(New York, January 7, 1999) — Human Rights Watch today urged the
Indonesian government to investigate allegations of bias and partisan
participation by government security forces in the bloody communal
conflict in the Moluccan islands (Maluku). During the past two weeks,
the islands, located some 1,000 miles to the northeast of Bali, have
been the site of repeated clashes between armed Christian and Muslim
groups. The clashes have left hundreds of people dead. Partisans on
each side have claimed that government security forces were directly
supporting their adversaries.
"Misdeeds by security forces alone are not responsible for the tragic
outbreak of communal violence in the region, but it is imperative that
the government set the record straight," said Joe Saunders, deputy Asia
director at Human Rights Watch. There are claims that some soldiers
have supplied weapons and bullets to combatants on the side they happen
to favor, and accounts that some army and mobile brigade police officers
have taken sides during clashes. Indonesian human rights groups have
reported that at least some of the allegations are credible.
For the past year, sectarian conflict in the region has been fueled by
misinformation and conspiracy theories. "In many cases, allegations of
bias by security forces undoubtedly are ill-founded, but a full
accounting is needed to distinguish rumor from fact and to bring to
justice security forces found to have abetted the conflict," said
Saunders. "Government inaction on the claims only adds to the groups'
mutual distrust of the government and increases the likelihood of
Almost exactly a year ago, on January 19, 1999, as Muslims around the
world were celebrating the end of the fasting month, a fight broke out
on the island of Ambon, in Maluku province, Indonesia, between a
Christian public transport driver and a Muslim youth. Such fights were
commonplace, but this one escalated into a virtual war between
Christians and Muslims. Although the communities had coexisted for
centuries, tensions had been building for decades as a result of the
decline of traditional authority structures, the influx of migrants, the
"greening" or perceived Islamization of the central government and civil
service, and, finally, the outbreak of communal violence elsewhere in
Indonesia in the aftermath of the fall of strongman President Soeharto
in May 1998.
Throughout 1999, the conflict continued, spreading to neighboring
islands. In late December, a new spate of violent clashes was triggered
following what appears to have been a routine traffic accident in Ambon
in which the driver was Christian and the injured bicyclist a Muslim.
According to Indonesian government figures, over 1,300 people have been
killed since the violence began a year ago, more than 500 in the last
two weeks alone. Medecins Sans Frontiers reports that more than 100,000
people have been displaced by the conflict within the Maluku region and
that at least another 80,000 have fled to the neighboring Sulawesi
island group. There have been reports that security forces have used
unwarranted lethal force to quell the violence and claims that outside
provocateurs have instigated violence. As with earlier clashes,
however, the reliability of reports from the region have been very
difficult to judge, with Christian and Muslim sources providing vastly
different accounts of what has transpired.
Human Rights Watch also stressed recommendations it has previously made
to the Indonesian government in connection with the communal violence in
the region, none of which have yet been adequately implemented:
1. Ensure that security forces assigned to Maluku are fully equipped
with non-lethal methods of crowd control.
2. Make absolutely clear in all public pronouncements and interviews
that both Christians and Muslims have suffered terrible losses. There
has been a distressing tendency in both the Indonesian and international
media to quote sources from only one side of the conflict. That
reporting feeds back into the communal tensions, helping fuel one side's
anger against the other.
3. Find and prosecute any provocateurs.
4. Undertake a thorough and impartial study of the underlying political,
economic, and demographic causes of tension and prepare recommendations
on how to address them that can be discussed and debated in the region.
5. Ensure that international humanitarian organizations are allowed full
access to assist the wounded and displaced and ensure that existing
supplies are safely and impartially distributed.
6. Ensure that the rights of internally displaced people in the region
are fully protected in accordance with "Guiding Principles on Internal
Displacement" prepared by the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian
Affairs of the United Nations.
For further information:
Joe Saunders 212 216 1207
Mike Jendrzejczyk 202 612 4341