world council of churches
International Affairs, Peace & Human Security

WCC-CCA pastoral visit to Indonesia
27 January to 4 February 1999


The World Council of Churches has a longstanding policy of pastoral visits to churches in crisis situations. The methodology of pastoral visits provides an opportunity to obtain first-hand information, to listen and learn about the situation and to express solidarity with the people in the midst of crisis. This expression of solidarity support contributes to boost the morale of the people in need. They know they are not alone. Such visits are also an instrumentality to educate and interpret to the wider ecumenical family the events and development in a particular situation. It thus helps to foster and strengthen relationships through supportive actions and sharing of resources.

The WCC-CCA delegation's pastoral visit to Indonesia was in this context. It was to follow up the recommendations made to the VIII WCC Assembly at Harare by the Business Committee at the request of the Indonesian Churches, particularly the WCC member church, GKI-IRJA inIrian Jaya.

Click to the following chapters:

History of the Church in Indonesia
Thirty-two years of Suharto's rule
Beginning of economic woes
Concerns of the churches
The delegation's visit
Ethnic Chinese minority under attack
Communal violence
Irian Jaya
Conclusions and recommendations

The economic meltdown in Southeast Asia has hit the Republic of Indonesia the hardest, an archipelago of more than 1700 islands and a population of over 200 million people. Riots, communal and ethnic violence resulting in killings and destruction of property worth millions of Rupiahs have further compounded the situation. Since the country's independence in 1945 the Indonesian people have suffered from repressive rule first, under Sukarno and then under Suharto, when institutions of governance and decision-making processes were tightly controlled and centralised. Any opposition to the regime was countered with an iron hand.

Last year's downfall of President Suharto opened a pandora's box. The unrest, social discontent, economic hardships and political turmoil unleashed then are tearing the country apart. For a country committed to religious pluralism, the intensity of religious and ethnic strife has come as a rude shock to people on both sides of the religious divide. The unfolding events have placed a heavy burden on the leadership of the churches. The Christian minority in a country that is predominantly Muslim has to tread carefully in a climate that is potentially explosive and can easily get out of hand. It is crucial at this time of crisis that the local and national churches in Indonesia are accompanied by the ecumenical family and receive encouragement and support of the global church.

We are thankful to PGI and GKI-IRJA for organizing the visits. Special thanks are due to Ms.Stien Jalil, staff of PGI and Mr. Willy Mandowan, member of the WCC Central Committee,Indonesia for taking care of practical aspects of the visit.

Dwain C. Epps
(Former)Coordinator, International Relations

Delegation Report


A brief historical overview of Indonesia
Indonesia provides a fascinating example of nation building in contemporary history. Its people are spread over a vast archipelago. Their diverse cultures and traditions intermingle to nurture a new sense of community and common destiny. This sense of common destiny guided the leaders of the independence movement against the Dutch colonialist. Recognizing the trans-ethnic character of Indonesian nationalism, they formalized the attainment of an independent and sovereign state on 17th August 1945. During the first twenty years the country faced many conflicts concerning Pancasila' and the Constitution of 1945. Under the leadership of Sukarno, (Bung Karno - big brother) Indonesia championed the role of the non-aligned movement and the cause of Third World people in international relations. However on the domestic front Sukarno's economic policies and guided democracy created much unrest and discontent amongst the people. The 1999 Far Eastern Economic Review Yearbook aptly sums up the historical developments relating to the archipelago that now constitutes the republic of Indonesia :

The Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms that developed in Sumatra and Java from the 7th century succumbed in the 14th century to the slow advance of Islam. European incursions began in the 16th century, led by the Portuguese, who built fortresses in the Moluccas to protect their lucrative spice trade.

The Portuguese were replaced in the 17th century by the Dutch who completed their gradual subjugation of Java and other islands in the 19th century. The Dutch did much to foster the economic development of Java, albeit mainly through the oppressive cultural system' - the forced cultivation of cash crops. Dutch rule effectively ended when Japanese forces occupied the archipelago in early 1942.

During three years of Japanese military rule, nationalist groups were able to organize and on Japan's surrender, declared independence from Netherlands on 17th August 1945. Dutch held West New Guinea was formerly incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 and the former Portuguese colony of East Timor followed in 1976. A flamboyant populist Sukarno was Indonesia's first president. He ruled from 1945 until an abortive coup in 1965, blamed on the Communist Party of Indonesia, led to his downfall. He was formerly replaced by Suharto in 1967. In the 1980's Indonesia successfully diversified away from a dependence on oil and built a wide ranging manufacturing base. The government placed a heavy emphasis on promoting exports and enacted a series of measures to attract foreign investments.

After 32 years and 6 consecutive terms in office, student demonstrations and a rebellion within the ranks of his own government finally forced Suharto to step down on May 21, 1998 and reluctantly hand power to Vice President B.J. Habibie".

History of the Church in Indonesia
Christianity came to Indonesia around the 16th century with the arrival of the Roman Catholic missionaries who accompanied the Portuguese traders on an expedition in search of spices. These missionaries brought a mandate from Pope Alexander VI to propagate the Gospel and to civilize the indigenous people. Religious settlements were established in Moluccas, Minahasa, Halmahere, Solar, Flores and Timor. They were followed at the end of the 16th century by Dutch trading expeditions. The Dutch East Indies Company was not only given a political mandate by the Dutch government, but it also brought with it a mandate from the Dutch church to propagate the Gospel and to abolish the power of the anti-Christ (including the Roman Catholic power and doctrine). Catholic Mission were forbidden by the Dutch East Indies Company. It was during this period that indigenous congregations were established in the Dutch held territory.

