Tuesday, June 16, 1998

Gang-rape tales shock Jakarta

Andreas Harsono
The Nation, June16, 1998

Over 1,000 lives were lost during the May riots in Indonesia, and it has now been revealed that scores of Chinese women were also gang-raped.

Gruesome stories of brutal sexual violence in Indonesia have slowly begun to emerge as social workers and human rights advocates unearth more details of an organized campaign of assaults, gang rapes and killings of ethnic Chinese women during three days of rioting in Jakarta last month. 

It was only last week that the Indonesian media reported the sexual violence, stories of which were initially posted on the Internet, after scores of social workers, feminists and Chinese figures announced a crisis Centre to help the victims.

“Tell me, what kind of human beings are evil enough to rape a 12-year-old girl in front of her helpless parents?” asked Ita F Nadia, the chairwoman of Kalyanamitra, a women’s group which opened a telephone hot line for the victims. “They must be incredibly cruel and brutal.” 

The establishment of the center, named the Solidaritas Nusa Bangsa or the Solidarity of the Nation State, was announced at a meeting on June 5 in Jakarta, during which Catholic priest Sandyawan Sumardi estimated that dozens of Chinese women had died or committed suicide as a result of the riots on May 14-16. 

Sandyawan, who is know for his work among Jakarta’s underclass and has organized an investigation into the attacks, said the anti-Chinese violence had shown a pattern of similarities and usually involved “well built men with a crew cut hairstyle”.

These unidentified men generally came in trucks or buses and encouraged other people in the area to join them in attacking Chinese owned house and looting their contents. Although Sandyawan did not pinpoint any group, his statement is widely interpreted to refer to military men. Rumours circulated widely here that some high-ranking army officers had been involved in the riots. 

“They always threatened their victims not to talk. They said they could easily recognize them,” said Sandyawan, adding that the provocateurs had also gang raped Chinese women before leaving the street.

Rita Serena Kolibonso of the Mitra Perempuan women’s group estimated that around 100 Chinese women had been raped during the riots.

“We don’t know how many have been molested or forced to strip. They obviously want to terrorize the Chinese, especially the women, “she said. 

According to Kolibonso, Chinese woman are triple minorities, not only because they are ethnic Chinese, whose population is estimated only four per cent of Indonesia’s 202 million people, but also because they are mostly Christians or Buddhists in a predominantly Muslim Indonesia, and because they are women in a male dominated society. 

Both Kolibonso and Nadia, who give legal and psychological counselling to the victims, refused to expose the victims to the media, saying that the victims were "extremely traumatized" and that the publication of their names might endanger their lives.

The sudden resignation of Indonesian strongman Suharto on May 21 apparently overshadowed coverage of the brutal violence, as did the student movement which helped forced Suharto to step down, but rumours about the gang rapes started to surface on the Internet immediately after the riots which saw more than 100 shopping malls and thousands of shops and houses razed to the ground. 

Jakarta hospitals recorded more than 1,100 deaths during the riots, mostly of looters or residents trapped in burning buildings and homes. The riots are widely thought to be the worst in Jakarta’s modern history.

Data from the Coordinating Body for Nations Unity (Bakom-PKB), a government-controlled Chinese association, reveals that 1,286 Chinese-Indonesians have reported to the organization that they were victims of the riots. 

Vice chairperson Rosita Noor added that 29 of the victims had been raped, two of whom had committed suicide after the rapes. She called upon the Indonesian government to investigate the gang rapes and upon the military to protect Chinese Indonesians.

Noor said the 1,286 was “much too small” to the real number of the victims. She said her organization would seek international assistance if the Indonesian military, whose members had allegedly provoked the riots, could not guarantee the safety of the victims. “We would invite a UN special rapporteur to investigate the crimes.”

Kolibonso, Nadia, Noor and Sandyawan have painstakingly compiled accounts of what transpired from interviews with victims and witnesses. They included the following:
  • A female Chinese student was abducted at a bus stop, taken to a swamp near the airport and raped by four men in a car. There was a green uniform in car, and she asked her abductors if they were officers. “if you are the police, you must help me. “she told them. One of them answered: “No, I have to teach you a lesson.”
  • One young woman had a lucky escape after her taxi was stopped by a mob in the middle of the night on May 14. She was forced out of her taxi and forcibly stripped in front of the crowd, “Then a man pushed through the crowd, pulled me out and gave me Muslim clothes to wear, “the woman said.
  • In the midst of the riot, a group of men stopped a city bus and forced all the non-Chinese woman to disembark. “Then they chose a number of women among the Chinese and raped them inside the bus,” Sandyawan said. “The victims of that incident are in a state of depression. They are presently in a hospital with their families.”
  • A 10-year-old girl returning from school discovered that the shop and house where her family lived and worked had been burned. As she went in search of her parents, she was seized by two men and raped in front of her neighbors.
  • A man told the Indonesian Human Rights Commission about how his wife’s attackers had mutilated her genitals with a razor blade after raping her. He also informed the commission of a friend’s wife who committed suicide by drinking pesticide a few days after she was raped.
  • One woman a bank officer, told the Kompas newspaper that she had been seized from her boyfriend’s motorcycle by rioters. The mob beat her boyfriend, who pleaded for mercy. The Chinese girl fainted and when she regained consciousness discovered bruises on her body, especially between her legs.
  • In an incident of public humiliation, a group of about 15 men entered a bank where 10 ethnic employees were taking refuge from the riots. The men locked the door, made the women take off their clothes and ordered them to dance. In another incident of harassment, a number of ethnic Chinese women were reportedly stripped and made to swim in a filthy pond. 
Nadia told of an ethnic Chinese woman who hid in her house with her two younger sisters as the rioters approached. About 10 men came into the house and found the sisters on the third floor. They forced the two younger women to take off their clothes and told the older sister to stand in a corner. After raping her two sisters, the two men pushed them to the ground floor, which arsonists had set on fire. 

