Debate on Indonesia


20th June, 2000

Baroness Cox rose to ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their policy towards recent developments in Indonesia.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am grateful for this opportunity to raise the current situation in Indonesia in your Lordships’ House and I thank all noble Lords who will be participating in the debate.

The debate is, sadly, timely. Recent developments in Indonesia are cause for great concern. Only yesterday 120 people were killed in the Christian village of Duma in Halmahera in Northern Moluccas. My contribution will focus on the escalation of conflict in the Moluccas, as I and colleagues from Christian Solidarity Worldwide have recently returned from the region. We found devastation and suffering on a scale beyond anything we had expected.

The Moluccas, also known by their more romantic name of “The Spice Islands”, are dramatically beautiful. They used to be a model of religious harmony. But recently sectarian violence has racked the communities, leaving many once beautiful and prosperous towns and villages in ruins, an estimated 3,000 people dead and over 270,000 displaced, many living in conditions of acute deprivation in the jungle.

The two major religious communities, Muslim and Christian, had co-existed peacefully for centuries. But tensions have been building, erupting into violence and war for a number of reasons: demographic, economic, political and religious. First, there was Suharto’s policy of transmigration in which the delicate demographic balance of approximately 50 per cent Muslim and 50 per cent Christian was upset by a large influx of predominantly Muslim settlers. This upset trading patterns, with Christians experiencing difficulties in selling goods in the markets.

The new demographic structure led to changes in political representation and to the marginalisation of Christians in local government, the military and the police force. Local conflicts were fuelled by the influx of jihad warriors. Major conflict broke out in the town of Ambon in January last year during which about 700 churches were burned together with many mosques. An estimated 2,000 jihad warriors arrived while we were there in April. There have since been reports of the arrival of a further 1,000 members of the Laskar Jihad movement.

Subsequently, violence has escalated. Time only permits a few examples. On 30th May this year, also in Halmahera, at least 50 Christian villagers were killed and over 100 injured in a carefully co-ordinated land and sea attack believed to have been carried out by jihad warriors, actively supported by the Indonesian armed forces. On 3rd June, in Ambon, the Reverend Ridolf Bernard was killed and three people injured in an attack on a ferry. On 8th June, in nearby Sulawesi, police reinforcements were sent to Poso to quell violence which had already claimed 20 lives. The chief of police expressed concern over reports that a further 1,500 jihad warriers were on their way to the area.

On 10th June the town of Tubelo in Halmahera was attacked from land and sea. Two hundred were killed and hundreds wounded. The rest of the Christian population fled to the hills and elsewhere in Indonesia. Bodies were mutilated before they were beheaded. The island of Ternate had a large majority of Christians but has now been totally cleared of Christians, with an unknown number killed. All the evidence suggests that jihad warriors are gaining active support from disaffected elements of the Indonesian armed forces and that many of them are being trained by advisers from other militant Islamic countries.

It is inevitably difficult to obtain accurate information, but local Christians fear biased media coverage in this predominantly Muslim country, which portrays Christians as the aggressors. This perception encourages Muslims from elsewhere to come to the region to carry out a jihad against Christians to protect the Muslims whom they believe are under threat.

Many believe that the religious conflict is an orchestrated campaign by Suharto’s supporters to destabilise the government and regain power. There is also a fear that militant Islamic extremists wish to undermine President Wahid’s commitment to religious tolerance. In massive rallies earlier this year, an extremist movement behind the Laskar Jihad started recruiting volunteers to join the jihad against the so-called “Christian separatists” in the Moluccas. The movement claims to have recruited over 10,000 volunteers since January and the 3,000 jihad warriors reportedly converging on the Moluccas had been trained in military-style training camps.

Local people believe that Islamists in the military and in government are planning to drive out all Christians from the Moluccas, one of the few parts of Indonesia where Christians maintain a significant presence. They also believe that this may be part of a longer-term plan to turn Indonesia into an Islamic state by 2003, and then to establish a more extremist Islamic state, which would have far-reaching implications regionally and globally.