In 1800, the Dutch government took over the Dutch East Indies Company to consolidate its hold over the areas now known as Republic of Indonesia. During 140 years of Dutch colonial rule many European and American missionaries sent by their mission societies came to Indonesia. They brought varying spiritual, doctrinal and confessional backgrounds. These mission societies produced thousands of new congregations. The biggest church at the time was the Protestant Church in Dutch Indies, the legacy of the Dutch East Indies Company. This strengthened the generally held perception of Christianity's close relationship with the colonial government. In years to come, this would have serious implications on relationship between Christianity and Islam, which at the time was widely spread in the coastal areas.

The Indonesian archipelago came under Japanese occupation between 1942 and 1945. Churches, schools and hospitals were confiscated for war use. The withdrawal of the Dutch provided an opportunity for the national leadership to grow and shoulder greater responsibility.

In the early days of the occupation, the Islamic leadership welcomed the Japanese as liberators from colonial domination. To gain support amongst the Muslims, the Japanese established and trained the Muslim military organization known as Hizbullah (Soldiers of God) and also reopened the office of Islamic affairs (Shumubu). The last days of Japanese occupation witnessed the preparations for the struggle for independence. After independence the churches intensified their quest for unity, which was realized on 25th May 1950 when the National Council of Churches was formed. In 1984 the General Assembly of the Council held in Ambon voted to change the name of the Council of Churches of Indonesia to Communion of Churches in Indonesia (PGI/CCI). Its aim being to emphasize unity and oneness through Communion in Christ, beginning with the common call to unity and wholeness as one body and one spirit (Ephesians 4:2-4). This Communion is enhanced through, common service and witness, holy communion, fellowship, mutual help and support. The mission of PGI/CCI is to realize a United Christian Church in Indonesia. The membership of PGI/CCI has grown from 29 church synods in 1959 to 79 in 1999, and includes 16,381 congregations.

Since independence churches and Christians in Indonesia have struggled to be a legitimate and an integral part of the nation. Through programs of Koinonia and Diakonia they have vigorously participated in the task of development and nation building. There is a conscientious effort to identify with the nations' ethnic and cultural moorings. Inter-religious dialogue particularly with the Islamic community is undertaken to fight poverty and create an environment of cooperation and harmony.

Thirty-two years of Suharto's rule
In 1965 Suharto led the armed forces of Indonesia (ABRI) in the successful crackdown on the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI). The events leading to his seizure of power resulted in the killings of hundreds of thousands of Communist Party cadres and others. Leaders of the PKI together with left wing officers of the Armed Forces were arbitrarily tried and imprisoned, some for life, at Borro Islands. It was a costly takeover that ushered in Suharto's New Order. For over three decades he ruled the country with an iron hand, backed by ABRI and the Golkar Party. One of the first steps his regime took was to ban the use of Chinese language and close down Chinese schools in the country. Relations with Beijing remained strained, because of Chinese Communist Party's support of the PKI.

Under Suharto, ABRI came to dominate almost all sectors of civil and political life. Its power and influence spread from the highest legislative body, to trade, commerce, industry and down to the level of the village chief. Through the years ABRI remained steadfast in its support of Suharto, ruthlessly suppressing popular opposition movements in Aceh, East Timor and Irian Jaya. According to Human Right Groups ABRI's special forces, Commando units called Kopassus were involved in systematic torture, kidnappings and killings of opposition leaders, trade unionists and students.

During three decades of Suharto's rule, Indonesia's economy prospered and grew at a rapid pace. This development largely benefitted the ruling elites, including Suharto's family and Chinese business houses close to him. However, there was a trickle down effect of economic development that impacted on the lives of many common Indonesians, particularly those in urban centres. While in economic terms the country made gains, albeit lopsided, the political aspirations of the people remained suppressed. Demands for fundamental human rights, whenever raised by the people, were crushed instantaneously and with a vengeance by the Armed Forces. Those involved in the struggle for human rights or for political freedom were branded "Marxist subversives" and jailed for long periods.

Suharto's determination to depoliticize Indonesian society paid dividends in the short term but at a tremendous cost to the nation. The fruits of his action are now beginning to ripen as is evident by the present vacuum in political leadership and institutions of governance, as well as in the social discontent and civil strife that are tearing the country apart. A country known to promote consensus and harmony in all spheres of society now stands at crossroads of history, threatened with anarchy and chaos. The potential for conflict and violence have increased manifold in the last couple of months. Their credibility at its lowest ebb, the role of armed forces remains unclear.

Having lost some of their grip to keep the situation under control, they are no longer in a position to play a dominant role in Indonesian society.

With inter-religious conflict and violence spreading all over the country, the future of Pancasila - the five principles of belief in God, unity of humanity, representative democracy, nationalism and social justice - that held the country together is under threat from extremist forces. Adopted as a state ideology amongst others to counter Communism, Pancasila has served the Indonesian society well. Backed by ABRI, Pancasila ensured inter-religious peace and acted as a check on growth of religious extremism. If the present situation continues or worsens its future maybe in jeopardy.

