Aug 05, 2021 Last Updated 4:08 AM, Jul 29, 2021

In this issue

Don't let Aceh be

President Gus Dur said in mid February he had a new ideology called 'let-it-be'-ism (biarinisme). Problems, he said, were of two kinds - those that had to be solved, and those that solved themselves. Aceh, apparently, falls into the latter. 'We can't play God. Anyway God is always relaxed', he said in his disarming manner. 'For me it's quite simple. If God wants our state to fly apart, it certainly will, but if he doesn't, it won't. What's the fuss?'

Gus Dur's humour and humility have endeared him to many. And on some issues he has been far from 'let-it-be'-ist. But we should hope that 'let-it-be'-ism does not extend to Aceh. Neither Aceh nor most of the other regions wanting change are likely to solve themselves

A human tragedy is unfolding in Aceh that cannot be ignored. Jakarta clearly remains determined to refuse Aceh independence. But unless it wants to continue the violent repression plus elite cooptation model favoured under Suharto, Jakarta will have to engage in a political process that takes the Acehnese seriously. Acehnese overwhelmingly want a referendum on their association with Indonesia. Even if Jakarta cannot handle this demand, it can at least start by accounting for past human rights abuses, and giving more local control over the territory's natural resources.

Unfortunately Jakarta has until now been reluctant even to go this far. The military seem intent on sabotaging a special Acehnese human rights tribunal. And new laws that will by April 2001 begin returning resource revenues to the regions will probably operate not at the provincial level but at the district (kabupaten) level. This will ensure a big bunfight among Aceh's districts next year.

President Wahid's options are constrained because he runs a compromise government that still includes some of the same elites who ran the New Order. But 'let-it-be'-ism is not good enough for the people over whom he governs.

This edition of Inside Indonesia is again the work of many people, of whom only a few are named. Their satisfaction comes from knowing that you the reader will become just that little bit more engaged with the issues facing the people of the world's fourth largest nation.

Inside Indonesia 62: Apr - Jun 2000

Sinking carbon in Kalimantan

Carbon trading under the Kyoto Protocol will benefit Indonesia's forests

Merrilyn Wasson

On February 28 and 29, forty Indonesian and international experts on climate change met in Bogor to discuss the implications of carbon trading for Indonesia's forests. Led by Assistant Environment Minister, Pak Aca Sugandhy and scientific advisor, Professor Daniel Murdiyarso, the theme of the meeting was the potential impact of Clean Development Mechanism investment in the forest sector. There was consensus on the potential value of carbon trading through the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). But there was considerable debate on how the CDM could or should operate in practice, in the current climate of reform in Indonesia's forests.

One fundamental issue had to be addressed first at the Bogor consultation. Should Indonesia's ecologically sensitive and economically valuable forest sector, with its troubled history of deforestation, tenure uncertainty and timber companies with a reputation for corruption, be part of the growing global market in carbon emission reductions?

The CDM is set up by Article 12 of the Kyoto Protocol. It enables industrial nations to help meet their greenhouse emission reduction targets by investing in emission reduction projects in developing nations. These investments must meet three essential criteria: they must result in measurable emission reductions, the investment must promote sustainable development, and it must benefit the host developing nation.

Investment in forests and other land-based carbon 'sinks' has the additional benefit of actually reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Article 3 of the Kyoto Protocol has the effect of limiting investment in forest sinks to projects which promote reforestation, or the 'afforestation' of land that has historically been used for other purposes.

Given these criteria, and the fact that CDM investment is Foreign Direct Investment which does not increase national debt, as well as the fact that deforestation in Indonesia has now reached an estimated 1.6 million hectares annually, CDM investment in reforestation seems highly desirable.


Unfortunately, in the international negotiations on climate change and the Kyoto Protocol, controversy still surrounds the inclusion of forestry projects as recipients of CDM investment in developing nations. Political and economic tensions between the industrial or Annex I nations complicate this debate. As a result, the 'reality check' of tropical deforestation tends to be ignored.

Tropical deforestation accounts for 28% of all greenhouse gas emissions annually. That's 2.2 gigatonnes of carbon. According to the calculations of Indonesia's international expert on greenhouse emissions, Professor Daniel Murdiyarso, the 1997/8 trans-boundary haze crisis from forest fires added another gigatonne of carbon to the atmosphere.

Given these figures, international opposition to investment in CDM projects in tropical forests borders on the absurd. Indeed, opposition to the inclusion of carbon emission reductions in tropical forests would be absurd but for one factor. There is genuine concern among some international and Indonesian NGOs dedicated to the protection of forest ecosystems, that investment in CDM projects might lead to the unintended outcome of increased deforestation. How real is this possibility?

The year 2000 is the official start for banking carbon credits from CDM projects. It coincides with an ongoing process of political and economic reform in the forest sector in Indonesia. Reform has so far encompassed revelations about the extent of timber corporation indebtedness, as well as customary (adat) claims over forest land held by the state. In the future it will result in the decentralisation of forest resource allocation to the provinces. To add to the complexity, the day after the Bogor consultation ended, hot spots from fires in Sumatra's Riau and Jambi provinces were located by monitors in Singapore.

Against this background, can CDM investment in Indonesia's forest sector be a mechanism for reform, or will it be another drain on forest resources? Specifically,

Will it slow or increase the rate of deforestation of natural forest? Will CDM projects improve the sustainable production of timber products? Can CDM investment support more equitable access to forest resources for all socio-economic groups? How will the Indonesian economy benefit?

Investment must be restricted to reforestation or rehabilitation of degraded forests, or to plantations established on land used historically for other purposes. CDM reforestation and rehabilitation projects must satisfy the criteria of sustainable forest management, ensuring soil conservation and the protection of water quality. It may also be possible to invest in protected forests if it can be demonstrated that they are in danger of deforestation. So far so good, and there is more.

To make sure that all three criteria for CDM projects are fulfilled, an international examination board will be set up to verify the 'credit worthiness' of each project. In addition, the host nation has the final control over investment guidelines and can prevent or abort projects which do not adhere to national guidelines and the criteria of Article 12 of the Kyoto Protocol.

No system is immune from human ingenuity to produce socially undesirable outcomes. But this double check on CDM projects at both the national and international level will comprise a new development in the monitoring of forest resource use.

There is another consideration. Far too much money has been invested in Indonesia's pulp, paper and plywood industry. This is a critical problem. It is a major cause of deforestation and, possibly, social unrest. Concentrating investment instead in sustainable reforestation and rehabilitation is a partial solution to the reconstruction of the forestry industry after the crony capitalism of the New Order regime.


Can CDM investment support more equitable access to forest resources for all socio-economic groups? The investor from an Annex I nation can only strike a CDM project contract with the owner or concession holder of the land or forest sector to be reforested, afforested or protected. But the presence of a CDM project need not retard a change of ownership envisaged by advocates of more equitable forest access, so long as the Indonesian government acts as guarantor for the continuation of the project. This solution is in harmony with the people-based concept of forest ownership under Indonesia's constitution, and enables the CDM project to continue while still allowing for changes in 'ownership' of the project area.

The willingness of the Indonesian government to act as guarantor is essential, as the credit worthiness of some sink investments may require a period of time longer than the current concession tenure.

How will the Indonesian economy benefit? Obviously, payment will be made for the tonnes of carbon absorbed from the atmosphere by the trees, or prevented from entering the atmosphere. This can either be made to a central fund, like the existing Reforestation Fund (Dana Reboisasi), for redistribution to other economic priorities, or it can be kept by the host community or company.

A CDM project will not have a monopoly on forest use. The distribution of other profits from the harvesting and sale of timber products is likely to be a matter for negotiation between investor and host, taking into account the transaction and establishment costs and risks associated with the CDM project.