When her mother heard of the deaths, she had a heart attack and died, “Nadia said, “The sister who survived the ordeal is now in a psychiatric hospital. That is one of the many stories we have confirmed. 

Some Indonesian journalist who covered the riots said that they had heard that most of the gang rapes had occurred in the Kapuk, Kota and Jelambar areas in the north western part of Jakarta. 

Noor said the 29 rape cases that had come to hear attention had taken place mostly in the Kapuk area in northern Jakarta and four in the Kota area, which is unofficially knows as Jakarta’s Chinatown.

In an effort to respond to horror of these stories, which have shocked many Indonesian’s President B J Habibie on June 11 ordered the ordered the armed forces to investigate “organized crimes” that had helped provoke the riots. Indonesian police have also asked victims to report such cases, but so far none has done so, apparently fearing possible retribution. 

Saturday, June 13, 1998

Habibie's fate sealed by imploding economy

The Nation (Bangkok)
 Editorial & Opinion

With the economy falling into an abyss and the government on its knees, only new elections can restore credibility, writes Andreas Harsono.

WHEN dozens of people broke into a spacious house in Gunung Sahari Street at the height of the May riots in Jakarta, they knew well that the highly-fenced, dimly-lit building belonged to Indonesia's number one tycoon, Liem Sioe Liong alias Sudono Salim. ''The dog of Suharto,'' brayed one of the uninvited visitors.

The mob entered the house, ransacked the building and took a larger-than-life portrait of Salim out to the street, where they mocked the China-born Indonesian, an old friend of then-President Suharto. Elsewhere throughout Jakarta, Salim's Bank Central Asia, the biggest bank in Indonesia, saw 122 of its 400 branches pillaged. More than 110 automatic teller machines were reportedly damaged by the vandals and stripped of cash.

The message was clear. Massive price hikes, rising unemployment, endemic corruption, rampant cronyism, runaway 
 inflation and repressive government have cumulatively moved the poor to rebel, especially after the slayings of four 
 Indonesian students on May 12.

On May 14-16, thousands of Jakarta's workers, unemployed youths and even children vandalised and set on fire some 
 119 shopping centres, 13 traditional markets, and thousands of houses and cars. A disciplined, student-led movement 
 however later occupied the Indonesian parliament building which eventually forced Suharto to step down on May 21.

A glorious victory?

Not quite, say many observers. The dictator is gone but his corrupt regime remains. Worse still, he left behind a country on the brink of bankruptcy.

Mari Pangestu of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies estimated that unemployment will rise to more than 15 
 million this year, or nearly 20 per cent of the workforce. With food prices rising sharply, this means that as many as 58 million people will soon be in poverty, far above the 22.5 million in January.

''We aren't going to see any investment coming in for a while,'' Pangestu said. ''The more you look at the numbers, the gloomier it gets.''

According to Indonesia watcher A R T Kemasang of the University of Bradford, the ongoing economic crisis might even led to 
 a radicalisation of the masses in the world's fourth most populous country. Without a democratic and popular government, 
 proper economic management, and a fresh injection of funds, Indonesia will face a long season of political instability and economic uncertainty. As the popular credo goes, ''Hungry people are angry people.''

A few hours after Suharto's resignation, hundreds of farmers established bamboo fences and reclaimed hectares of land on 
 the outskirts of Jakarta which belonged to the Suhartos. The villagers said Suharto and his children had unfairly appropriated 
 their land years ago.

Unfortunately Vice President B J Habibie, who took over the top job, is widely known as a Suharto protege. Suharto's hand-picked parliament approved Habibie as vice-president in March despite the disapproval of the military, ruling Golkar 
 party executives, key Muslim organisations and minority groups --especially Christians from the eastern part of Indonesia -- all of whom mostly see him as a sectarian figure, a big spender and an unqualified leader.