Beginning of economic woes
The year 1997 was a turning point in Indonesia's history. It brought bad news for the miracle' economies of South East Asia. From being cited as models by the World Bank and the international media, the economies of Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia were branded as being flawed because of years of corruption and crony capitalism'. The sudden spiralling down of the currencies in these countries sent shock waves not only in the region, but also in the world. The turmoil was not confined to the market. It spread to other sectors bringing in its wake social and political tensions and conflicts. Indonesia was the hardest hit. As the financial crisis continued to unfold, a host of social problems arose. Confidence in the political leadership eroded. Indonesia's financial crisis became more than just an economic phenomenon leading to a political and social turmoil. Having enjoyed relative stability under thirty years of Suharto's rule, when everything was kept under control through force of arms, it was faced with a threatening situation of popular discontent, for which neither the country nor its ruling elites were prepared. To bring a semblance of control to its shattered economy, the government floated the rupiah in August 1977. This resulted in its free fall, hitting the lowest against the US dollar. President Suharto's initial efforts to negotiate a bail out package with IMF did not materialize. Subsequently, however, with his re-election in March 1998, the package was re-negotiated. The situation nevertheless continued to deteriorate. On 21st May 1998, Suharto resigned under pressure from the student movement and in the aftermath of the mid-May riots. In these riots 1198 lives were lost, 27 killed by gunfire, 168 women were raped, 40 shopping malls and 400 shops were set ablaze and thousands of vehicles and houses were burnt down in 27 areas of Jakarta, a city of 10 million people, in less than 50 hours. Since then unrest and rioting have continued in different parts of Indonesia, with frequent reports of human rights abuses and increasing incidents of religious tensions and conflicts between Muslims and Christians. The provinces of Aceh, East Timor and Irian Jaya continue to be particularly volatile.

Concerns of the Churches
In July 1998 the PGI in consultation with the synod of GKI - IRJA convened a roundtable meeting of partners on Irian Jaya in Bali to consider the deteriorating situation in the province resulting from 35 years of human rights violations committed by the Indonesian armed forces under its national security approach; and as a result of implementation of unfair and lopsided development policies in the areas of mining, forestry, agriculture, tourism and transmigration resulting in environmental destruction, loss of land and cultural degradation. Subsequently, a fact finding delegation of PGI visited Irian Jaya and shared its reports and findings with WCC and CCA.

Around the time of the roundtable, WCC and CCA received a letter from the Hong Kong Christian Council expressing concern about the situation in Indonesia, particularly in relation to the human rights violation of the Chinese ethnic minority and rape of Chinese women during the May 1998 riots in Jakarta.

PGI meanwhile received a regular flow of information regarding the situation in the different provinces of Indonesia from its member constituents. Several meetings of the PGI Executive Board were convened where the situation resulting from riots, ethnic and religious violence was discussed. PGI representatives met with government officials as well as with leaders of political parties, religious and student organizations to consider ways and means to restore peace and defuse tension in areas affected by violence. Relief efforts were organized to assist people in need.

CCA Initiatives
The Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) was in constant touch with the Indonesian Churches since the economic and political crises engulfed the country in May 1998. The CCA Executive Committee which met in Hong Kong, 13-14 May 1998 issued a statement expressing concern on the deteriorating situation. A copy of the statement was given to the Indonesian President on 16 May through the General Secretary of the Communion of Churches (PGI). In view of these developments, CCA decided in consultation with PGI to send a pastoral team to Indonesia in November 1998, but the visit had to be postponed due to the worsening social and political situation. In September 1998, CCA organized a consultation in Bangkok on Christian-Muslim Dialogue on Human Rights Solidarity in Asia', in which Christian and Muslim leaders from Indonesia also participated and contributed to the discussions.

WCC VIII Assembly Action
At the WCC's VIII Assembly at Harare, 3- 14, December 1998, the Public Issues Committee received two requests from the Indonesian delegates related to the destruction of churches and church property and to violence in Indonesia. Another specific proposal of Gereja Kristen Injili di Irian Jaya (the Evangelical Christian Church in Irian Jaya) transmitted by Dr. Karel Philemon Erari was with regard to the issue of self determination for Irian Jaya.

The Public Issues Committee considered this request together with those received on Indonesia.

It noted that WCC has followed events in Indonesia with special attention since the May 1998 riots. The economic uncertainty and the growing violence further aggravated the situation. Of particular concern to the Council were incidents of Church burnings and mounting attacks on Christians and ethnic Chinese. The WCC had also followed carefully the events in the troubled provinces of Aceh, East Timor and Irian Jaya which continued to manifest brutality and violation of human rights by the Indonesian security forces. Through visits and regular contacts the Council was aware of and deeply concerned about the severe strain this had put upon the Indonesian Churches.

In light of these facts, the Public Issues Committee recommended that no statement be issued by the Assembly, but that the Business Committee minute the following: The WCC together with the Christian Conference of Asia, and in consultation with the Communion of Churches in Indonesia should organise an ecumenical delegation visit to Indonesia at the earliest opportunity. The Council and its member Churches should support and encourage the Churches in Indonesia to participate actively in the national dialogue for reconciliation in Irian Jaya.

This was adopted by the Business Committee.

The delegation's visit
The WCC-CCA ecumenical delegation's visit to Indonesia, 27th January to 4th February 1999 responded to these concerns and had the following objectives: to pay a pastoral visit to the Churches in Indonesia and to express solidarity of the ecumenical family with the struggling and suffering people of Indonesia to learn about the life of the churches and their ministry in the present crisis situation, particularly in Irian Jaya; and to understand the nature and causes of the Muslim-Christian tensions and human rights violations, particularly those involving the ethnic Chinese minority.