Perhaps the greatest economic benefit will come from the contribution of reforestation and sustainable forestry to the environment. For example, the government has estimated that loss of fisheries costs the country US$4 billion per annum. Mangrove reforestation restores fish breeding habitats, controls land-based pollution and protects other fish habitats like sea grasses and coral reefs. This is one example of an ecological benefit from reforestation which has direct economic benefits. And there is the benefit of additional employment.

Like every nation, Indonesia is vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change. And like every nation, Indonesia makes a contribution to the problem, especially when land-clearing fires burn out of control. Yes, there are risks associated with CDM investment in the forest sector. But the benefits effortlessly eclipse them.

Merrilyn Wasson ( is a researcher in the biological sciences at the Australian National University in Canberra. She attended the Bogor consultation.

Inside Indonesia 62: Apr - Jun 2000

What is climate change?

Agus P Sari

Climate change happens due to the so-called 'greenhouse effect' (see picture). The greenhouse effect is a natural phenomenon necessary for life as we know it. If there were no greenhouse effect, the earth would be 32 degrees celsius colder than it is now, rendering it uninhabitable. Too much greenhouse effect, however, will lead to global warming and climate change, with disruptive effects on human well-being. The greenhouse effect occurs due to the presence of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere. These gases - water vapour, carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), chlorofluorocarbons (CFC), nitrous oxide (N2O), and tropospheric ozone (O3) - act like a blanket that slows the loss of heat from the earth's atmosphere.

The concentrations of these gases in the atmosphere are steadily increasing. Carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere was about 350 parts per million (ppm, by volume) in 1990, already one-fourth higher than that in the preindustrial era (circa 1750 - 1850). The concentration of methane at 1.72 ppm in 1990 was more than twice that in the preindustrial era. CFCs are strictly of human origin.

Carbon dioxide has contributed approximately 60 percent of increased global mean air-surface temperature 'forcing' by greenhouse gases over the last 200 years, followed by methane at 20 percent, CFCs at 10 percent, and other gases at 10 percent. Based on a modeling exercise, **IPCC expects that a doubling of greenhouse gas concentrations will increase the global mean temperature by 1.5 to 4.5 degrees Celsius. Thus, IPCC suggests cutting current emissions levels by 60 to 80 percent just to stabilise current atmospheric concentrations.

Carbon dioxide, the most prominent anthropogenic gas, arises primarily from the combustion of fossil fuels and from the burning and clearing of forested land for agricultural purposes. Worldwide consumption of fossil fuels in the period of 1860 to 1949 is estimated to have released 187 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide. Between 1950 and 1990, fossil fuel use had accelerated and carbon dioxide emissions are estimated at an additional 559 billion metric tons.

Agus P Sari ( is executive director of Pelangi, a Jakarta-based environmental think tank. He has followed the climate change negotiations since their inception and has been part of the Indonesian official delegation the last three years.

Inside Indonesia 62: Apr - Jun 2000

The world is not (green) enough

Sustainable development puts demands on both the industrialised west and forest-rich Indonesia

Agus P Sari

Climate change is probably the most prominent global environmental issue of the millenium. About 3000 scientists from all corners of the world associated with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have concluded that human beings have a 'discernible' impact on climate stability. The IPCC recommends an immediate worldwide reduction of 60 to 80 percent to stabilise atmospheric greenhouse gases at today's levels. The costs of doing nothing can be enormous. Climate change is a global problem that requires global collective actions. Countries around the world have been negotiating on the best possible actions. We now have the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty that stipulates limitations to emit these vicious gases.

Climate change is caused by unsustainable development processes (see box). The term 'sustainable development' was first coined at the World Conference on the Human Environment in 1972 in Stockholm. Climate change was first mentioned in 1988 in Toronto, Canada. This Conference on the Changing Atmosphere called for immediate action to develop a 'comprehensive global convention as a framework for protocols on the protection of the atmosphere'. The participants also called for a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions 'by approximately 20 percent of 1988 levels by the year 2005' as an initial goal.

Sponsored by the United Nations General Assembly, the First World Climate Conference was held in Geneva, Switzerland, in the same year. The conference mandated the formation of the Framework Convention on Climate Change. As a follow-up, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) established the IPCC with a mandate to compile a scientific assessment on climate change to be reported at the Second World Climate Conference in 1990.

The The Hague Conference in 1989, sponsored by the Dutch government, emphasised the desirability of negotiating 'the necessary legal instruments to provide an effective and coherent foundation, institutionally and financially', for 'combating any further global warming of the atmosphere'. In the same year, the Governing Council of UNEP requested the Heads of UNEP and WMO to begin preparation for negotiations on a 'framework convention on climate change'. Also in the same year, the G-7 Summit in Paris stated that it was 'strongly advocating common efforts to limit emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases which threaten to induce climate change'. G-7 groups the seven economically dominant countries in the world.

In 1990, the IPCC reported its findings at the Second World Climate Conference, which led to the formation of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for a Framework Convention on Climate Change (INC-FCCC, or INC in short). The INC had five negotiating sessions prior to signing the convention at the 'Earth Summit', the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June of 1992.

Four more negotiations were needed before the convention was finally ratified by 50 countries, which made it a legally binding international law. The First Conference of the Parties (COP1) of the convention was convened in Berlin in 1995. Here the Parties unanimously agreed that current commitments by the Parties to the convention were not adequate to meet the convention's ultimate objectives. Responding to the findings, the Association of Small Island States proposed a protocol based on the agreement made in Toronto in 1988 to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent from 1988 levels by the year 2005 (the 'Toronto Target'). The Parties also adopted the 'Berlin Mandate'.

These negotiations led to the landmark COP3 in Kyoto in 1997, where the Kyoto Protocol was finally adopted. Far away from the original 'Toronto target' of 20 percent of 1988 levels reductions by the year 2005, let alone the IPCC's recommendation of 60 to 80 percent immediate reductions, the Kyoto Protocol only commits the industrialised countries to reduce their collective emissions by approximately 5 percent of 1990 levels in the period between 2008 and 2012.

The quantitative emissions limitation and reduction objectives range from 8 percent reduction by the European Union member countries collectively, 7 percent by the United States, 6 percent by Japan, to a 1 percent increase by Norway, 8 percent increase by Australia, and 10 percent increase by Iceland. It is important to note that emissions from the industrialised countries were already roughly 5 percent below their 1990 levels, making the Kyoto target merely keeping emissions at 1995 levels until 2012. The industrialised countries that made the limitation and reduction commitments are listed under Annex I of the Climate Convention (thus the reference to Annex I countries in the press), and their commitments are listed under Annex B of the Kyoto Protocol.

The emissions limitation and reduction commitments can be met by reducing emissions from their sources, or by enhancing sinks to remove the existing greenhouse gases, which can be done domestically or overseas. Indeed, the provision that provides for meeting commitments overseas is a very important one in the Kyoto Protocol. There are four of these so-called 'flexibility' mechanisms.

Emissions Trading refers to trading parts of an Annex I country's commitments with those of another country. Joint Implementation refers to investment by an Annex I country in another Annex I country in a specific project that leads to a reduction of emissions. The emissions reduced by the project are credited to the investing country. Another mechanism is the treatment of the EU member countries as an entity with a collective commitment.

There is also the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), the only creditable emissions trading that may involve developing countries ('Non Annex I countries'). An investment in a project in a developing country by an (industrialised) Annex I country that leads to certified emissions reduction can be credited to the investing country. Unfortunately it is not explicitly clear in the Article on the CDM as to whether enhancement of sinks, especially reduction of deforestation and expanding forest cover, can be attributable to meeting the commitments of the Annex I countries. It is very likely, however, that the next negotiating session in The Hague in November 2000 will adopt a decision to include projects in the forestry sector as part of CDM. CDM will facilitate resource and technology transfers to developing countries.

