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The new American President Donald Trump’s Exectutive Order aimed at immigrants originating from seven predominately Muslim countries has been widely criticized. A fundemental tenant within the Universal Human Rights Declaration is the right to be free from discriminatory treatment. However, the order signed on January 27, 2017 requiring persons to undergo extra security checks at all international airports and public spaces within the US based on the country of origin or religion is a violation of basic human rights.The controversial US policy is an illustration of State support of discriminatory practices against a particular minority group, namely Muslims, who constitute a minority in the US.

The world community began togive attention towards minorities after World War I. At that time, the victorious states, especially in Central and Eastern Europe,determined to resolve issues of minority groups internally and bilaterally on a case-by-case basis.  As the distribution of minority groups became increasingly widespread across international borders following World War II, the world community adopted a universal approach for the resolution of minority group issues.

At present there is almost no country without minorities. Albanians are a minority in Yugoslavia due to ethnicity. The Hispanic people (descendants of South / Latin America) are a minority in the US based on  economic class and political differences; The Maori Tribe in New Zealand are minorities because of their status as indigenous peoples; and residents of Quebec in Canada are categorized as a minority because the English they speak is different from the majority of citizens who speak French. In the plains of Asia, Rohingya in Myanmar and Uighurs in China fall into the category of minority groups based on their religion and the faith they profess.

Elements and Characteristics of Minority Groups
Academic references and human rights activists refer to the description of elements and characteristics of minority groups based on the 1971 UN Special Report by Francesco Caportoti, UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous People, Religion and Language. Caportoti identified five essential elements and characteristics in order for a specific group to meet the determination of a minority group. First, in terms of national demographics, they represent a smaller sub-section of the majority in a given nation. Second, they experience misfortune due to their status within the nation. Third, they occupy an inferior position institutionally in the life of the state or community. Fourth, they are identifiably different from the majority due to ethnicity, religion and language. Fifth, they have a sense of group solidarity to maintain their culture, traditions, religion and language.

In Indonesia, indigenous peoples such as the Amungme Tribe in Papua, the Punan Tribe in Kalimantan, Nuaulu Tribe in Maluku, and many other tribes across the nation, meet the definition of minority groups. Until the present time, they maintain their individual traditions and ancestral rituals. They use their mother language in everyday communication, and their traditional practices span countless generations. They face the unfortunate circumstance of lack of State recognition of their existence, including State policies granting permits for commercial exploitation of their indigenous forests and lands without prior consultation or compensation.

Ethnic Chinese citizens also meet the definition of a minority group in Indonesia. Nationally, they number only 1.20% of the population (BPS, 2010); they maintain traditions and ancestral rituals (Chinese, Cap Gomeh, and others); and use their mother language of Mandarin Chinese at home and within their community. In the life of the State, ethnic Chinese citizens do not have equal access to public administration services as they are required to provide an additional letter of proof of Indonesian citizenship (Surat BuktiKewarganegaran Indonesia-SBKRI). This group also does not have equal opportunities in the political arena, as recently seen in the case of TjahyaBasukiPurnama (Ahok), the governor of Jakarta DKI District. Certain elements in society believe that only those of the majority religion should be in a top government position, but long-standing prejudice against ethnic Chinese also underlies the debate.

Locally based religions and beliefs also qualify as minority groups. The characteristics and elements present are similar to indigenous peoples. The Indonesia National Commission on Human Rights Minorities Desk reported in 2015 that a number of locally based religions and beliefs are still unable to process a marriage certificate due to the form of religion and belief they profess. The State does not recognize any religion other than those officially sanctioned, thereby denying certain public administration services to practioners of a locally based religion or belief. On the other hand, the State ironically promotes traditional cultures that raise national prestige at home and abroad and brings an economic advantage in the form of increased tourism, which translates into increased tax revenue. The Serentaun Ceremony of thanksgiving for the harvest is a traditional gathering organized every year by the adherents of SundaWiwitan, a local traditional belief system in West Java. This event attracts many tourists, both local and international, and has become a symbol of solidarity among indigenous peoples who still practice ancestral traditions.

Misunderstanding and Criticisms
Identification of minority groups within a national context by the strict lexical meaning only is a misnomer, i.e. having a total number of members less than the remaining population of the nation. The other elements and characteristics, according to Carportoti as mentioned above, require consideration. Additionally, the requirement of ‘smaller numbers’ in the national context sometimes causes misunderstanding. The case of the Tolikora Papua mosque burning in 2015 serves as an example of misunderstanding in the context of minority group classification. Muslims represent an overwhelming majority of the population nationally; therefore, while the Muslim population in Papua is small compared to the local non-Muslim population, they do not qualify as a minority group. This is also the case for Muslims in Bali where the population is predominately Hindu, or in other areas where Muslims are a minority locally, however, the fact remains that they are the majority nationally.