The delegation comprised church leaders and others from within and outside the region, with expertise and knowledge on Indonesia acquired through their work and ministry; experts in the field of human rights, inter-religious relations and peace and conflict resolutions. The members were:
Rev. David Gill, General Secretary, National Council of Churches in Australia
Rev. Tso Man King, General Secretary, Hong Kong Christian Council
Mr. Mok Cheh Liang, Treasurer, Council of Churches in Malaysia
Ms. Sophia Lizares Bodegon, Journalist, National Council of Churches in the Philippines
Rev. Max Reid, President, Conference of Churches in Aotearoa - New Zealand
Rev. Dr. Jochen Motte, Executive Secretary, Justice Peace and Integrity of Creation, United Evangelical Mission (Germany)
Rev. Dick C. Nicolai, General Secretary, Board of Mission, Netherlands Reformed Church
Dr. Mathews George Chunkara, Coordinator/Executive Secretary, International Affairs and Indo-China Concerns, Christian Conference of Asia, Hong Kong (India)
Mr. Clement John, Executive Secretary, International Affairs, Peace & Human Security, World Council of Churches, Switzerland (Pakistan)

On the 27th and 28th of January, the delegation with the Executive Committee and staff of PGI, government officials, leaders of political parties and ethnic Chinese minority. Thereafter, the delegation split into three groups to visit churches, meet with representatives of churches, student and youth groups, NGOs, academics and others in Irian Jaya, Surabaya, East Java and greater Jakarta. On Sunday, the 31st January, members of the delegation worshipped with the local congregations in Jakarta, Jayapura and Surabaya. The list of officials met and organisations visited is attached as appendix I. The WCC, CCA and PGI statements on Indonesia are attached as appendix II.


The situation today
Indonesia, clearly, is in crisis. More accurately, it is experiencing a series of crises, each of which contributes to and complicates the resolution of the others. There is an economic crisis, a political crisis, a crisis of credibility for authority structures both civil and military, a crisis of national cohesion in this archipelago of many cultures, a crisis of religious and ethnic tolerance and, through it all, a crisis of confidence in what the future will bring.

Anger is evident in the way people speak of those who have abused the power entrusted to them.

Although targeted at individuals and groups believed to have contributed to Indonesia's troubles, the hostility sometimes finds expression in more diffuse ways. Add the frustration and anxiety that pervade the society, and there exists abundant fuel to feed the flames of mutual suspicion and communal discord. The violence that has scarred Indonesia in recent months including clashes between demonstrators and military personnel, attacks on the ethnic Chinese minority, destruction of churches and mosques, and Christian/Muslim clashes has to be seen in this context.

However, recent events cannot be explained adequately in terms of spontaneous outbreaks of pent-up frustration. Reports on most of these events cite evidence of prior planning, significant logistical and financial support and the role of agents provocateurs in either creating or at least orchestrating such outbreaks. Indeed, most commentators go further. People up to and including President Habibie expressed the view that the clashes have been fostered and exploited by shadowy forces with a vested political interest in promoting instability and fear. While government representatives refuse to name names, arguing that it would be improper to do so until they have evidence that will stand up in court, others speculate that those responsible may include supporters of former President Suharto, radical Muslim groups and/or certain factions of the military.

The President and other senior government officials spoke strongly against those responsible for the violence, condemning categorically the attacks on churches and mosques and the fostering of religious hostility, and pledging themselves to bring the perpetrators to justice. However, it remains a matter of deep concern that the government, with all the information-gathering mechanisms at its disposal, seems still unable to identify those who bear ultimate responsibility for the tragedies of recent months.

The roots of Indonesia's many problems lie in its shattered economy. The country is faced with its worst economic crisis in more than three decades. Many people have lost their livelihood and lifetime savings in last year's economic meltdown that gave rise to the present explosive situation threatening peace and stability.

The recently released report of the Central Bank of Indonesia (CBS) predicts that the struggling Indonesian economy will shrink between one to two percent again this year giving rise to concerns of more political unrest. Public discontent is bound to grow as economic hardships mount.

Presently, unemployment is estimated at 14 million or 15 percent of the work force and inflation keeps rising. The virtual collapse of the economy has hit the urban poor and the middle class the hardest. It is less of a disaster for the rural poor. According to the figures provided by the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), inflation in January rose to 2.97 percent from 1.4 percent in December, sending the year on year inflation to 70.66 percent.

Though there are some visible signs of recovery of the Rupiah, this however reflects a heavy inflow of aid funds rather than any real return of economic confidence. The depreciation in the value of the Rupiah has failed to bolster Indonesia's export competitiveness due to a high import content between 40 to 45 per cent for the industrial products. The sharp depreciation of Rupiah have made imports more expensive resulting in soaring prices of foodstuffs and clothing during the New Year and Idul-Fitr.

The human costs of the economic crisis are higher in Indonesia today than ever before. In Jakarta, the capital city, more beggars and prostitutes hang around streets at night; children sleep on traffic islands. The number of school dropouts are increasing by the day. In these times of economic hardship poor families prefer to spend their limited income on food rather than on children's education. Food is scarce despite government's endeavours to distribute free rations in poor localities.