Until today, however, the Kyoto Protocol - and all of the flexibility mechanisms it allows countries to meet their obligations - is just a piece of paper that binds no country. It can only bind the signatories, thus 'enter into force', after 55 countries have not merely signed but also ratified it. Moreover, the Annex I country Parties that ratify it must represent 55 percent of Annex I emissions in 1990.

This last condition is the tricky part. The United States represent about 36 percent of Annex I emissions in 1990 - the largest emitter globally. The member countries of the European Union collectively represent roughly 25 percent, Russia 18 percent, Japan 8.5 percent, and the rest of the Central and Eastern European countries 7.5 percent. These figures suggest that at least two of the three major emitters - the United States, the European Union collectively, and Russia - should ratify.

Knowing a little bit of its domestic politics, where its Republican-dominated Congress refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol with an overwhelming vote of 95 to 0, there is only a very slight possibility that the United States will ratify the Kyoto Protocol any time soon. The only possibility for the Protocol to enter into force without the United States is if Russia and Japan can break out of the 'Umbrella Group' (referring to countries that have similar negotiating positions with the United States) and join the European Union to ratify the Protocol early enough. This situation is as difficult to imagine as the European Union taking action without the United States. That is why it remains crucial that the United States must ratify to make the Kyoto Protocol work. Until the United States gets its act together, there will be no legally binding Kyoto Protocol, there will be no CDM, and hence no transfer of resources to developing countries.


In Indonesia, climate change will alter the daily lives of millions. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is expected to double to about 550 parts per million by the middle of this century. In that case the mean temperature in Indonesia is predicted to increase by approximately 3 to 4.2 degrees Celsius. Changed rainfall patterns, prolonging droughts and floods, will threaten food security. This is probably the most devastating impact of climate change.

While the correlation between the El Nino and La Nina climatic events and long-term climate change is still debatable, the impacts of these events have demonstrated how vulnerable Indonesia's agriculture and ecosystem is. In the early 1980s an increase in the average temperature of the ocean water of between 2 and 3 degrees Celsius caused massive coral bleaching that killed about 80 to 90 percent of corals.

Rainforests are prone to fires when precipitation is less than 100 mm per year, such as has happened during El Nino events. The 1997 forest fires were as devastating as forest fires in 1982 and 1983, when precipitation was only 35 percent of the usual level. On each occasion, the Kutai National Park in Kalimantan was totally damaged. Secondary forests were more heavily damaged than primary ones. In the logged areas, literally no trees survived the fires. Forest fires deemed the worst in history took more than 10 million hectares of productive forests in just the three years 1997-99, with a socioeconomic toll of billions of dollars.

Sea level rise is another prominent impact of climate change. Hosting the largest number of islands, more than 17,000, and a total coastline exceeding 81,000 kilometres, the second longest after Canada, Indonesia will suffer significantly even from a small rise in sea level. Industrial infrastructure and population are concentrated in low-lying coastal areas. Four-fifth of Indonesians live in coastal areas. Approximately 2 million lived in places less than 2 metres above sea level in 1990.

In crisis-laden Indonesia, however, all environmental issues are still considered a luxury, let alone climate change. Indeed, the 700 million tons of carbon dioxide that Indonesia emitted in 1990 were only 2.5 percent of the global emissions of 28 billion tons that year. The 3 tons per person were still lower than the 4.5 tons per person global average and only one-sixth of the average American emissions of 18 tons.

More than four-fifths of the emissions came from land use change and deforestation. Nevertheless, some of the emissions were not unavoidable. In the forestry sector, for example, limiting forest degradation will help limit the effect on greenhouse gas emissions from the sector. It will also reduce local impacts and preserve biodiversity. Sure enough, the strongest opponents of reducing forest degradation in Indonesia are either logging companies who have already gained too much from the corrupt sector full of crony-capitalists, or the corrupt bureaucrats themselves.

Indonesia will benefit from reduced deforestation. But so will the whole of humanity. The demand at international negotiations that Indonesia should preserve the so-called 'lungs of the world' should be compensated. The emissions offset mechanism, especially the Clean Development Mechanism CDM, can do just that. If Indonesia can prove that the efforts that it makes beyond its normal obligations to slow down deforestation can benefit the world in slowing down climate change, then Indonesia may be able to claim some - if not a large amount - of the funds that could potentially flow in through the CDM.

Agus P Sari ( is executive director of Pelangi, a Jakarta-based environmental think tank. He has followed the climate change negotiations since their inception and has been part of the Indonesian official delegation the last three years.

Inside Indonesia 62: Apr - Jun 2000

Women workers still exploited

Revisiting two Nike factories in West Java after the economic crisis

Peter Hancock

In 1997 I published an article in Inside Indonesia (No.51, July-September 1997) titled The walking ghosts of West Java. It reported research among 20 factories and 323 female workers in rural West Java in a place called Banjaran. I found that, of all the factories studied, the two Nike factories treated their female workers extremely poorly. Women who worked in the two Nike factories (Feng Tay and Kukje) were overworked, exploited, underpaid and abused by management. In 1999/ 2000 I returned to Banjaran to conduct a follow-up study designed to measure the impact of the Asian Crisis upon factory women. Again the two Nike factories 'stood apart' from the other 18 factories. Nike continues to exploit young women (many of whom are underage), causing unnecessary hardship to its workers.

The Asian Crisis affected Indonesia more severely than any other country in the region. The purchasing power of the rupiah declined by over 140%. As a result, between 1997 and 1998 (a) the labour force in manufacturing declined from 4.2 million to 3.5 million; (b) the growth rate of manufacturing declined from 6.42% to minus 12.88%; (c) the number of establishments declined from 22,386 to 20,422. Remaining factories either shed staff, increased quotas or decreased wage costs to cope.

On the surface, Banjaran had 'boomed' during the crisis. Two large shopping malls had been built. Most of the families I revisited showed no signs of serious impacts from the crisis. However, in-depth research revealed a more accurate picture. The average monthly wages of factory women had increased from Rp 142,000 a month in 1997 to Rp 340,000 in 1999. But given the high inflation levels this increase barely accommodates the crisis. Eleven percent of the women reported that the crisis had plunged them and their families into serious poverty and their wage increases did not cover basic living expenses. All stated that the Asian Crisis made their lives very difficult and that the biggest impact were the massive price increases of staple goods. (The price of rice in the largest open market near Banjaran increased from Rp 1,008 per kilo in 1996 to Rp 2,320 per kilo in 1998). According to my household surveys, the Asian Crisis caused prices of food, cooking oil and transport to increase by 200-300% while factory salaries had only increased by just over 100%.

Government data reveal that 'real' wage costs among large and medium shoe factories decreased from Rp 3.96 billion in 1996 to Rp 3.91 billion in 1998 - a real decline despite massive wage increases. The women coped with this situation by not spending money on luxury goods and services (meat, soap, clothes, entertainment, transport or consumer goods). With the help of their families, they budgeted their wages for basic survival only.

Sixteen percent of the women surveyed also stated that, as a result of the crisis and loss of employment in other sectors, they had become the main breadwinner in the family. Their small factory wages were crucial. Only 3% claimed that their factories had become more exploitative in terms of forced overtime, working for illegal pay or in abusing women as a result of attempts to increase productivity levels. However, in focus groups and open interviews this story changed dramatically, especially among women from the two Nike factories. I quickly understood that the women were scared of losing their jobs and had been warned not to discuss their employment with researchers. This was due to the fact that the results of my previous research in 1996, once published, had impacted directly upon factory women and upon one Nike factory, Kukje.


