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-Indonesian Human Rights-



Freedom of Speech



Child Labor




The human rights situation is very bad across the country, especially in East Timor, where the situation became critical following the August 1999 ballot. Politically related extrajudicial killings by security forces are common in areas where separatist movements are active—East Timor, Aceh, and Irian Jaya. Mass graves have been found in Aceh. The police often employ deadly force when dealing with suspects or alleged criminals.

Disappearance is allow very common, and, although the criminal code prohibits torture as well as other degrading forms of punishment, in practice security forces continue to employ torture as well as other abusive techniques. Before the recent withdrawal of Indonesian troops from East Timor, security forces regularly detained civilians for interrogation in extralegal military detention centers, tortured them, and released them after several days.

The criminal code contains provisions against arbitrary arrest and detention, but authorities regularly violate them. In addition, authorities sometimes make arrests without warrants and often violate the law requiring the families of detainees be notified promptly of their detention. The authorities regularly extend periods of detention. In areas where guerrilla movements are active, people have been detained without warrents, charges, or court proceedings. Prisoners are often denied a fair trial.


Freedom of speech is limited in Indonesia. People are prosecuted every year for peacefully expressing views of contrary to those of the government. Among prisoners serving sentences for subversion are members of the banned Communist Party of Indonesia, Muslim militants, and those convicted of subversion in Irian Java, Aceh, and East Timor.

Although judicial warrants for searches are generally required, security forces regularly make forced entries, engage in surveillance of persons and residences, and monitor local and international telephone calls without legal restraint.

Desire the constitution’s provisions for freedom of the press and speech, some serious restrictions and monitoring are still common, although the government’s respect for these rights has recently improved. As far as foreign publications and videotapes are concerned, a review of significant amounts of such material by government censors still occurs. For example most books by former political prisoner Pramoedya Ananta Toer are banned.

The government significantly restricts the practice of free assembly, although it has eliminated the permit requirements for some types of public meetings. The constitution also provides for freedom of association, but the government places significant controls on the exercise of thise right. According to the 1985 Social Organizations Law, all organizations, including recognized religions and associations, are required to adhere to the ideology of “Pancasila” (the official belief system of Indonesia, which mixes religion, civic duty, and nationalism together). By limiting political activity, this provision is designed to inhibit groups from engaging in democratic political activities that are believed to act against government ideology. Such organizations are usually disbanded by the authorities.


The government generally respects religious freedom and the practice of give out of six officially recognized religions—Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Persons from other religions generally have difficulty having their marriages officially recognized. Because the first tenet of Pancasila is belief in one supreme god, the government forbids atheism. A number of religions are banned, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Bahai, Confucianism, and the messianic Islamic sect Darul Arqam. Furthermore, the government closely monitors Islamic sects deviating from orthodox tenets, and strongly opposes Muslim groups advocating an Islamic state. Minority houses of worship often become targets of damage and destruction during riots. Proselytizing by recognized religions in areas heavily dominated by another recognized religion is generally discouraged because it is viewed as potentially disruptive. Foreign missionaries are usually allowed to spend only a limited number of years in Indonesia.

The Indonesian government restricts movement by citizens and foreigners to add within parts of the country. Population movement to crowded cities is closely monitored. The government sponsors a transmigration program seeking to resettle sparsely populated areas outside Java. Special permits are required to visit certain parts of the country, such as Irian Jaya, and some former prisoners are still required to obtain permission if they want to move.

Although the constitution stipulates equal rights and obligations for all citizens, both native and naturalized, there is no explicit law against discrimination based on gender, race, disability, language, or social status.


According to marriage law, the man is head of the family. Further, cultural norms dictate that problems between husbands and wives are private matters, and rape of a wife by a husband is not considered a crime. Social changes brought about by rapid urbanization as well as by the economic crisis have significantly aggravated the problem of domestic violence. Domestic violence is believed to be serious underreported. Similarly, rape is significantly underreported due to the social stigma attached to the victim. Harassment is not a crime, although sexual harassment charges can damage a civil service career. Trafficking in women and temporary contract marriages with foreigners are common, and prostitution is widespread. Female domestic servants are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. The majority of women face economic discrimination. They generally received lower wages than men, and are represented disproportionately at the bottom of the socioeconomic scale. In addition, women often are not given the extra benefits and salary that are their due when they are the head of a household. Women taking maternity leave an often dismissed or replaced, and come companies require that women sign statements that they do not intend to become pregnant. A disproportionate number of women experience illiteracy, poor health, and inadequate nutrition.


Provisions on child protection have not yet gone into effect. Child labor is very common, and the number of working children and street children has increased as a result of the economic crisis. Many children work under hazardous conditions. Child prostitution and other forms of sexual abuse are a serious problem, and the government has made strong efforts to prevent this. Because a separate criminal justice system for juveniles does not exist, juveniles are often imprisoned with adults. The ceremonial practice of female genital mutilation in babies or young girls still occurs in some parts of Indonesia, although it appears to be declining.

The disabled face considerable discrimination in employment as well as in other areas, such as access to education. As of 1999, virtually not buildings or public transportation have been signed to include accessibility for the disabled.

The rights of indigenous people are often violated, especially in the case of the government’s migration program which, according to critics, threatens indigenous cultures and sparks social envy. Migrants are often settled on land of disputed ownership, causing significant tensions to arise. When indigenous people clash with commercial/private sector development projects, wealthy developers usually win.

The constitution provides for the right of association and collective bargaining, although the Department of Manpower supports unions only within the context of the national ideology, Pancasila.

Domestic human rights organizations are active in pressing the government to respect human rights, although they are still subject to monitoring by authorities. The government appointed Nation Human Rights Commission has been active in examining reports of human rights violations, although it lacks enforcement powers. By Contrast, foreign-based investigations and criticism of alleged human rights violations are generally viewed as interfering in the internal affairs of the government, and foreign human rights observers are harassed.


© 2002 various sources credited

Jennifer Smith