Background of the Current Conflict
Before 1949, a system of inter-village alliances called pela gandong secured stability between the separate Moluccan communities (Tesoro, August 1999). Pela gandong “stressed ethnic similarities over religious differences,” and “was anchored in mystical beliefs shared by both communities” (International Crisis Group Report – ICG Report, December 2000). After Indonesia gained independence from the Dutch in 1949, the central government sought to undermine traditional village leaders. This, coupled with the influx of more than 100,000 Muslims to Moluccas in the 1990s, caused the dissolution of pela gandong by the time President Suharto left office in 1998 (Ambon Information Website, February 2000). Prior to the outbreak of violence in January 1999, Christians and Muslims co-existed peacefully in the Moluccas, suffering only occasional conflict.
The crisis within Moluccas did not begin as an armed religious dispute. Through the escalation of several local conflicts, overtime the crisis increasingly became identified as a religious war. Specifically, the 1975 government-sponsored partitioning of land and resettlement projects within North Moluccas gave way to Christian-Muslim revenge killings (Taylor, 2001).
Tensions had been rising between the two religious groups for some time prior to the 1999 incident. A policy of transmigration, which brought 100,000 Muslims to the region, was in effect for over 30 years prior to the outbreak of violence witnessed in 1999. As more muslims populated the region, they became increasingly aware of systematically being excluded from the institutional life of the islands. In response to this problem, within the last five years there has been a trend to intentionally fill civil service jobs with Muslims (Ambon Information Website, February 2000). The Muslims were the first victims of massacres at the hands of the Christian majority in the city of Kao. Laskar Jihad was created to avenge these deaths and to move the Christians out of the area. Christians have now become the victims (New Straits Times, September 16, 2001).
Causes of the Current Situation
South Maluku: In South Maluku the distribution of wealth has played a major role in relations between Christians and Muslims. In 1949, the Dutch aided the Christian political elite in the formation of the Republic of the South Moluccas (RMS) (Norwegian Refugee Council). Due to Dutch favoritism, Christians have traditionally held more wealth and administrative power in the South during the colonial period (BBC News, June 1, 2001).
Muslim migration increased in the 1970s, especially in Ambon, the capital of South Maluku. Beginning in the 1980s and 1990s, the Muslim immigrants began to organize themselves politically and began to enjoy greater political and financial influence. While continuing their migration, the Muslims “tipped the demographic balance” in their favor. (Norwegian Refugee Council – Background; Ambon Information Website, February 2000) By the early 1990s, Christians became a minority for the first time in some areas of the Moluccas (US State Department, October 2001).
In Ambon, an argument between a Christian bus driver and a Muslim passenger on January 19, 1999 is reported to have sparked the now continuing conflict (CNN.com, January 20, 1999). This argument occurred on the last day of the Muslim fasting period Ramadan, and quickly escalated into days of mob violence that took numerous lives. Police and soldiers did little to contain the violence, claiming that they were without the means to contain the conflict.
In July, after a four-month ceasefire, fighting again erupted in Ambon. Muslim refugees in camps planned their revenge throughout the spring; that violence displayed a greater intensity than the violence of the first outbreak. During the fall of 1999, both Muslims and Christians suffered high casualty rates. Both sides were concerned by rumors of “cleansing operations” (ICG Asia Report No. 10, December 19, 2000).
North Maluku: The ethnic conflict of North Maluku is rooted
in a 500-year struggle for regional supremacy between the two cities
of Ternate and Tidore. Though Ternate, the capital of North Maluku,
is predominately Muslim, its Sultan has traditionally protected
the Christian minority, who in return, have remained his loyal supporters.
In 1999, the Ternate Sultanate opposed Tidore’s Sultanate’s bid
for a provisional capital of the new province of North Maluku. Though
Tidore was not named the capital, the bid released old hostilities
between the two islands. This rivalry has helped foster a climate
of intolerance with violent repercussions. In addition, recent migration
of Muslims from various areas of Indonesia to North Maluku increased
ethnic religious tensions (ICG Report).
In August 1999, fighting broke out in North Maluku. The August conflict centered on the government’s decision earlier in the year to split North Maluku into two provinces. This split altered the political and fiscal standing for the region’s two main groups: the Muslim Makian and the mainly Christian Kao. These political changes, not religious differences, increased the conflict in this region (ICG Report). Specifically in Halmahera, where people had resettled in the 1970s, the discovery of gold exacerbated the conflict between new migrants and the local people (Norwegian Refugee Center). The Kao Christians killed 100 Muslims and forced 4,000 to flee to Ternate and Tidore. The Kao Christians insisted that the provincial split, and not religion, motivated the attack. Nonetheless, Muslims in Ternate and Tidore grew enraged at reports from the displaced Muslims and began targeting Christians (ICG Report).