These fears for the future are cause for serious concern. However, I must highlight the present dire situation in which many thousands of people–both Muslims and Christians–are suffering. We witnessed the widespread destruction of homes, churches and mosques on a massive scale. We visited communities driven into the jungle to try to survive in the most primitive conditions, with no adequate housing, food supplies or healthcare.

We went by boat to the island of Haruku. People from Ambon were crowding onto the ferries, evacuating their homes, in fear of the threatened jihad. En route to Haruku, we passed close by the village of Tial, which had been attacked in October 1999, when the village and church were destroyed. It had been a place where Muslims and Christians had lived together in peace. When the attack occurred, some Muslims helped the Christians to defend their church; six of them died in the church.

On the island of Haruku, we found harbour villages devastated. They had been attacked on 23rd January this year by troops from land and sea. The land troops came over the mountains, wearing the characteristic jihad white uniforms and headbands. The troops attacking from the sea reportedly consisted of a mixture of jihad warriors and regular military forces. Neighbours from a nearby village tried to help the local villagers defend their homes and church, but they were overwhelmed. Four were killed in the church, which was destroyed. Only an empty shell remains, with a bombshell serving as a symbolic bell and the mangled remains of the weathercock from the top of the spire suspended from a telephone cable. The population of the village was over 3,600. We visited them, displaced in the jungle. On the way, we met a family carrying a child suffering from malaria. Some medical supplies are still available–but not enough. There is an urgent need for more healthcare.

The pastor told us, “The attack started at 5 a.m. and continued until noon. Nine people were killed by the military at the football pitch. Many others were injured. Some injured were still alive when the military came with bayonets and stabbed them in the neck. We didn’t have time to collect our dead. Those who died were beheaded. We have not been able to find their heads, because the soldiers take them.” As we left, the pastor pleaded, “If we don’t get any help, we will die.”

We also had meetings with community leaders in Ujung Pandang and in Ambon where we heard many accounts of similar attacks on local communities, both Christian and Muslim. We saw video footage of some of the attacks, and we saw and heard many examples of indescribable atrocities perpetrated by jihad warriors. Some are detailed in our reports. They are too gruesome to recount in this House.

We also heard and saw evidence of attacks on Muslim communities and the suffering of displaced Muslims. We met local parliamentary representatives, both Muslim and Christian. All stressed the need for reconciliation. However, reconciliation must be based on openness, honesty and acknowledgement of all that has happened. When we tried to ascertain the extent of the suffering experienced by the Muslim communities, the Muslim parliamentarian declined to give figures. According to other community leaders, the estimate was, very approximately, that of those suffering from sectarian raids about 75 per cent were Christian and about 25 per cent Muslim.

I conclude by asking the Minister whether Her Majesty’s Government will encourage the Indonesian Government to take urgent action to stop the murderous activities of the jihad and allow international monitors to be attached to the armed forces; to allow an international fact-finding mission to undertake an impartial investigation into the conflicts in the Moluccas; to take immediate measures to investigate, identify and prosecute those responsible for these conflicts, which have caused such immense suffering; to act swiftly and impartially to provide humanitarian assistance to all those currently suffering from the conflict and to allow unrestricted access to the region for humanitarian aid agencies. Will Her Majesty’s Government do everything possible to increase the provision of humanitarian relief to the region?

The situation is critical. President Wahid is trying valiantly to help Indonesia to recover from the legacy of Suharto rule, to develop democracy, reduce corruption and maintain religious pluralism. He has many powerful opponents: those who want to bring back previous political leaders, and those who want to move Indonesia forward to a more militant, intolerant Islamic regime. Both factions may be using the present conflict to further their own ends by destabilising the nation and weakening President Wahid’s government.

It must be in the interests of Her Majesty’s Government to support President Wahid in his commitment to maintain democracy and religious tolerance in this vast, complex and influential nation. I know that the Government are deeply concerned and I much look forward to the Minister’s reply, with the expectation that it will bring to the Government of Indonesia some promise of support, and to the people in Maluccu and North Sulawesi, who are suffering so acutely, the assurance that they are not forgotten and that help will be forthcoming.

Lord Clarke of Hampstead: My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. I thank her for initiating this important and timely debate.