Ethnic Chinese have played a significant economic role in Indonesian society. Some prominent members of the community were closely identified with the Suharto's regime, and had control of large resources. However most are middle-class entrepreneurs and part of the country's business scene, mostly Christians and members of relatively affluent churches. For this minority group, entry into Indonesian society has been difficult. An old government policy required Chinese to give up their family names in exchange for Indonesian surnames. The use of Chinese language in public was also banned. The ethnic Chinese once again under attack now feel particularly insecure.

According to Jakarta's Volunteers Team for Humanity (VTH), while destruction and arson took place in many districts of Jakarta (13-15 May 1998), reports of rape and other forms of sexual abuse came predominantly from the West and North Jakarta and other areas where Chinese live and work.

VTH reports that 152 Jakarta women were raped or sexually abused, 132 of them during the May 14 riots. Gang rapes in the victims' homes appear to have been the pattern, although a number of reports indicate abuse in public places. Of the total, 20 were reported killed, including nine who were raped and burned. Sixteen others were said to have been raped in Solo, Medan, Palembang and Surabaya, bringing the number of cases documented to 168. There could be more unreported cases considering the nature of the offense, the minority status of victims, and strong taboos of Indonesian society.

Survivors, their families, doctors and hospitals, and members of an NGO documenting and reporting cases of rape tell of repeated attempts at intimidation.Threats are reportedly made by telephone, anonymous letters, the distribution of photographs of victims as they were being raped, as well as through rumours about the riots and sexual abuse. Volunteers testify that in several instances, they and the victims who call them would have plainclothes men at their doors within ten minutes of the receipt of such calls.

Apart from sexual assault, ethnic Chinese families have borne the brunt of the looting and destruction of their homes, offices and shops.

Even in areas not affected by riots and sexual abuse, ethnic Chinese in Jakarta say they have not recovered from the trauma of seeing mobs rampage through the streets, buildings burning around them, and the incessant rumours that more was to come. Many of those living in predominantly Muslim neighbourhoods have relocated to Chinese enclaves in the city. Those who can afford it leave for abroad, primarily to Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and the United States.

NGOs have characterized the rapes as organised and systematic. They perceive the military hand in the pattern of terror similar to that used in Bosnia and Rwanda. By choosing women as targets, planners have correctly predicted that though the victims will remain silent, the impact will be widespread.

In response to the violence, NGOs have organized the National Commission on Violence Against Women to investigate reports of sexual abuse. The Commission, however, is hard put in its endeavours to get victims to report and to testify in court for fear of retaliation. Many of those who were abused said their identity cards with their home addresses were confiscated by their tormentors. Victims say that reporting the crime is useless and often prefer to pick up the pieces of their lives instead.

Government Action
The National Commission on Human Rights states that thus far it has found evidence to support only 86 of the 168 reported sexual assaults. This may not be the final figure. According to the Chairman, the Commission has yet to finally conclude that the rapes were systematic and organized. The Commission continues to look into the matter and has promised to take legal action. So far, no case has been filed against any suspected rapist.

Ambiguity in the definition of what constitutes rape in the country have been noted by the Human Rights Commission as well as by women activists. Greater sensitivity to reports of rape is needed in the judiciary and the police. Clogged court dockets have also been blamed for the delays. Some NGOs call for international pressure to hasten the investigations towards prosecution.

Some Church Responses
Leaders in predominantly Chinese churches in Jakarta have expressed feelings of frustration, anger and helplessness in the face of the violence where they see themselves as scapegoats. They do not know where to look for support. There are, nevertheless, expressions of a deepening faith in the midst of crisis.

The Chinese churches were unprepared for the crisis. Local churches have stepped up programs for visitation, particularly of those victimized by the violence. Pastoral care and financial support during and immediately after the riots have been identified as the most appreciated form of assistance. New forms of relief include the organization of a service centre. As recommended by the World Association of Chinese Evangelical Churches, the centre helps reconstitute personal documents destroyed during the Jakarta riots.

Significantly, the events over the last eight months have prompted Chinese churches in Jakarta to become more socially concerned and active. The churches are formalizing a coalition to support Chinese and other ethnic minorities. Organizers are keenly aware that the move should not isolate them further, but instead improve their integration into Indonesian society and strengthen their ties with other ethnic groups. They plan to reach remote pockets of poverty in other provinces through scholarship programs.


As with ethnic conflicts, religious differences in this vast multi-religious country appear to have been exploited. As of end-January 1999, 544 churches have been destroyed since Indonesia declared independence in 1945 according to the reports of the Indonesian Christian Communication Forum. From the annual average of 14 churches destroyed between 1967 and 1998, destruction stepped up with 87 churches affected during the first eight months of President Habibie's term.

In mid-January 1999, there was a wave of destruction in the port city of Ambon where Christians and Muslims have longed lived side by side in peace. Many churches and mosques were destroyed and over 40 people belonging to the two communities lost their lives. For security reasons the delegation was unable to visit Ambon, but the General Secretary of PGI joined by Muslim leaders and government representatives, visited the affected areas while the delegation was in Indonesia.

Destruction of Churches

Sukarno presidency:

Suharto presidency

Habibie presidency:
21 May 1998-30 Jan 1999

Number of Churches Destroyed

2 in 22 years

455 in 31 years

87 in 8 months

Source: Indonesia Christian Communication Forum

The incidence of destruction of churches since Suharto stepped down in May 1998 was highest in the period November 1998-January 1999, with 21 churches affected in November, the period of intense rioting in Jakarta. Java, particularly Jakarta is the area most severely effected with 387 of the 533 churches destroyed.

