Human Rights Watch Urges Indonesia to Tackle Religious Violence
Human Rights Watch Urges Indonesia to Tackle Religious ViolenceFailures in government leadership and law enforcement are fueling a surge of religious violence in Indonesia and have rendered religious minorities vulnerable to attack, an international rights group said in a report released on Thursday.
The Human Rights Watch report, “In Religion’s Name,” condemned the Indonesian government for its ignorant and at times “complicit” approach to religious conflict that it says has recently escalated.
Phelim Kine, HRW’s Asia deputy director, told a media gathering on Thursday that addressing religiously motivated violence “isn’t rocket science,” adding that the issue of religious conflict in Indonesia should not be left to the next government to deal with.
“This problem is like a form of toxic osmosis, it can and will spread and become a much more serious problem that will be much more difficult to contain in two years or five years,” Kine warned.
“Compounding the problem of this violence, intimidation and harassment by these mobs of vigilante-style thugs is a complete failure by the government of Indonesia to confront this violence and intimidation and to put a stop to it,” Kine said.
“In several notorious incidents, police and government officials have been passively, if not actively, complicit in acts of religious related intolerance and violence,” he said.
Examples where the Indonesian government and security forces have facilitated harassment and intimidation of religious minorities examined in the report include blatant discriminatory statements made by officials, the refusal to issue building permits for religious minorities’ houses of worship, and pressure forced on congregations to relocate.
Call for action
The damning report, which documents dozens of religiously fueled attacks between August 2011 and December 2012 in 10 provinces, offers recommendations to the government on tackling the problems. These include a demand to review existing laws HRW believes are “at odds with freedom of religion” and also the immediate need for the government to adopt a “zero tolerance” on religious violence.
But Bahrul Hayat, secretary general of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, said the rise in conflict cannot “simply” be attributed to religious motivations.
“I don’t think it is appropriate to label it as an increase in terms of religious conflict. Conflict is not only related to religion but also other issues, including the election process in the district, and sometimes there are other issues that are beyond our understanding,” Hayat said on Monday, ahead of the report’s release.
In response to several examples of religiously fueled violence, such as recent attacks on churches in West Java, the secretary general admitted that there are “of course one or two cases” but also noted that Indonesia is not the only nation grappling with this issue.
“Of course as I said it’s not a perfect place but I want to say that the achievements [in combating religious conflict] are better and getting better and I expect that the maturity of the people will also improve over time.”
The official reiterated the government’s “very clear” policy on violence. “We condemn any action done by anybody and any group for whatever reason. If it is destructive or against the law.”
But public condemnation of violence, including that directed at religious minorities, is not sufficient, said Eva Kusuma Sundari, a member of the House of Representatives Commission III, which oversees legal affairs.
The outspoken Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) lawmaker explained that the president and his ministers for religious affairs and home affairs remain complacent with regard to religious discrimination and all have bigger roles to play in preventing the conflict.
“Among these people they don’t show a very big political commitment, only statements, statements. There is no real action in place.”
Christian politicians, Eva said, were afraid to speak out against the violence because they feared being seen as having a vested interest. Muslim politicians on the other hand, she said, “did not want to risk losing votes by being seen as anti-Islamic.”
The HRW report documents the recent rise in religious conflict, with interviews from 71 victims of religious violence. It also cites statistics from the Setara Institute, an Indonesia-based research and advocacy group, that found 216 cases of violent attacks on religious minorities in 2010, 244 cases in 2011 and 264 cases in 2012.
The victims of the attacks mentioned in the report belonged to religious communities including Catholic and Protestant Christians, and Islamic groups Shia, Sunni and Ahmadiyah.
The violence these religious minorities endure includes intimidation, destruction of property, arson attacks and extreme physical harm.
Kine said the source of this intolerance and violence stems primarily from militant Islamists. “Groups of militant Islamists such as the FPI (Islamic Defenders Front), which have an uncompromising view of religious purity, are abusive, disparaging and uncompromising toward those who don’t agree with their views.”
Traditionally Indonesia has been viewed by the international community as an example of religious harmony and a bastion for religious diversity. World leaders sometimes praise the country as a model of tolerance.
This tolerant image is what Yenny Wahid, director of the Wahid Institute, an organization that promotes development of moderate Islam in Indonesia, fears will be destroyed by the rise of hard-line Islamist groups who are threatening to destroy the reputation of the country’s majority of moderate Muslims.
“I think if these hardliner groups are not put in check and there is no action against them by the government than it will have a tremendous effect on our image internationally as an Islamic society,” said the daughter of former President Abdurrahman Wahid.
The outspoken activist said she was baffled by the government’s complacency on religious violence.
“The majority of Muslims in this country will support the government if they take a strong stance against Islamist groups,” Yenny said, adding that she believed “our constitution and national cohesion is far more important than just one or two [FPI] controversies.