We have heard again today of the latest suffering brought about by the sectarian violence that has engulfed the once happy and peaceful communities in Indonesia. It is right and proper that we should turn our thoughts to the unfortunate people who live their daily lives in fear, brought about by intimidation, cruelty and intolerance. It is also right that we ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their policy towards recent developments in Indonesia.

I am aware that the options open to the Government are rather limited. However, the reconciliation of efforts that have been made and are being made by the British Government in the Moluccas are both welcome and necessary. I hope that the joint efforts with the Indonesian authorities in that troubled region can be built upon among the international community at large.

The need for a proper and in-depth investigation by the Indonesian Government into the causes of the conflict between the Christian and Muslim communities has been well documented in a recent report from the Christian Solidarity Worldwide organisation referred to by the noble Baroness. The investigation should be open and wide-ranging; it should include international representatives. Such an investigation is vitally necessary if the spiral of violence is to be ended.

It has been estimated that more than 3,000 people have died and some 270,000 people have been displaced in the Moluccas alone. It is difficult for us, in the safety of this society, to comprehend how people live in the constant shadow of conflict and threatened violence. The suffering is all too real, and such has been the case for the past 18 months.

The reports of jihad warriors arriving in the Molucca Islands led to a Question being tabled for Written Answer in another place on 23rd May. The Government’s response at that time confirmed that they had received reports that a number of extremists from outside Maluku had travelled to the province. They were under close scrutiny by the authorities in Maluku. In the same response, the Government said:

    “We have urged the Indonesian Government to ensure that the security forces maintain law and order and the protection of all citizens”.–[Official Report, Commons, 23/5/00; col. 410W.]

I should like to ask my noble friend the Minister if the Government have received a response from the Indonesian authorities. Further, did the representations to the Indonesian authorities include a request for the expulsion of jihad warriors from the islands?

The report from Christian Solidarity Worldwide contains details of recent events in a number of places where violence is taking place daily. The time available in this debate does not allow me to quote from the reports of happenings in a number of the islands. It is sufficient to say that the reports contain harrowing and graphic accounts of the killings and maiming of a large number of people.

In opening the debate, the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, mentioned Ambon. Perhaps I may quote one small part of the report that records recent violence in Ambon. It states,

 

    “Echoing words from Dili last September, the people of Ambon cry, ‘We need help, when will the world intervene to stop the violence and death in Ambon! Can Australia help? It’s our only hope. There is nothing we can do for tonight Ambon is dying’. Please pray for the people of Ambon and especially remember those Christians who are being terrorised through a campaign of violence and intimidation”.

Let us this evening hear and heed the cry of the people of Ambon.I applaud the work of Christian Solidarity Worldwide and in particular the outstanding contribution made by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox.

All Members of this House are indebted to the noble Baroness and to Christian Solidarity Worldwide for drawing our attention to the situation that sadly prevails in Indonesia.

It is my hope and prayer that the concern expressed this evening will hasten the time when preservation of life and religious freedom for all of Indonesia’s people is fulfilled.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, it is a privilege for me to follow the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Hampstead, and to echo and endorse everything that he has said. It is indicative of the widespread concern that many of the sentiments that the noble Lord has expressed, and before him the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, will be echoed on all sides of the House.

Before turning to the main burden of my remarks, perhaps I may say that we all owe the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, a great debt of gratitude for the characteristic way in which she has seen for herself at first hand and has been able to tell us about the situation in the Moluccas and in Indonesia generally. That is characteristic of the noble Baroness herself and her description this evening of this humanitarian disaster. Devoid of unnecessary hype or emotion, she told us the facts in a straightforward way. I believe that we are now all well aware of the need to take urgent action to try to assist the people in that beleaguered place.

During May this year a delegation from the Jubilee Campaign, with which I am associated, visited Indonesia. That delegation included Joseph Pitts, a US Congressman, and Mr Mark Siljander, a retired US Congressman. During that visit they met President Abdurrahman Wahid. Even while they debated these issues with him on 28th May in another part of Indonesia, Medan, bombs were placed in a Protestant church building. They exploded during a service and 47 people were injured. It was one of three bombs which had been placed in Medan that weekend. The local governor, Tengku Rizalnurdin, was quoted as saying:

    “This is certainly designed by provocateurs”.