The destruction, however, has been linked not so much to religious conflicts as to the growing political aspirations of some Muslim groups. One observation is that the target is the Nadhatul Ulama (NU), the traditional Muslim organization headed by the charismatic Abdurrahman Wahid, who is said to lead 40 million Indonesian Muslims and is a staunch defender of religious pluralism and a friend of Christians. Observers say that because it is difficult to penetrate and destroy NU from inside, his opponents have resorted to such devious tactics to discredit his organization.

Christians have expressed fears of a "creeping Islamization" of Indonesian society. They are also concerned by the deterioration in the level of Christian leadership in all fields and feel the need for basic as well as specialized education.

Some Church Responses
An example of significant response among the Protestant churches is the work of the Indonesia Christian Communication Forum (ICCF). Growing out of the Surabaya Christian Communication Forum, which was organized less than a week after 10 churches in the city were burned on 9 June 1996, the ICCF was founded in January 1997 with the support of 350 prominent Christians from all over Java.

The Forum runs a 24-hour monitoring and electronic communication centre in Surabaya, East Java. The centre also provides legal aid and human resource development programs towards being the witness of Christ and His gospel in Indonesia. The ICCF works closely with the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), as well as with a wide range of Christian leaders from the Catholic Church, fundamentalist groups and Confucian temples. NU leader Wahid has announced that his organization would bear the moral responsibility for the burning of churches in the city of Situbondo, East Java, a NU stronghold. Twenty-six churches were burned on 10 October 1996 despite assurances by the military to prevent such attacks.

Since then Muslim youths have stationed themselves around Christian churches and even Confucian temples at critical periods in the province to prevent further attacks.

The ICCF can quickly mobilize to gather relief goods such as food and medicine. The Forum also organizes bazaars, selling cheap dry goods particularly during Muslim religious festivals. Joint prayer days with Muslims have gathered as many as 5,000 participants.

Local church programs tend to address economic hardships among the poor and provide help including nutrition, scholarships and credit. Church women have organized bazaars targeted to benefit the poor. Although a small percentage of the beneficiaries are Muslim, local congregations are reluctant to help Muslims, knowing that they have a negative attitude towards Christians. The East Java Church is starting a welfare and livelihood program directed at women who are under increasing pressure to earn because of worsening unemployment in the country.


Irian Jaya, Indonesia's easternmost province, occupies the western half of New Guinea.

With a land area of 421,981 square kilometres (22% of Indonesia's total land area) it is the second largest island in the world, after Greenland.

Of Irian Jaya's 2.1 million inhabitants, some 1 million are indigenous Papuans. 78% of the population are Christian.

Unlike the rest of Indonesia which gained independence in 1949, Irian Jaya remained under Dutch control until 1962. After a brief interim period under United Nations administration, the island was under the terms of the so-called New York Agreement, turned over to Indonesia. This agreement, initiated by the United States, was signed in 1962 by Indonesia and the Netherlands with no involvement of the people of Irian Jaya. It established a process for transferring full administrative control of the island to Indonesia. While a key feature of the agreement was the requirement that an act of self determination be undertaken by 1969, the manner in which this requirement was fulfilled underlies much of the Irianese people's concern.

In 1969, ostensibly in accordance with the provisions of the New York Agreement, the so-called Act of Free Choice' was implemented. Over 1,000 tribal leaders were brought together under Indonesian military supervision and (in some instances after significant intimidation) required to indicate whether or not they agreed with the island's formal integration with Indonesia. Though this process was undertaken under UN supervision, the pressure clearly brought to bear on the tribal leaders resulted, somewhat predictably, in a unanimous vote in favour of integration, with Irian Jaya officially established as the 26th province of the Republic of Indonesia.

During the 35 years since the process of Irian Jaya's integration began, it is estimated that over 500,000 Irianese have been killed at the hands of the Indonesian military - equivalent to half of the remaining ethnic Irianese population. As a result of the Indonesian government's programme of transmigration, undertaken in conjunction with the integration process and still ongoing, more than 600,000 Indonesians have been relocated to Irian Jaya from other parts of Indonesia since 1964, further weakening the proportional strength of Irian Jaya's indigenous population.

An exploration of the key issues
This report presents an overview of the situation in Irian Jaya, noting the aspirations of the Irianese people, identifying the factors underlying their quest for independence, and exploring some of the issues still to be addressed as part of their journey towards self determination.

The process of Integration
As noted above, underlying the concerns and aspirations of the Irianese people is a deep-seated resentment of Indonesian rule dating back to the Act of Free Choice in 1969 and their subsequent forced integration with Indonesia. From this central concern, virtually all others stem, shaping in turn their aspirations for self-determination.

Two distinct (though not necessarily unrelated) perspectives in relation to Irian Jaya's integration are evident. One perspective reflected in the appeal of the Evangelical Christian Church in Irian Jaya (GKI-IRJA) to the VIII WCC Assembly at Harare in December 1998 calls into question the validity of the integration process itself, most notably the implementation of the Act of Free Choice in 1969. While such an act of self determination was required under the terms of the 1963 New York Agreement, the manner in which it was implemented is open to challenge in particular the level of intimidation and force imposed on the 1,025 tribal leaders at the time of their vote.

