racism-in-indonesia.html