Kemasang predicted that four political players must be involved in the process of change -- the Indonesian army, the backward-looking Muslim groups, the intelligentsia, including students, and the peasants.

''The moderate Muslims are more sensible. They are influential because of their size and are probably willing to cooperate for the good of the country,'' said Kemasang.

But Habibie has not, as perhaps the Suhartos had expected, remained silent. In an apparent bid to win public support, 
 Habibie immediately released several political prisoners, met with the riot-hit Chinese traders, allowed the establishment 
 of political parties and promised to hold a general election next year. Opposition leaders, however, who had earlier 
 demanded an election this year, charged that Habibie is only playing for time while trying to consolidate his new regime. 
 Meanwhile, Habibie's economic team demonstrated little support for the eccentric president.

''It's going to be chaotic. Only strongmen, semi-criminals and irrational figures could establish some sort of stability. These warlords will appear everywhere,'' said Rahman Tolleng, a co-founder of the Forum for Democracy, a loosely-organised forum for Jakarta intellectuals and dissidents.

Rahman, a former editor-in-chief of the Suara Karya daily, said without stable political institutions, it is very likely that the May 14 looting will be repeated. People are hungry, the economic situation is deteriorating and the government is very weak.

''I have little confidence in Habibie. That's why he has to step down,'' said Rahman. But the key problem is that anyone holding the top job in Indonesia, whether Habibie, or opposition figures like Muslim leader Amien Rais or nationalist figure Megawati Sukarnoputri, will find it hard to do more for the suffering masses under the present International Monetary Fund austerity measures. They have no choice but to cooperate with the IMF, said to have given Indonesia the ''wrong medicine''.

Rahman said a coalition, involving Amien and Megawati, is the only way out of the political impasse. A new election should be organised to restore public confidence in the government, he said.

Perhaps, said an American diplomat, the worst scenario in Indonesia is not the worsening of the economic crisis, but the political consequences of economic hardship. ''The world cannot afford to have 200 million radical Muslims,'' the diplomat lamented.

Andreas Harsono is The Nation's Jakarta correspondent

Thursday, June 04, 1998

Jakarta riots provoked, says panel

The Nation

-- In a report detailing the possible involvement of security forces in last month's riots in Jakarta, the Indonesian Commission of Human Rights has called on the newly-installed President B.J. Habibie's administration to investigate why troops did not prevent or fight the riots.

Commissioner Asmara Nababan said on Tuesday the passive gesture of the military during the riots had created an image that they had tolerated the rioters, and demanded that the government look into ''an organisation'' which had started and triggered the rioting, burning and looting between May 14 and May 16.

Unlike previous government statements which said only around 500 people were found dead in the riots, the commission also concluded in a statement, signed by the board members of the commission, that 1,188 people had died.

When asked whether it could confirm rumours that there was a plot to engineer the riots, commissioner Marzuki Darusman said the public should not bank too much on it.

''The Commission does not want to make statements of a speculative nature. It is, therefore, important that the government and the Armed Forces should explain openly the three big incidents that had happened prior to the riots,'' he said.

Rumours circulating here said that in a bid to intimidate the opposition, some elements of the military had kidnapped dozens of human rights activists as well as shot dead four students at the Trisakti University in Jakarta on May 12 which sparked public anger and led to the riots.

Some army generals close to Lt-Gen Prabowo Subianto, the then commander of the army strategic and reserve command, who is married to the middle daughter of former president Suharto, Siti Hediyati, were allegedly involved in the kidnappings and killings.

The rumours gained momentum especially after Prabowo was abruptly replaced not more than 36 hours after his father-in-law, who had been in power since 1965, decided to resign on May 21. Some other generals were also demoted.

Many also believe that the riots, whose main victims were ethnic Chinese Indonesians, were provoked to deflect public anger from the Suhartos to the Chinese, a minority community which controls much of the retail business.

A.R.T Kemasang of the University of Bradford in England, a British specialist on anti-Chinese riots in Indonesia, whose thesis on the 1740 massacre of the Chinese during the Dutch colonial period had sparked some academic debate in the 1980s, told The Nation in a telephone interview earlier this week that the pattern of last month's riots was classic.

''The Chinese are targeted by those whom I call 'political bullies' who have no programme bar that of immediate short-term gains,'' Kemasang said, adding that the attack on the Chinese was instigated by agents provocateur working for Prabowo and ''backward-looking Muslims wanting to bring the whole situation to anarchy in which they believe they could benefit by exacting concessions from the military''.

Kemasang said that attacks against Chinese-descent Indonesians, who have lived in Indonesia for generations and do not speak Mandarin, are always orchestrated by those with vested interests, hidden agendas or ulterior motives.

''They [the riots] are not spontaneous. So it has nothing to do with what the Chinese have done or not done. It has everything to do with history, the fact that the Dutch had made them into a problem minority for buffer-cum-scapegoat in the colonial divide-and-rule,'' Kemasang said.

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