Therefore, it appears that the description of the elements and characteristics of a minority group according to Carportoti needs further scrutiny. As mentioned above, ethnic Chinese people are a minority in Indonesia, with the supporting element and characteristic that they are not dominant in the life of the State and / or society, but upon further examination it is revealed that ethnic Chinese hold a dominant place in society, especially economically. Data from several sources claim that ethnic Chinese citizens contributed approximately 80% to the economic development of Indonesia. Forbes magazine survey even mentions that the Chinese entrepreneurs have mastered certain sectors, such as cigarettes, retail and property.

Given that non-State recognized locally based religions and faiths fit the elements and characteristics as minority groups, should it follow that non-majority ‘recognized’ religions and beliefs also qualify as minority groups? Deeper study is needed in order to parse this question based on Carportoti’s principles. At first glance, the number practitioners of recognized faiths in Indonesia (other than Islam) is relatively small. Christian, Catholic, Buddhist, Hindu, and Confucianism members (respectively) comprise not more than 10% of the total population. These groups have face obstacles in performing worship services, for example, the GKI Jasmine Garden Christian Church in Bogor and the Philadelphia Church in Bekasi among others. This situation satisfies the element of ‘disadvantaged’ people within the Carportoti principles. Unlike locally based religion and beliefs groups who are largely identified as those who practice the traditions of their ancestors, the state ‘recognized’ religions and beliefs are only bound by the shared form of rituals and worship that is independent of a specific culture or traditional origin.

Although there are a number of criticisms, Carportoti’s description is adequately comprehensive for use in identification of minority groups in Indonesia. There is material relevant enough to help strengthen the identification of minority groups as described by Carportoti, mainly to describe the elements and characteristics of ‘unfortunate situation’. The material mentioned is namely that minority religion and belief groups often experience indirect coercion, and almost all minority groups experience multi-discrimination.

Indirect Coercion
The definition of indirect coercion needs to be distinguished within the definition of discrimination. As an illustration, examine the case of discrimination in the education sector that occurred in the US during the Eisenhower Administration (1957). The Governor of the majority white population of the US State of Arkansas blocked the integration of nine African-American students into the Little Rock Arkansas Central High School based on racial differences. This situation refers to differentiating treatment allowing only whites to enter the school. Even so, the intention of the differentiating treatment was not to force blacks to change the color or their skin because it is impossible. Therefore, there is no indication of indirect coercion of individuals to conform to the majority.

Adherents of non-recognized religions and beliefs experience coercion in an indirect manner to choose from one of the ‘recognized’ state religions and beliefs. Adherents of the Parmalim belief system in northern Sumatra and several other members of locally based religions and beliefs when filling out government forms are often requested to state a religion or belief in accordance with one of the ‘recognized’ state religions, or to leave the religion space blank. This practice is still going on, including  adherents of branches or sects of mainstream religions and beliefs whose teachings are not in line with accepted Islamic teachings, such as the teachings of the Shia, Ahmadiyah, and Gafatar groups.

Research by the Indonesia National Commission on Human Rights in 2015 on the implementation of Law No. 40 of 2008 on the Elimination of Racial and Ethnic Discrimination discovered disguised forms of coercion experienced by children of the Nuaulu Tribe of the Petuanan Sepa State, on the island of Seram, Maluku. They were asked to follow religious instruction in school from one of the ‘recognized’ state religions, even though in daily life they embrace their ancestral belief system based on Upu Kuanahatana (their creator).

Multi-discrimination occurs for certain individuals and specifically within a minority group. To note, the SundaWiwitan adherents not only experienced discrimination related to the obtainment of ID cards and birth / marriage certificates, but frequently their children experience different treatment from fellow students, teachers, and other school personnel. So did the women followers of Sunda Wiwitan, who faced discrimination in public spaces (markets, health centers) due to their faith system.

Illustrations of multi-discrimination can be seen in other parts of the world as well, for example in Tanzania and Burundi, ‘albino’ persons born with the condition of a pigment disorder are considered a curse and must be destroyed. Similarly, persons with leprosy are considered cursed, and even those who have recovered are forced to remain exiled from their families and indigenous communities.
Political Agenda
Ideally, the classification of minority and majority groups need not exist, especially in Indonesia, which has a diversity of races, ethnicities, religions, and classes. However, the reality experienced by many minority groups reflects a lag in many sectors of development. Recognition of the existence of minority groups should be included in the future political agenda. Minorities should be able to obtain an identity card, marriage and birth certificates according to the religions and beliefs held, conduct worship unhindered, live and stay on their ancestral lands, carry out cultural traditions and attend public schools.
Raising the voice of minorities is essentially realizing the ideals of the nation as mandated by the constitution, which guarantees that every citizen, including those of minority groups, has an equal opportunity to contribute in the government. (Yossa N)

Published on Kompas 4 April 2017

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