An alternative argument suggests that the island and its people effectively gained their independence in 1961, when the Netherlands declared their intention to withdraw from colonial rule. At that point a West Papuan Council was elected, a national anthem composed, and a flag designed each cited as evidence of West Papua's independence.

This argument however, seems difficult to sustain. As flawed and questionable as the process leading to Irian Jaya's integration may have been, there nevertheless exists as a result of that process an agreement formally recognized by the United Nations.

It is important to note, at a time when Irianese hopes have understandably been raised by the Government's recent announcements regarding East Timor's independence, that the situation with regard to East Timor is significantly different. Firstly, East Timor was not a part of the Dutch Indies as Irian Jaya had previously been; further, no UN ratified agreement existed in relation to East Timor, equivalent to that of Irian Jaya.

Indonesia's Transmigration Programme
In conjunction with the process towards integration, the Indonesian Government also instigated in the 1960s an extensive programme of transmigration. With a population in excess of 200 million, 60% of whom live on 7% of the land area, such a programme was seen by the Indonesian Government as a very effective means of correcting this imbalance.

The policy of moving large numbers of people from heavily populated to relatively under-populated islands has seen, in the case of Irian Jaya, over 600,000 transmigrants settled there since 1964. In addition so-called spontaneous migration' to Irian Jaya has increased due both to Indonesia's worsening economic situation and the appeal of Irian Jaya's Christian majority.

The Irianese represent a minority in Indonesia as a whole. It is suggested that if existing levels of transmigration continue, indigenous Irianese will be a minority in their own land within 5-8 years.

In order to sustain these levels of transmigration, the Indonesian Government has forcibly and systematically claimed over 19 million hectares of land in Irian Jaya. Acquired on the government's understanding that any non-cultivated land is State property, the land taken has been used for roads, schools, government facilities, forestry, palm oil plantations, mining and transmigrant settlement. Compensation to traditional landowners has been either nominal or non-existent the government arguing that the development' that has occurred as a result of these land acquisitions represents sufficient compensation in itself.

As one Irianese commented, however, "Our land is our source of life. Once we lose our land, we lose our source of life."

Human Rights Violations
Arising from Irian Jaya's integration and the associated transmigration programme has been a comprehensive record of human rights violations from the denial of economic, cultural and religious rights, through to detention without trial, torture and extra-judicial killings.

At an economic and cultural level, the effective confiscation of vast tracts of land for forestry, palm oil plantations and mining has not only denied indigenous landowners the right to their traditional cropping practices, it has also deprived them of their economic base. While Indonesia continues to exploit the island's natural resources for its own economic benefit, there is concern that little equivalent benefit has come the way of the Irianese. The province has, for example, the highest cost of living in the republic, and the provision of health and education services disproportionately favours the predominantly urban-based transmigrant population.

The understanding of Indonesia as one nation has given overriding importance to national identity at the expense of local identity and culture. In the case of Irian Jaya this has effectively resulted in the creation of a 'lost generation' not only deprived of their economic security, but in addition alienated from their culture. The proposed autonomy legislation currently being drafted by the government may open the possibility of greater emphasis on the appreciation of local cultures throughout the archipelago.

A further problem for the Irianese people is their difficulty in raising these issues in any open or united way.

While tribal leaders, for example, are encouraged to speak of local tribal concerns, to speak of national' concerns is taboo. And not only are the Irianese seemingly treated as culturally and socially inferior by the Indonesian Government, any form of cultural expression (let alone the voicing of political aspirations) has resulted in either arrest or violence. The last year has seen a continuation in the destruction of churches, indiscriminate shootings by Government troops at otherwise peaceful demonstrations (including at least one death and many others wounded), and numerous arrests including the house arrest of a number of tribal leaders, most notably the house arrest since July 1998 of the head of Irian Jaya's tribal council, They Eluay.

The consistency of such continuing violations of their human rights, and the government's steadfast refusal to acknowledge or act upon such abuses, only serves to further fuel the Irianese people's sense of frustration and resentment.

The National Dialogue
The National Dialogue, proposed in September 1998, and agreed to by President Habibie continues to be a focus of hope for many in Irian Jaya. Some, however, given government delays in commencing the dialogue, are now doubtful as to whether it will in fact eventuate, and what it can be expected to achieve. A number of meetings between representatives of the Irianese people and the government have been held, and the end of February 1999 set as a deadline for the dialogue by Irian Jaya. However, given that no date for the commencement of the National Dialogue has yet been set, it is debatable whether there is time or merit in commencing the dialogue before the General Election in June Some suggest the dialogue should be held over and be conducted with the incoming government post-election.

Of greater concern is both the lack of preparedness for such dialogue evident on the part of the Irianese, and their idealism with regard to what the dialogue can be expected to achieve.

While there is clear unity in the Irianese call for self-determination, there is little agreement as to what form that should take i.e. greater autonomy, a federal structure, or full independence. Further, those voicing their desire for West Papuan independence appear to have little understanding of the structural, political and economic considerations required to implement such a vision.

The way forward
While each group consulted Protestant and Catholic church leaders, tribal chiefs, NGO and student representatives expressed the clear belief that self-determination was the only way forward for Irian Jaya, it is of deep concern that such groups, while openly expressing their aspirations to the WCC team, had spent little time in dialogue with each other.

It is acknowledged that the people of Irian Jaya have had little opportunity to participate at a political level in their own affairs, and even less reason to trust past and current political structures. Nevertheless, a greater level of political awareness and involvement will be necessary if they are to enter effectively into the National Dialogue.