Christians in Tobelo, an area north of Kao, killed at least 500 and displaced over 10,000 of the Muslim minority there between December 26, 1999, and January 1, 2000. The attack fueled calls for an Islamic holy war or Jihad (ICG Report). An estimated 3,000 men from the radical Muslim organization Laskar Jihad infiltrated Tobelo between April and June 2000, ignoring President Abdurrahman Wahid’s threat of arrest. Well-organized and armed by sympathizers in the military, the Laskar Jihad members arrived eager to avenge the Tobelo attack (BBC News May 9, 2000). On June 19, 2000, members strategically attacked a Christian village near Tobelo, killing at least 200 people. Militias in Ambon aimed to cleanse Christians from enclaves (ICG Report).
Christians: Christians were historically the dominant religious group within the Moluccas region. Due to the continued Islamic migration and the advent of Laskar Jihad, Christians are now in the minority. Muslims were the first victims and claim Christians caused the conflict. Christians deny the charge, and believe that “provocateurs” purposely initiated the conflict, and refuse to apologize (Chew, July 10, 2001).
Muslims: Idrus Tatuhey, head of a Muslim educational group, said “the Christians could just realize that they started the conflict and say ‘sorry’ and not repeat it again, it would be finished. The Muslims would forgive as they are a forgiving people . . . But this has gone on too long . . . therefore the Muslims feel the only way to resolve this is through war” (Chew, July 10, 2001). Muslim militants, coming mostly from Jakarta, oppose any talk of reconciliation, and even support killing moderate Muslims involved in peace efforts (Chew, July 10, 2001).
Laskar Jihad: On January 7, 2000, after Christians in Tobelo killed 500 Muslims between December 1999 and January 2000, Muslims demonstrated in the streets of Jakarta calling for Jihad (ICG Report). A militant Indonesian preacher, Ustadz Jafar Umar Thalib, began training volunteers at a paramilitary camp in Java. These forces became known as Laskar Jihad. On June 19, 2000, Laskar Jihad executed their first organized attack, killing approximately 200 Christians in North Maluku (ICG Report). Laskar Jihad has, “turned intermittent fighting between two communities into a campaign of ‘religious cleansing,'” and the Jihad’s leaders proclaim they will remain until “their work is done” (ICG Report).
Rumors: Christians and Muslims spread their own versions of rumors, which ignited the conflict. Christians heard rumors about “national plots to introduce Islamic law and wipe [Christians] from the province,” whereas Muslims heard that there was “an international conspiracy to create a Christian state at the heart of Indonesia” (ICG Report). Lacking an official version of events and an independent trusted news source, both groups assumed the opposing rumors to be true.
Nature of the Abuses
The methods employed by those fighting in Moluccas are troubling. Mosques, churches, houses, and entire villages have been set ablaze by arsonists and grenadiers since January 1999. In addition to these more organized assaults, random killings based on religious orientation, have left hundreds of people dead. Moreover, since the arrival of Laskar Jihad in early 2000, the attacks have become more intense as assailants have replaced machetes and bows and arrows with semiautomatic weapons.
Recently there have been fewer massacres, but mutilations and forced conversions have filled this void.
Muslim Population Targeted:
Date: May 2000
Place: Poso in Central Sulawesi
Victims: more than 214 Muslim victims
Christian gangs from surrounding villages forcefully expelled Muslims from the town of Poso in retaliation for past hostilities. Over 2,000 houses were destroyed in the Poso region, and at least 120 Muslims were confirmed dead within the town. The Christian gangs subsequently killed another 100 unarmed Muslims outside the village. Casualty estimates were as high as 500 people dead (US State Department: International Religious Freedom – Indonesia, September 2000).