When the Korean-run factory Kukje changed to produce Nike shoes in 1996 it changed from one with a good local reputation to one which was highly exploitative (forced overtime, holidays cancelled and abusive managers) simply to keep Nike happy. However, in early 1998 I was informed by one of the mid-level managers at Kukje that Nike had withdrawn its contract and had used my article in Inside Indonesia as an excuse for so doing. I was informed that the general manager of Kukje became so angry that he called in government officials to Banjaran to find out who I was and who I had talked to (not realising I had interviewed him briefly in 1996). The government officials were not able to find any workers who I had interviewed, because I had completed my research carefully to ensure that none of my respondents would suffer simply for telling the truth. The result being that Kukje lost a highly lucrative Nike contract and was forced to lay off a few hundred casual daily workers, most of whom found employment in the other large Nike factory next door to Kukje, Feng Tay. In 1999, however, Kukje workers were fearful because Feng Tay were about to take over Kukje. In the interim Kukje was working to fill backorders from other factories, including Nike shoes from Feng Tay.

At first glance it may seem that Nike cancelled its contract with Kukje because it was concerned about worker exploitation and child labour in Banjaran. However, if Nike were genuinely concerned after reading my publications in 1997 they would have cancelled Feng Tay's Nike shoe-making contract as well as Kukje's, as Feng Tay was undoubtedly the worst of the 20 large and medium factories studied in 1996/97.

Remembering that Kukje is still making some Nike shoes and that it is being, or about to be, controlled by Feng Tay, the results of research among women who worked there during the follow up study are relevant, and do reflect Nike production practices. Workers at Kukje worked on average 17.2 hours of overtime each week, on top of their mandatory 40 hours per week. The average overtime hours for the entire cohort of women studied in 1999/ 2000 was only 9 hours per week. Kukje women stated that their employment was unstable despite high levels of overtime and that the factory did not pay full wage rates regulated by the government. Despite the fact that Kukje workers completed about twice as much overtime as the average for the cohort, they were in fact paid less than the average of Rp 340,000 per month. The average wage for Kukje workers each month was Rp 330,000. Considering the large amount of overtime these workers completed, their wages should be much higher than the average.

Feng Tay

Feng Tay has blossomed as a result of the Asian Crisis. Instead of shedding staff it was able to increase workers in line with larger orders for Nike shoes in 1999/ 2000. Nike women worked on average 24.6 hours of overtime per week and were often required to work on Sundays due to orders. However, Nike women at Feng Tay were being paid relatively well. On average they earned Rp 490,000 each month. But this came at a cost. Feng Tay does not provide buses for local women, who must pay for their own transport costs. It does, however, provide free buses for workers outside the region. The women I interviewed claimed this was because management thought that local women were too lazy and made trouble. Bringing in outside labour was a new phenomenon designed by Feng Tay management to offset 'local' worker disputes.

Another interesting aspect was the lack of uniforms at Feng Tay, as all other factories used uniforms. In 1996 they usually wore pink uniforms. In 1999 they were not issued uniforms because women were 'in and out' so quickly that uniforms were not needed.

Women usually leave after a few months, exhausted by the constant overtime and lack of holidays, on top of which comes a very sound system of managerial exploitation and domination of young women. Further, Feng Tay is continuing with the illegal practice of sick leave arrangements described in my 1997 article. Feng Tay has a new policy now, which also goes against national labour laws. Sick women must report to the factory doctor and get a medical certificate. If not they are docked Rp 30,000, even if they have a certificate from another 'non-partisan' doctor. Forcing sick women to treck down rough mountain roads to the factory reflects the attitude of Feng Tay to workers and the fact that factories in Indonesia continue to make up their own laws.

To cope with increased orders, Feng Tay management has diverted some to Kukje or created quotas. Women are given a very large quota and paid overtime and a bonus. However, the bonus is paid in the form of a T-shirt and not money as traditionally expected. Recent strikes in Jakarta reflect this trend to replace money bonuses for hard work and the meeting of difficult quotas with nominal gifts. Another new trend I learned of was that the leftover Nike shoes which could not be sold were destroyed by management. The workers could not understand why they were not given to the workers, and claimed that some workers tried to steal them to sell due to the crisis, but most were caught and sacked.

Fifty four percent of the women who were asked about the impacts of the Asian Crisis upon their factory life reported no real change except the high cost of living. The remaining 46% stated that the crisis meant that either more overtime was required, that their bonuses were stopped or that their working life became more stressful as a result of increased quotas. These 46% were predominantly from Feng Tay or Kukje. To be fair to Feng Tay there was one garment factory in Banjaran from which the average overtime worked among women was 31 hours per week. However, these women were all piecemeal workers earning very poor wages in a sector renowned for exploitative practices.

The labour force in manufacturing was actually funding the battle against the impacts of the Asian Crisis in Indonesia. I saw plenty of evidence of this in Banjaran, and specifically at Feng Tay. In 1997 I concluded that 'Feng Tay is the negative result of the combination of international capital, Indonesian capital, a Western corporation (Nike) and a developing country's desire to industrialise quickly'. I see no reason why my conclusions in 2000 should change. Indeed, the crisis has provided industrialists more power.

In April 1999 Nike became a member of the Global Alliance for Workers and Communities. An alliance designed to assess and improve working conditions in overseas factories and communities. I have some ideas in those areas.

Peter Hancock ( lectures in International Development Studies at Deakin University in Melbourne.

Inside Indonesia 62: Apr - Jun 2000

The new Timor Gap

Will Australia now break with the past?

Geoffrey A McKee

In November 1991 our medium-sized oil exploration company was awarded a slice of acreage in the Timor Gap, becoming a joint venture partner in ZOCA-13. In the same month the Australian media was saturated with news on the massacre of unarmed civilians in a Dili graveyard. Earlier that year, Portugal initiated proceedings against Australia before the International Court of Justice in The Hague over the legality of the Timor Gap usual' was not going to be easy, it seemed.

The treaty has as its foundation a 'model of reality' which described the troubled territory - without question or qualification - as 'the Indonesian province of East Timor'. Yet empirical data suggested an alternative reality: a low intensity war Indonesia could never 'win'.

It became apparent to me that until the East Timor conflict was resolved, exploration expenditure in the Timor Gap was subject to significant political risk. My colleagues in the oil and gas industry did not share this view. At that time the stock response was 'the Indonesians will never leave'.

Successive Australian governments became hostage to the integration model - now consolidated into national legislation through the Timor Gap Treaty, making it effectively 'irreversible'. Integration was now a bipartisan doctrine.opinions became heretical.

In early 1996 I reviewed a US$1 million engineering study to develop the Bayu field, prepared by Bechtel for our joint venture operator, Phillips Petroleum. This was a world class and exciting offshore petroleum project. But how could the required capital investment be secured when the project's legal and fiscal regime had such shaky foundations?

Around this time, in May 1996, Richard Woolcott, former head of Australia's Foreign Affairs and Trade Department, reassured the oil industry by declaring East Timor's independence a 'lost cause'. A short time later, Jose Ramos-Horta predicted independence would be achieved by the end of the century. History has now shown who was the true realist and who was simply shortsighted.

On August 17, 1975, just before the invasion, the same Woolcott, then Australian ambassador in Jakarta, had advised Canberra that 'a treaty on the oil and gas-rich seabed could be more readily negotiated with Indonesia than with Portugal or independent Portuguese Timor'. What was meant and understood by this statement was that Indonesia, if it were allowed control of Portuguese Timor, would accede to 'joining the Timor gap' in the seabed boundary agreed in 1972 between Australia and Indonesia (see map). Portugal's view had been that it would be inequitable to simply join the 'gap'.

The 1972 seabed treaty was based on the now superseded international law principle of 'natural prolongation' of the continental shelf. In October 1972 when this treaty was concluded, Canberra had celebrated a 'diplomatic coup', having gained sovereignty over 85% of the maritime area under negotiation. When Professor Mochtar, the leader of the 1972 Indonesian delegation, arrived back in Jakarta, he was roundly condemned for having 'sold the farm'. However the young 'New Order' regime, born in violence and needing international legitimacy, may have benefitted in other ways by giving so much ground to Australia.