The bombs were the same as those used in attacks carried out in Maluku and Jakarta.The Jubilee delegation visited hospitals in Medan 48 hours after the attacks to see some of the victims, many of them young women. The bombs had been placed underneath a gallery in the church where the young women were sitting. Many of those young women remain untreated. One of them had open wounds, and bomb fragments and nails remained embedded in her body. The delegation was told that there were no resources to deal with all of the victims.

In a letter of today’s date, in reply to mine of 11th May, Mr John Battle states that Her Majesty’s Government would,

    “not hesitate to engage in frank discussion”

with the Indonesian Government. I hope that the material which has been assembled by Christian Solidarity Worldwide, to which the noble Baroness alluded, and the Jubilee delegation which visited Indonesia will feature strongly in those discussions.

The Minister’s letter replies to concerns that I voiced to him about the violence in Ambon and the Molucca islands. To date, some 162 churches–60 Catholic and the others Protestant–have been destroyed throughout the Maluku islands. In the whole of North and South Maluku about 400 churches have been destroyed since February 1999.

Although Jakarta has organised many fact-finding teams to investigate these abuses of human rights, no reports whatsoever of those investigations have been made public. As in East Timor, the situation has been exacerbated by the flow of arms into that troubled part of the world. One non-governmental organisation claims that 700 arms found recently originated in Nigeria. Clearly, the flow of arms, the absence of international monitors, the imposition of jihad, the destruction of churches and the targeting of vulnerable Christians are all the components needed to create an international tragedy that could end in genocide.

During this brief debate I should like to mention six headlines which perhaps give some idea of what I and others, primarily from the American Congress, who have had the opportunity to see the situation, believe should be done in consequence of all that has been said so far in the debate. I believe that Her Majesty’s Government should put pressure on the Indonesian Government during the dialogue to which Mr John Battle refers in his letter: first, to remove more than 2,000 Islamic militants who have infiltrated into the Moluccas province to wage a jihad and to stop further influxes of fighters with the deliberate intention to create the kind of tension that we have seen so far and to disrupt the co-existence that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, rightly reminded us, previously existed.

Secondly, we must ensure that those Indonesian military units which, instead of acting neutrally, have taken sides in the conflict are removed from that theatre. Thirdly, we must take decisive action to punish those responsible for atrocities. Fourthly, I believe that unilaterally Her Majesty’s Government should impose an arms embargo on Indonesia and urge the European Union to do likewise. All aid to Indonesia should be closely linked to the actions of its government to restore peace in the Moluccas. Fifthly, there is an urgent need for international monitors. The Christians in the Moluccas and their church leaders have frequently called for United Nations intervention. Although I note that Mr John Battle says in his letter that the situation is not comparable with that in East Timor because there is no question of disputed sovereignty, which I accept, nevertheless there are many precedents in other parts of the world for the involvement of UN monitors, even though questions of sovereignty are not on the table. Monitors would be free of the allegation of bias which is so often levelled at the Indonesian security forces.

Church leaders in Indonesia have also urged that neutral third-party human rights investigators, such as UN human rights monitors, be sent to the Moluccas to investigate the causes of the conflict and human rights abuses that have taken place there. I hope that the Minister will be able to respond to that particular point in her reply.

I turn finally to the issue of aid. So far about 3,000 Muslims and Christians have died in the conflict, and it is estimated that over 300,000 people have been internally displaced. The British Government and European Union should also do a lot more to get humanitarian assistance to the vast number of internally displaced people and those who suffer as a result of the conflict, such as people in Medan to whom I referred earlier. I hope that when the Minister replies she will outline the nature of the humanitarian aid which is being provided at the present time by Her Majesty’s Government and what is being done to ensure that it is distributed equitably between all the groups affected by the crisis. At the weekend I noted that in one of the newspapers President Abdurrahman Wahid was reported as addressing the Christian Conference of Asia and calling for mutual understanding and tolerance. We all hope and pray that that sentiment becomes a reality.