Date: August 18, 2000
Place: Malifut, North Maluku
Victims: at least 100 Muslim victims
On August 18, the day the district was to be inaugurated,
fighting began between residents of Malifut and those of a nearby
Kao town. By the time the Ternate Sultan arrived on August 21
to persuade the Kao to cease the violence, at least 12 were already
dead (ICG Report). The Kao initially obeyed the cease-fire, but
fighting resumed on October 24. During that week, the Kao destroyed
the town of Malifut, killing at least 100 of its Muslim residents
and forcing the 4,000 survivors to flee to Ternate and Tidore(ICG
Christian Population Targeted:
Date: February 5, 2000
Place: Island of Lata Lata
Victims: more than 70 Christians
Jihad warriors arrived at the island by 34 speedboats and over the eastern mountains in an attempt to take over a village on the island of Lata Lata. Reportedly, 1,000 Christians attempted to stand up against the Jihad warriors in order to save their village. Many people fled to the jungles, while at least 70 men, women, and children were killed. By the evening of February 5th, the Jihad soldiers had burned down the entire village (International Christian Concern – ICC, March 2001).
Date: May 16-21, 2000
Victims: over 40 victims
More than 40 people were killed and 100 injured during a 6-day quarrel between Muslims and Christians within Ambon (ICC).
Date: May 25-26, 2000
Place: Galela district in Halmahera
Victims: at least 34 Christian victims
A group of Muslims launched a sea-borne attack on a Christian village within the remote area of Galela. At least 34 Christians died in the attack (ICC).
Date: May 30, 2000
Place: Island of Halmahera
Victims: at least 50 Christian victims
The Laskar Jihad assaulted a village on the island of Halmahera the night of May 30, 2000. At least 50 Christians were massacred while more than 100 were wounded (ICC).
Date: June 19, 2000
Place Duma, Halmahera, North Maluku
Victims: 400 Christian victims
With the help of the Laskar Jihad, around 4,000 local Muslims surrounded the town of Duma and attacked a total of 21 times (International Christian Concern). Area military did not intervene, claiming they were outnumbered. However, the military prevented 300 Christian gang members from launching a counterattack several days later (United States Commission on International Religious Freedom). Christian survivors fled Duma and many crammed on board a ferry bound for Manado. At least 400 died in the attack and another 120 people drowned when their boat sank (ICC).
Date: September 24, 2000
Place: Village of Hativ Besar, on the island of Ambon
Victims: at least 20 Christian victims
Christians were attacked during a church service in the village of Hativ Besar. At least 20 people were killed with even more injured (ICC).
Date: November 23, 2000
Place: Keswui Island
Victims: 93 Christian victims
The Laskar Jihad attacked four Christian villages in November of 2000, causing 500 people to flee to a neighboring island. More than 1,000 people fled into the woods and were subsequently kidnapped and held hostage in local mosques. Seven hundred sixty of these hostages were forced to convert to Islam, while at least 93 Christians were killed (The Record, June 14, 2001).
Date: September 26, 2000 – November, 13, 2001
Place: Harive Besar, Ambon; Kasiui; Hatu Alang, Ceram; Alang Asuade
village, Ceram; Kase village, Buru;
Waenalut village, Buru; Duma; Gudang Arang and Galala; Ambon;
Peleru, Sulawesi; Waimulang village, Buru.
Victims: 52 Christian victims
On more than 12 separate incidents, Muslims and Laskar Jihad attacked villages, razed homes, schools, and churches, kidnapped, tortured, and killed civilians, and displaced thousands. Using guns, grenades, and stabbing – 52 Christians were killed (ICC and AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE).
Date: April 3, 2002
Victims: 4 Christians
Four Christians were killed, and 58 critically injured after a bomb blast in Ambon. This was the first violation of the February 12 peace pact and cease fire, after a relatively peaceful coexistence between Muslims and Christians (BBC News).
What International Laws Are Being Broken?
As established and cited by the Geneva Convention of 1949 article 3, the following violations have been committed:
- Violence to Life and Person: Murder, Mutilation, Cruel Treatment, Torture (The Record, June 14, 2001)
- Taking Hostages (The Record, June 14, 2001)
- Outrages upon Personal Dignity (The Record, June 14, 2001; The Daily Telegraph, September 18, 2001)
Furthermore, according to the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Convention of August 12, 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II) June 8, 1977, the following violations have been committed:
- Restrictions of non-combatants for respect for their persons, honor, and convictions of religious practices, humane treatment without adverse distinction. (Article 4) (The Daily Telegraph, September 18, 2001)
- Use of collective punishments. (Article 4) (The Record, June 14, 2001)
- Taking of hostages. (Article 4) (The Record, June 14, 2001)
- Acts of terrorism. (Article 4) (International Christian Concern)
- Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment. (Article 4) (The Daily Telegraph, September 18, 2001)
- Denial of the free practice of religion (Article 5) (The Record, June 14, 2001)
- Protection of religious or cultural articles. It is prohibited to commit any acts of hostility against historic monuments, works of art, or places of worship that constitute the cultural or spiritual heritage of people. (Article 16) (Center for International Disaster Information, Sep 2001, US State Dep.: International Religious Freedom – Indonesia; Ambon Information Website)
- The displacement of the civilian population shall not be ordered for reasons related to the conflict
should such displacements have to be carried out, all possible measures shall be taken in order that the civilian population may be received under satisfactory conditions of shelter, hygiene, health, safety, and nutrition. (Article 17) (The Record, June 14, 2001)
The Following are several types of violations that have been reported in Moluccas and the Conventions that apply to each.