Before the 1975 Indonesian invasion of East Timor, Australia had asserted its sovereignty right up to the seabed boundary 'gap' by issuing two oil exploration permits. An alarmed Portugal in December 1974 issued overlapping permits to a Denver-based company, Oceanic Exploration.

In October 1976 when informal talks between Australia and Indonesia commenced, the sticking point was the legal status of East Timor. Indonesia wanted de jure recognition as a precondition to seabed boundary talks. Australia finally relented in February 1979. Having got what it wanted from a poorly advised Australian government, Indonesia now moved to adopt new thinking in international law - already supported by Portugal - which emphasised equity and distance rather than seabed geomorphology. This position - today well understood by East Timorese leaders - can be described as the 'median line settlement'.

But in 1979 it would have been politically impossible for Australia to agree to Indonesia's median line claim. How would the editorial writers react if, having already betrayed the East Timorese, Australia received nothing of material value from Indonesia? It was also difficult for a nationalistic Indonesia to now agree to Australia's demand that they 'join the gap'. In the words of Foreign Minister Mochtar, Indonesia was 'taken to the cleaners' by Australia in the 1972 seabed negotiations. The Indonesian team was not about to repeat the same mistake.

The resulting stalemate was never resolved. It took twelve years of talks before both sides, possibly from 'negotiation fatigue', agreed to disagree. A compromise joint development zone (JDZ) was created and sealed with a toast in an airplane over the Timor Gap on December 11, 1989. The treaty was not 'readily negotiated' as Woolcott had foreshadowed. On the contrary, the long and laborious negotiations were a setback to oil exploration and resulted in a treaty as unstable today as it has always been.

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III) in December 1982 strengthened the Indonesian position and would have pressured Australia to give ground. However when the Timor Gap Treaty was signed, UNCLOS had not yet entered into force. This occurred only in November 1994, when it had received the required 60 ratifications.


There are two lessons here for current East Timorese negotiators. The first is summed up by Jeffrey J Smith, a Canadian oceanographer and barrister who has been researching East Timor's maritime boundary claims for the past 12 months:

'The legal irony of East Timor's ocean claims thus becomes apparent. The passage of time has entitled the new state to the full benefit of recent developments in international law, developments not available to Indonesia as it attempted to maximise continental shelf claims in the Timor Sea. Those developments strongly suggest that a median line will ultimately form the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) boundary between East Timor and Australia'

The second lesson is that inflexible pragmatism has its inherent risks, since today's interests may be shortsighted tomorrow. Compliance with now well-defined international law principles may offer more long-term stability.

For the past two years the 'successor state scenario' has been the primary focus for interested parties, having been first gently introduced in July 1998 by the CNRT in what is believed to have been a tactical policy switch. The CNRT statement served to rob the Australian government, editorial writers, and the Timor Gap contractors of reasons for arguing that independence in East Timor would 'tear up the Timor Gap Treaty'. Under this position, East Timor would simply replace Indonesia in the existing Timor Gap Treaty. The maritime area would remain a zone of disputed sovereignty and the two nations would agree to equally share the benefits of the offshore petroleum.

Prior to the 1998 CNRT statement, Jose Ramos-Horta was quoted as supporting the median line policy, effectively claiming East Timor sovereignty over the entire Zone A including the proven Bayu-Undan petroleum reserves. Recently Mari Alkatiri, the CNRT's Timor Gap spokesman, has resurrected speculation that the CNRT is considering the pro's and con's of moving back to the median line policy position. The move from principle to perceived pragmatism and then back to principle simply illustrates the dilemma facing diplomats balancing these often-conflicting forces.

The successor state model was given a boost in August 1998 by a 'paradigm-shifter' in the form of media headlines shouting 'BHP talks to jailed guerilla leader'.

The Australian Labor Party took note of developments. On September 16 1998, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Laurie Brereton supported the CNRT statement by asserting that an independent East Timor can 'stand in the shoes of Indonesia' in relation to the Timor Gap Treaty. Brereton, ably assisted by his key researcher/ adviser Dr Philip Dorling, would issue several groundbreaking Timor Gap press releases over the ensuing months, each one 'moving the goal posts' for his counterparts on the government benches.

In February 1999, Indonesian resources minister Kuntoro Mangkusubroto confirmed that Indonesia would relinquish its claim to the Timor Gap if East Timor voted for independence. Finally, the Australian Government gave its official blessing to the successor state model through the Attorney General's Department submission to the East Timor Senate Enquiry on 19 April 1999.

In March 1997 Australia, then believing East Timor would never become an independent state, concluded another treaty with Indonesia. This created a permanent 'water column boundary' between East Timor and Australia coincident with the median line or the southern boundary of Zone A. The median line is also the earlier (1981) Provisional Fisheries Surveillance and Enforcement Line (PFSEL). The 1997 treaty 'delimited' the two nations' overlapping EEZ's in accordance with modern international law. However, the seabed boundary (governing oil and gas) was left unresolved to honour the existing Timor Gap Treaty.

An East Timorese policy favouring a permanent seabed boundary with Australia and under UNCLOS would be based on the same logic as already used by Australia to create a permanent water column boundary - that is, based on the median line. Put simply, it is not logical to have a seabed boundary separated from the water column boundary.

When signing the Timor Gap Treaty, Australia actually endorsed the principle that an agreed seabed boundary is preferable to the treaty itself. The treaty regards itself as provisional and has a wind-up clause triggered when 'the two Contracting States have concluded an agreement on a permanent continental shelf delimitation in the area covered by the Zone of Cooperation'.

Australia formally conceded to the international community in its submissions in the 1995 Timor Gap ICJ case (Portugal v. Australia) that the treaty would not bind an independent East Timor.

Cash flows

The graphs give indicative cash flows from Phase 1 of the Bayu-Undan gas project in 'Zone A' of the Timor Gap (details at Phase 1 denotes the production of natural gas liquids (LPG and condensate), returning the lean gas back into the reservoir. Phase 2 - involving the desired sale of over 3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas - is more challenging since a market for the gas does not currently exist. I have presented indicative revenue from Phase 1 only, to avoid excessive expectations arising from the 'upside potential' represented by Phase 2.

These figures are based on the Timor Gap Treaty fiscal regime with price and production assumptions generally accepted within the industry. Assumptions can change from day to day. The joint venture partners assess likely risks and rewards by studying how each variable impacts on profitability. It is clear that East Timor will benefit significantly by 'stepping into the shoes of Indonesia'. However, a median line settlement under UNCLOS will enable East Timor to receive almost twice the benefit offered by a treaty Indonesia and Australia concluded in darker times.

The wisdom of the transition period concept, always strongly promoted by Xanana Gusmao and Jose Ramos-Horta, is now apparent. The successor state model, now enthusiastically embraced by Australia, requires a state to succeed the treaty. The CNRT cannot make any binding decisions until it is duly constituted as a legitimate democratically elected government. UNTAET likewise cannot commit the East Timorese people to any binding agreement. This appears to be the cause of considerable frustration for Australian government officials eager to ensure the continuation of the treaty. But for the East Timorese, the transition period presents a great advantage, for it will protect them from the current Australian pressure to make a hasty decision.

East Timorese policy makers will of course have a pragmatic desire to work with Australia. Nevertheless, there are multiple factors tilting the balance towards a permanent median line seabed boundary settlement.

