President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has endorsed the decision by the East Java administration to relocate 235 Shiites from Sampang, Madura Island, to Sidaoarjo, a move that will permanently bar members of the community from returning to their home village.
Yudhoyono made the decision in a limited Cabinet meeting that was held to respond to a recent session at the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva, which criticized the Indonesian government for its failure to protect the Shia community.
The meeting resulted in an option to permanently relocate the Shia followers, citing that efforts to help return them to their home villages could face resistance from local residents.
“There are two options. The first is to return them to where they belong. This is possible only if the local residents do not show resistance. Otherwise, the government would relocate them to some other places in Madura,” Coordinating Political, Legal, and Security Affairs Minister Djoko Suyanto said at a press conference after the meeting on Monday.
Djoko said that returning the Shiites to their home villages would be the best solution but it would be impossible to do.
The senior minister also said that the government still hoped to return the Shiites and was now working to start a reconciliation project involving the local community.
“The reconciliation process is still underway. A team set up by the East Java provincial administration and led by Sunan Ampel Islamic State Institute [IAIN] rector Abdul A’la will help mediate the conflicting parties,” Djoko said.
East Java province secretary Rasiyo, who joined the meeting, said that the team would also comprise local and religious figures, as well as representatives from Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah.
Rasiyo said Yudhoyono did not give a deadline for the team to finish the reconciliation project. “This is a social issue that we can’t predict.”
The Cabinet meeting has also agreed to earmark funds for development projects on Madura island.
Coordinating Economic Minister Hatta Rajasa said the government had allocated Rp 572.23 billion (US$57.22 million) to help accelerate development in all four regencies on Madura Island, namely Bangkalan, Sampang, Pamekasan and Sumenep.
The funds would be used to construct road, dams, fish farms and irrigation infrastructure.
The Cabinet meeting was held on the heels of a session at the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva, last week. A number of Indonesian and international human rights groups raised concerns over the rampant human rights violations in the country.
Other cases scrutinized in the session included the 2004 murder of rights activist Munir, the extra judicial killings in Papua, the 2008 Law on pornography that was deemed discriminatory against women and the LBGT community, the implementation of sharia law in Aceh and attacks on Ahmadiyah followers, churches as well as on a gay film festival.
The activists said that the government, under Yudhoyono, who just received the World Statesman award from New York-based interfaith organization the Appeal of Conscience Foundation (ACF), failed to comply with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
Djoko denied the meeting was held because of the UN’s review. “It’s a regular meeting,” he said.
The 235 displaced Shiites from 69 families are now temporarily housed in a modest apartment building in Sidoarjo, East Java. Previously, they had been sheltered at the Sampang sports hall for 10 months, following a deadly clash with the Sunni community.
Last month, 10 displaced Shiites cycled to Jakarta to meet with Yudhoyono to air their grievance. They were disappointed with their failure to meet Yudhoyono and that their two-week journey was for nothing.
“You as the head of state are responsible for our plight. But when we came to State Palace you did not want to meet us,” the Shiites said in an open letter to Yudhoyono that was made available to The Jakarta Post on Monday.
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