A. The coming months will be difficult for Indonesia, as the country prepares for general elections in June. Restraint and compromise will be needed, in a political climate not conducive to either. Political realism and sophistication will be required of leaders and groups that, in many cases, are new in the field and have lot of learning to do in the run up to the elections. The election itself must have credibility in a society whose credulity has been sorely strained. With diverse aspirants in the political arena, those elected to parliament can expect to have to form coalitions of parties whose agendas may vary widely and whose vested interests may conflict, and this in a country with little experience of coalition politics. The presidency is yet a further problem: the difficulties of the present incumbent are immense. "I am involved in Mission Impossible", President Habibie told the delegation. There is little reason to expect that his successor will find life much easier.

The problems facing Indonesia are not only immense but also complex. There are no simple or easy answers, especially because political and social structures are badly frayed and non-existent; the economy is under severe strain. It needs both short term and long term measures to see this crisis through. The resolution of the present conflict and defusion of existing tensions will depend on several factors:

  • the credibility of the elections;
  • apprehension and trials of those involved in ethnic and communal violence;
  • enactment of legislation giving greater autonomy to the provinces;
  • expeditious resolution of the demands of the people of East Timor, Aceh and Irian Jaya;
  • encouragement to social organizations to initiate and facilitate inter-religious dialogue for promotion of peace, justice and development;
  • efforts to mobilize domestic and foreign human and financial resources to eradicate poverty;
  • change in conditions imposed by Indonesia' international creditors, particularly by IMF.

B. The violence aimed at the ethnic Chinese minority was organized, there is no doubt about it. It is admitted by virtually everyone. Chinese in Indonesia are no strangers to insecurity and the sense of being outsiders in someone else's country. In the past, too they have been targets of attacks. The underlying problem of official discriminatory practices and policies goes back far beyond the current crisis, and its different components need to be addressed anew by all concerned: the government, leaders of the indigenous and ethnic communities, and of the churches. The attacks against the Chinese should, however, not be seen so much as an expression of racial hatred but as a part of the political power struggle in Indonesia today. What is a matter of concern however, is that ethnic differences could so easily be exploited for other ends.

C. The severity of attacks on houses of worship and communal violence involving Muslims and Christians came as a surprise to many Indonesians. Indonesians, rightly are proud of their tradition of religious pluralism, but it may be that such pluralism has been too much taken for granted and the absence of visible conflict assumed to indicate that all was well between the two faith communities. Any relationship taken for granted is a relationship in trouble. Christian and Muslim communities in Indonesia would be wise to be more active in building relationships of trust and understanding, particularly at local levels, and especially among young people. This would prevent religious differences to be so easily exploited for other purposes.

D. There is a silver lining to the troubles Indonesians face. The recent spate of violence has galvanised an unprecedented action from wide sectors, Muslim Malays and Christians, including Chinese of overseas and local descent. Having been subjected to 30 years of suppression and limited political action, the opportunity to work together provides avenues for learning new models of cooperation among ethnic and religious groups. New avenues of engagement with the government have likewise been opened through NGO cooperation.

E. Indonesians remain committed to Pancasila despite the present difficulties. Given the diversity of its cultures, religions and traditions, Pancasila has served Indonesia well. It provides the foundation for the unity of its people. Irrespective of the present trend towards communal and ethnic violence, Indonesian people remain confident that Pancasila's future as the state's ideology is secure.

1. The WCC/CCA should convey to the Indonesian government their deep concern that the question of responsibility for the recent acts of violence remains unresolved. This matter needs to be addressed with renewed urgency.

2. The WCC/CCA should encourage member churches and the related agencies to help resource significant initiatives aimed at strengthening inter-faith relationships in Indonesia.

3. The WCC/CCA should constantly monitor the situation in Indonesia. Every effort should be made to accompany the Churches through visitations, prayers of solidarity support and through sharing and exchange of information.

4. PGI be encouraged to consider developing a strategy to improve collaboration between ethnic Chinese and other Christians. This might include reviewing its capacity to foster inter-faith and inter-ethnic relations and identifying ways to improve pastoral care for ethnic Chinese Indonesians at home and abroad.

Irian Jaya
5. The WCC/CCA should:

  • urge the Indonesian government to initiate without delay the "National Dialogue agreed to by President Habibie, with the understanding that the people of Irian Jaya are represented to freely express their concerns, demands, expectations and aspirations on Irian Jaya and its future.
  • draw the attention of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to the incidents of human rights violations, including torture, arbitrary arrests, extra-judicial killings and violations of the right to freedom of expression and of socio-economic and cultural rights of the Irianese people, as a result of the transmigration programme of the Indonesian government.
  • to facilitate the presence of the representative of GKI-IRJA at the UN Commission on Human Rights for purposes of advocacy and lobbying work.
  • facilitate and participate in the workshop on the rights of indigenous people of Irian Jaya, being organized by the United Evangelical Mission in cooperation with GKI-IRJA (November 1999) - assist GKI - IRJA in capacity building to deal with issues relating to conflict prevention, peace making, building of civil society and in the facilitation of political and inter-religious dialogue.<

Go to Appendices I, II and III
Return to Turmoil in Post-Suharto Indonesia
The Ecumenical Response

Return to International Affairs, Peace & Human Security

© 1999 world council of churches remarks to webeditor