  • Indonesian-educated East Timorese activists may challenge 'selling the farm' by their Portuguese-educated leaders. They do understand the issue.
  • The Joint Authority under the present treaty will, more likely than not, lead to episodic operational difficulties, given that East Timorese representatives will play 'second fiddle' to Australia.
  • The Timor Gap Treaty fiscal regime, modeled on the Indonesian Production Sharing Contract (PSC) system, is onerous by world standards and discourages development of smaller discoveries. A median line settlement will allow the future East Timorese government to give significant tax concessions to joint venture partners. This will have a hugely positive effect on development economics. The oil companies will support it.
  • Time is on East Timor's side, enabling the young nation to pursue its own national interests based on sound research. Overworked CNRT officials are at present vulnerable to being overly influenced by the Australian point of view. Funds are needed so their representative can attend reputed training courses at non-Australian centres of maritime boundary research, such as at the University of Durham, UK.
  • As explained by one maritime law specialist, 'The median line settlement of an overall EEZ is preferred, wholly supported and even mandated by the present customary international law of the sea'. Australia by making the 1997 EEZ delimitation treaty with Indonesia has put itself in a weak position internationally if it wishes to argue that the seabed boundary (governing oil and gas) should be at a different location than the water column boundary (governing fisheries).
  • Australia's foreign minister raising a champagne glass with his Indonesian counterpart is the treaty's unforgettable symbol. Asking the East Timorese to 'honour' the treaty indicates a certain insensitivity on the part of Australia. There will be strong public pressure for East Timor to make a symbolic break with the past.

An historic opportunity now exists to remove the Timor Gap from the very short list of the world's disputed maritime areas. The ideal procedure is direct talks between Australia and a democratically constituted government of East Timor. Failing that, the dispute can always be resolved by international arbitration.

Geoffrey A McKee ( is a chemical engineer with wide experience in the oil and gas industry. Interested readers are invited to email him for the full text of this abridged article.

Inside Indonesia 62: Apr - Jun 2000

The Banyuwangi murders

Why did over a hundred black magic practitioners die in East Java late in 1998?

Jason Brown

On September 1, 1998, Pak Tafsir and his wife Bu Miswa had just finished their evening meal and were preparing for bed when they heard a shout from outside their small bamboo home. 'Grandfather, can I borrow a match?'

The elderly couple were confused. It was pitch-black outside; there was no electricity for their simple home isolated in the middle of a rice paddy. As Bu Miswa groped around in the darkness searching for a match, Pak Tafsir set out to investigate.

But he was scared. He sensed menace lurking in the darkness outside, so armed himself with a large club. When Pak Tafsir opened the front door he faced a mob of angry attackers - shadowy figures, some in ninja-style masks, who moved in quickly to grab the 70-year-old farmer.

Although he managed to ward off one of the attackers with a heavy blow from his club, Pak Tafsir was no match for the hysterical mob who tied a rope around the old man's neck then dragged him more than 50m to the roadside of this small East Javanese village. The attackers disappeared into the night. Bu Miswa had fled terrified into the jungle behind her home, and Pak Tafsir's lifeless form lay dumped by the roadside to be discovered by villagers early the next morning.

Pak Tafsir's gruesome murder was just one of an estimated 150 bizarre executions of suspected black magic practitioners, or dukun santet, in the Banyuwangi region of East Java during 1998. What began as a few sporadic murders from early February of that year soon erupted into a mysterious killing spree which was to drive fear and terror into the Banyuwangi community. At the same time the organised nature of the murders along with an apparent terror campaign against local Islamic clerics, or kyai, gave rise to a multitude of political conspiracy theories.

Who was masterminding the dukun santet slayings? Were elite politicians working behind the scenes, as some high-profile political leaders claimed, including Abdurrahman Wahid, then head of Indonesia's largest Islamic organisation Nahdlatul Ulama? Was it a military exercise designed to create chaos throughout East Java in the wake of Suharto's resignation? Were forces at play to disrupt a major congress of Megawati Sukarnoputri's Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) planned for Bali, just half an hour by ferry from Banyuwangi? Were the dukun santet simply scapegoats in a carefully manipulated campaign designed to disrupt and discredit the emerging post-New Order political forces in the staunchly Islamic province of East Java?

Now, more than one year since the terror of Banyuwangi reached its peak, most of these political conspiracy theories remain largely unanswered. The often horrific murders, once described by Indonesia's press as 'Banyuwangi's killing fields', have simply become a haunting memory of human rights abuse joining Indonesia's lengthy list of socio-political ills which include problems in Ambon, Aceh, Irian Jaya and the former East Timor.

Sifting through the facts, half-truths and lies that lurk behind the Banyuwangi affair is a difficult task. I spent three months in the small village of Gintangan, about 20km south of Banyuwangi city, gleaning information from village heads, black magicians, white magicians, muslim clerics, lecturers and local culture experts, prisoners and family members of murder victims. What emerged were not the political conspiracy theories bandied about daily in the headlines of Indonesian and international press, but rather two distinct events. What began as a cultural phenomenon quickly became a vehicle for political manipulation both actively at the local level and passively at the national level.


In order to understand how such violent murder could emerge from the social fabric of Banyuwangi we must first consider the depth of belief in the paranormal that pervades this ethnically diverse community.

Banyuwangi has long been known as one of the most powerful centres of black magic in Indonesia, along with Banten in West Java and the island of Lombok. According to anthropologist Kusnadi, from the University of Jember, Banyuwangi's fertile land has bred a farming culture with close links to the spiritual world. As a buffer zone between the islands of Java and Bali, Banyuwangi also has a long history of violent struggle which in the past often met with failure. This combination of fertility and failure led to an obsession with sorcery among the peoples of Banyuwangi.

According to one history, black magic practised today in Banyuwangi is a blend of animistic belief and Islamic mysticism which arose out of inter-religious conflict during the Mataram court from the 16th century onwards. Another account tracks the origins of Banyuwangi's black magic to Tulung Agung - a region in the west of East Java.

Whatever its origins, today black magic, together with white magic such as fortune telling, love magic, healing massage and countless other forms, continues to play a dominant role within Banyuwangi cosmology. Nearly everyone I spoke to, from lecturers and journalists to farmers and housewives, believe in it wholeheartedly. All disasters - be they personal or communal - are attributed to black magic. Unusual or sudden death, crop failure, death of livestock, and marriage problems are all caused by a local dukun santet.

Black magic in Banyuwangi takes on two major forms. The first is sihir - black magic used to kill another person. This generally comes in the form of busung, where the victim's stomach will grow grotesquely in size. It is believed various items such as knives, nails, broken glass, even small frying pans or animals can be found inside the stomach. Busung victims rarely escape death.

The second is rapuh - sorcery designed to make the victim suffer throughout their lifetime. Symptoms include sudden blindness or deafness, paralysis or uncontrollable shaking and trembling.

Dukun santet are feared, and feelings of revenge permeate the social psyche. However, prior to 1998 revenge killings of dukun santet were rare. Banyuwangi villagers have long kept black magic in check at the local village level. A code of ethics among Banyuwangi dukun santet forbids them from using their magic against people in the same village. If this occurs the accused dukun must undertake an oath of innocence in the local mosque. Before 1998, a dukun found guilty by fellow villagers was usually exiled from the village and perhaps his home and possessions torched.

Good and bad

But in 1998, with the nation reeling under tremendous social change following the downfall of Suharto, the people of Banyuwangi abandoned cultural restraints and took the law violently into their own hands.

Between February and July 1998, cases of dukun santet murders in Banyuwangi were still relatively few - about five. However in August this figure leapt to 47 cases and in September 80 cases. In fact, during September and October 1998 the situation was akin to a bloodbath. According to figures compiled by a Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) investigation team, 143 suspected dukun santet were murdered in Banyuwangi along with another 105 murders in neighbouring regions of East Java such as Jember, Sumenep and Pasuruan after the phenomenon spread throughout the province.

I believe all of the murders were essentially a social phenomena grounded in the reformation process, along with various other social factors, which allowed deep-set feelings of revenge to emerge and be enacted upon indiscriminately.

Throughout Indonesia the reformation process quickly produced a dichotomy between 'good' and 'bad' in the political sphere. 'Good' was viewed as the new emerging reformation political forces. 'Bad' were those politicians with links to Suharto's New Order. The purging of the political 'bad' was particularly strong in East Java.

This 'good-bad' dichotomy also entered the collective consciousness at the village level. Dukun santet - those members of the community seen as responsible for all unexplainable hardship - became the 'bad' which needed to be purged from the social landscape.

A number of social factors allowed this simple 'good-bad' dichotomy to enter the social sphere. The monetary crisis threw many below the poverty line and created despair. The tremendous events of May 1998 in Jakarta, in which a social uprising, complete with looting and rioting, went largely unprosecuted, created a misconception among the villagers of Banyuwangi regarding the power of the state, particularly the military and police. As the killings reached their peak in September and October 1998 the villagers, bonded in solidarity, felt themselves to be above the law.

In the aftermath of May 1998, police were reticent to act with overt force and were anyway often outnumbered by hysterical mobs baying for dukun blood. On a number of occasions villagers protested outside police stations for the release of friends arrested in connection with the dukun santet slayings.

These factors allowed the killing spree to continue virtually unhindered until late October and early November, when the military finally sent in crack forces to quell the violent murders.

Not all of the dukun santet murders were spontaneous mass mob lynchings. Evidence I gathered from the field indicates that some assassins were paid - usually by villagers wishing to enact revenge upon a certain dukun santet but who were not brave enough to do it themselves. I also found evidence of local provocateurs who gave small amounts of money to teenagers and local hoodlums in order to buy alcohol. Once drunk, these people were more easily persuaded to join in a lynching mob.


The issue which captured the imagination of the Indonesian and foreign press and led to widening political conspiracy theories was the emergence of 'ninjas', who were often described as highly trained assassins with links to the military.

I don't believe such ninjas existed in Banyuwangi. Instead we have mainly villagers or local provocateurs who wanted to disguise their identity from fellow villagers by tying a t-shirt around their face.

>However, a 'ninja issue' certainly did exist. It was accompanied by what seems to have been a terror campaign against local muslim clerics, Islamic ulama and Nahdlatul Ulama activists. This is where we see the crossover from social phenomena to politically motivated campaign. The 'ninja issue', as I call it, emerged at the height of the dukun santet killings. Aided by a sensationalising mass media, the 'ninja issue' spread like wildfire throughout East Java and beyond. Now not only dukun santet were considered targets, but the entire Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) community.

Throughout East Java, Islamic communities established private security forces to protect their local muslim clerics. In Banyuwangi for example, as night fell the city was as though under siege, with bands of armed residents manning private security posts. All strangers were considered potential ninja assassins and rumours of ninja sightings intensified in a community gripped by panic and hysteria.

The 'ninja issue' reached its gruesome peak near the East Javanese city of Malang when on October 24, 1998, five suspected ninjas were murdered by villagers. One victim was burnt to death while another was beheaded and his head paraded around the small city of Godanglegi.

These murders had no direct relationship to the dukun santet slayings, which were of a cultural nature. But the 'ninja issue' does indicate a politically motivated anti-Nahdlatul Ulama campaign. The very fact that NU clerics were being terrorised throughout East Java led to claims of a national anti-NU conspiracy. The dukun santet murders were merely a lever designed to create chaotic conditions in East Java, unsettling the staunch NU region and disrupting the formation of Abdurrahman Wahid's National Awakening Party (PKB).

Fortunately the national conspiracy theories have remained just that - theories. But there is more evidence of an anti-muslim cleric campaign at the local level. The fall of Suharto and the arrival of the reformation process heralded a new phase in the political empowerment of local religious leaders. Muslim clerics, or kyai, have long played an important social role as informal village leaders. In Banyuwangi villagers will often approach their kyai for assistance on all kinds of matters be they spiritual or personal, while the village head ( kepala desa) is usually only approached when official business is required, i.e. a government stamp.

With the arrival of political reformation, these respected informal village leaders had the opportunity to move from the social to the political sphere. These muslim clerics posed a major threat to local politicians, including village heads, district heads and even the Banyuwangi Bupati, or regent, who was forced to resign in the wake of the dukun santet slayings and NU terror campaign.

Local political figures, fearful of the threat posed by muslim clerics and the new strong political arm of NU, may have used the dukun santet slayings for their own political interests by latching onto the 'ninja issue' in order to launch a terror campaign against the NU community.

In Banyuwangi of the 143 suspected dukun santet who were murdered only one was a Koranic teacher. This man had recently moved from the north of the region following accusations he practised black magic. While it is true that a NU investigation team found that 83 of the 143 killed were actually NU members, this is not particularly unusual given that Banyuwangi has always been a staunch NU stronghold.

I believe there are two main reasons why the terror campaign, or 'ninja issue', spread out of Banyuwangi to the rest of East Java. Firstly, local politicians in the various regions of East Java were similarly threatened by the political empowerment of muslim clerics, while in some regions there existed tensions between the Islamic community and the local political and security apparatus. Secondly, NU spokesmen often overreacted to the situation by calling on the community to protect their local muslim cleric, creating a scene of hysteria throughout the entire province.

Whether local or national conspiracy, the anti-NU terror campaign ultimately failed. In East Java the National Awakening Party won convincingly in last year's election, while the party's leader, Abdurrahman Wahid, is now Indonesia's third president.

Meanwhile in the villages of Banyuwangi belief in black magic remains as strong as ever. Villagers continue to fall ill and die as a result of black magic practices. Feelings of revenge continue to mount and the possibility of another uprising against the 'bad' of society always lurks dangerously on the horizon.

Jason Brown ( was a field project student in Malang, East Java, with Acicis (the Australian Consortium of In Country Indonesian Studies) in late 1999.


Inside Indonesia 62: Apr - Jun 2000

More than meets the eye

Indonesia's surprising new president

Greg Barton

The media regularly remind us that the president is a 'half blind, frail Muslim cleric'. Uncomfortable in suit and tie, clumsy assisted by aids on right and left, Abdurrahman Wahid seems almost as incongruous in the role as his elfish predecessor BJ Habibie. This revered but eccentric leader of the peasant-farmer based Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) seems an unlikely choice to lead a nation wracked by a radical collapse of confidence.

Almost everyone expected the regal and immensely popular Megawati Sukarnoputri to win the top office. Her serene visage had stared presidentially forth from tens of thousands of banners, whilst the folksy and decidedly unphotogenic Gus Dur was barely seen. Megawati's party PDI-P garnered a third of the votes at the June 7 general elections. Abdurrahman's party PKB, largely lacking support outside rural East Java, gained just twelve percent.

When Abdurrahman, backed by the Muslim right, the military and Suharto's Golkar party, trounced Megawati in a parliamentary vote for the presidency on October 20, many could not accept the result. That Wednesday night Jakarta burned. Only when Megawati won the vice-presidency the following day did the nation begin to breathe easy. Even then, some were hardly reassured when Abdurrahman announced a 'National Unity' cabinet several days later. Where was the opposition? Could democracy thrive in such a climate of compromise and 'solidarity making'?

But Abdurrahman Wahid, or Gus Dur as he is popularly known, has been grossly underestimated by the Australian media in particular. Behind the avuncular facade lies a profoundly complex individual of surprising measure. He faces some extraordinary challenges, not least the fear of 'Balkanisation' in this fatigued and brittle nation-state. If he proves equal to them, the entire nation will acknowledge him, as many already do, as in a Churchillian way the very best leader for the hour.

Polyglot father

Abdurrahman comes from one of Indonesia's more remarkable families. His grandfather Hasjim Asj'ari was an outstanding Islamic scholar (ulama). One of the founders of NU in 1926, he had influence not just among traditionalist Muslims but within the nationalist movement. His father Wahid Hasjim also played a key leadership role within NU and was Minister for Religious Affairs under Sukarno. Two major roads in central Jakarta bear the names of these two men - testimony to the esteem in which they are held.

Abdurrahman grew up in the early 1950s in affluent and cosmopolitan Central Jakarta. As a key figure within Indonesia's small elite, Abdurrahman's polyglot father regularly entertained a diverse range of personalities, including many foreign ambassadors. Abdurrahman spent enough time with a German friend of his father to learn a love of Beethoven and other classical European composers.

After completing junior high school he spent his late teenage years studying classical Islamic learning at several religious boarding schools (pesantren). Even in these most traditional of institutions, in his spare time (of which he had plenty for he found his classical Arabic studies easy) he read western philosophy, psychology, sociology and politics, both in English and French. A wardrobe filled with European texts remains at one pesantren as a tribute to this most unusual student.

Despite, or perhaps because of, this rich interior life Abdurrahman describes himself as a teenager locked in a difficult personal struggle. In his mid-twenties he was sent to Cairo's famous thousand year old Al Azhar University to complete his Islamic studies. However he soon found the formal Al Azhar rote-learning tedious and the subjects not greatly advanced on what he had already covered in some of Java's better pesantren. Instead he spent his time reading in the library of the American University, joining in intellectual cafe discussions, and watching French cinema and soccer. (The latter 'education' proved invaluable when years later he was asked to comment on World Cup matches on Indonesian television.)

In Cairo Abdurrahman became a committed liberal. As a teenager he had gone through a phase of, as he puts it, 'Islamic extremism', but in Cairo he left this behind. In 1966, after two years in Cairo, he moved to Baghdad, then the Arab world's most cosmopolitan capital. He spent four years there studying not Islamic studies but Arabic literature and society. This was followed by a year in Europe, were he had hoped to continue his studies, before returning to Java in 1971.

His unorthodox educational experience enabled him to synthesise modern western thought and classical Islamic learning in a most productive fashion. Back in Java he plunged into the task of reforming the pesantren system.


By 1978 he was an intellectual activist in Jakarta. Through his essays in Tempo weekly magazine he explained NU's arcane traditionalist Islam to Indonesia's urban elite. He was an innovative religious thinker and sharp social commentator. He spoke up for Indonesia's Chinese and other minority communities and eloquently declared intolerance antithetical to the true spirit of Islam.

In the early 1980s he became a key figure within a movement to reform NU. In December 1984 he was elected chairman of NU, a post he would hold for 15 years. One of his first initiatives was to withdraw NU from the political party PPP. He explained that 'church and state' should be separated, and declared that NU would return to its original charter as a social and religious organisation. This aversion to 'political Islam' meant that Suharto initially welcomed his ascension to lead the 30 million strong NU. The president soon had reason to revise his judgement, however, as Abdurrahman emerged as one of his most outspoken critics.

By the early 1990s Suharto was actively courting support from the 'political Muslims' he had persecuted a decade earlier, in an effort to balance the power of the military. His main vehicle was the Association of Islamic Intellectuals (ICMI), which he placed under the care of BJ Habibie. Abdurrahman's refusal to join ICMI, and his criticism of it for fostering sectarianism, enraged Suharto. At the November 1994 five-yearly NU congress Suharto did his best to block Abdurrahman's re-election to a third term as chairman. Despite his unparalleled resources, Suharto lost. It is difficult to conceive of any one else being able to stand up to Suharto and win in the way that Abdurrahman did. Megawati, for example, was not able to do so two years later when a similar assault within PDI saw her toppled from the leadership.

During the second half of the 1990s the political atmosphere chilled. Abdurrahman had to make some tough choices. In the face of unrelenting pressure from Suharto and the military he stepped back from the edge. Together with Megawati and Amien Rais he knew he could exert enormous pressure on Suharto's increasingly brittle regime, but he chose to bide his time until they could be certain of a lasting victory. For this he was greatly misunderstood.

Abdurrahman is a realist-idealist. His idealism is unambiguous and rooted in his religious convictions. For him Islam is a religion of justice, compassion and tolerance. He consistently champions inter-communal cooperation. He made three visits to Israel during the 1990s and has made diplomatic normalisation with Israel a personal project as president. Abdurrahman has a rich appreciation of how much we all share as human beings. This humanitarianism is reflected in his love of the novels of Orthodox Jewish writer Chaim Potok, and perhaps even more surprisingly, those of Salman Rushdie, whose freedom he has taken pains to defend.

But Abdurrahman is also a realist. Throughout his 15 years at the helm of Nahdlatul Ulama, the largest organisation with a grass-roots network outside of the military-backed regime itself, he went out of his way to maintain good working relations with the military. Leading an organisation larger than many mid-sized nations made him familiar with the dynamics of real politik. To have opposed the military outright would have meant bloody repression, as the East Timorese are only too aware. Even as president he remains cautious of pushing too hard too fast. He recently signalled that he is prepared to consider pardoning a repentant Suharto 'but not his family members or cronies', arguing that 'Suharto still has many powerful supporters'.

For this reason, reform of the Indonesian military will be gradual. His instincts are to push for evolution over revolution, and to as far as possible avoid confrontation. As NU leader he had a pastoral concern for his tens of millions of members, and this same concern colours his presidential style.


For those who know him, however, the great irony and frustration is that his personality is shot through with a reckless streak. Had he taken greater care of his health, eating well and exercising regularly, he would not have suffered as he has from the effects of adult-onset diabetes. Better control of his blood pressure might have avoided the almost fatal stroke of January 1998 and arrested the erosion of his eyesight.

On another front, if he had only refrained from regularly declaring Megawati 'well intentioned but stupid' he would have saved his supporters considerable heartache. Abdurrahman's earthy wit has often gotten the better of him. His lack of discipline reveals itself in other areas as well. Had he learned to become a responsible administrator, his three terms at the helm of NU might have better equipped him for the presidency.

Whether this reckless streak is the product of his unusual childhood is impossible to know. But his abiding sense of destiny most certainly is. On a fateful day in April 1953 Abdurrahman was travelling with his father by car. He was twelve years old. He sat in the front with the driver, his father sat behind. The car was struck from behind by another vehicle and Wahid Hasjim was fatally injured. His mother, a strong woman whom Abdurrahman loved and a real power within NU, made it clear that his father's mantle had now passed to him. He was to become a leader and to serve the nation. He has been driven ever since.

Greg Barton ( teaches studies in religion at Deakin University, Geelong, Australia.

Inside Indonesia 62: Apr - Jun 2000
Page 1 of 2

Latest Articles

Countering the information void to beat COVID-19

Jul 19, 2021 - LaporCovid-19

/ Ahmad Tri Hawaari

In the absence of reliable government information, citizens are stepping up to share local stories on COVID-19 and keep each other informed about the state of the pandemic

Carmel Budiardjo (1925-2021)



Human rights campaigner Carmel Budiardjo died aged 96 on 10 July 2021, after a long and dynamic life of activism dating back to her years as a student activist in...

Review: A narrative of denial

Jul 05, 2021 - PAT WALSH

COVID-19 denial in Indonesia


Antara Foto/ Irwansyah Putra

Mixed messaging from government about COVID-19 has left rumours and competing narratives to fill the information void, fuelling mistrust

Subscribe to Inside Indonesia

Receive Inside Indonesia's latest articles and quarterly editions in your inbox.


Lontar Modern Indonesia



A selection of stories from the Indonesian classics and modern writers, periodically published free for Inside Indonesia readers, courtesy of Lontar