According to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (U.N. Doc. A/CONF 183/9, 1998), the following crimes against humanity were committed in Moluccas:
- Deportation/forcible Transfer of Population
- Sexual violence
- Persecution of identifiable group on political, racial, ethnic, cultural, gender, and religious lines
In three years of violence between Christians and Muslims more than 5,000 people in Moluccas have been killed. More than 500,000 are internally displaced (AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE, 2002). There has been substantial dislocation of people and deterioration of living standards brought on by the destruction of homes, religious centers, and various public buildings. Ambon, in the Maluku Province, and Halmahera, in the North Maluku Province, have been particularly hard hit (Center for International Disaster Information, 2001). Since January 1999, violence has “perpetuated itself through a vicious cycle of revenge killings” (CNN.com, July 10, 2001). The religious cleansing propagated by the Laskar Jihad has forced more than 5,800 Christians to convert to Islam and under go genital mutilation (Boston Herald, September 17, 2001). The government continues to be ineffective in minimizing the religious conflict, and in many cases is seen as being reluctant to get involved in mob attacks against places of worship (US State Department, March 2002). The Moluccas, once cited throughout Indonesia as a model for religious tolerance, is currently segregated into Christian and Muslim enclaves.
On February 12, 2002, Christian and Muslim delegates came together in Malino, South Sulawesi and signed a peace accord to end the longstanding conflict (Government of Indonesia, February 2002). Two weeks later, in the streets of Ambon, Muslims and Christians held a rally in support of the peace treaty, “with many people from the two faiths hugging each other and shaking hands” (BBC News, February 28, 2002). Unfortunately, Laskar Jihad’s militants have promised to disrupt the peace process. In April 2002, after a number of minor bomb blasts following the peace deal, civilian deaths and injuries have been reported in Ambon – the same city where Muslims and Christians came together for peace less then two months before (Xinhua, April 4, 2002). Peace in Moluccas is now dependent upon Laskar Jihad’s reaction to the call for worldwide jihad. Thus far, the call for worldwide support of Islamic jihad has fueled more tensions within the region. “The situation is extremely serious and demands urgent attention. Never in living memory has the situation for Christian minorities in the Islamic world been so precarious” (CNSNews, October 24, 2001). That said, the leader of Laskar Jihad in May 2002. This development bodes well for peace activities in the region.
Asmarani, Devi. “Secretarianism in Maluku: Nobody Likes Impartial Journalists.” The Straits Times.
Boston Herald. “Attack on America This war stems from radical Islam.” September 17, 2001. Pg. 35.
Daily Telegraph, The. “Opening our Doors to a Wave of Hatred.” Sydney, Australia. September 18, 2001. F1.
International Herald Tribune, The. Weiss, Stanley A. “Letters to the Editor: Indonesia and the US.” September 11, 2001.
Jakarta Post. “Makassar Students Conduct Search for Non-Muslims.” October 23, 2001.
Jakarta Post. “Three Killed in Fresh Violence in Maluku.” Ambon, Indonesia. November 2, 2001.
Murphy, Dan. “Indonesian Crime in the Moluccas.” The International Herald Tribune.
(January 2, 2001)
Mydans, Seth. “Indonesia’s President Threatens Parliament Over Its Effort to Remove Him.” The New York Times. July 10, 2001.
Mydans, Seth. “Indonesia May Crumble Without Falling Apart.”
The New York Times. July 29, 2001.
New Straits Times. “Factors Behind SE Asia Militancy.” September 16, 2001. Pg. F01.
New York Times on the Web. “Indonesia’s Assembly to Consider Wahid Ouster.” Saturday. July 20, 2001.
Record, The. “Christians: Stand Up For Persecuted Believers.” Bergen County, NJ. Page L6. June 14, 2001.
On-line News Sources:
Agence France-Presse. “Separatist Leader in Indonesia’s Maluku Defends Flag-Raising.” October 22, 2001.
Agence France-Presse. “Gunmen kill three, wound five in latest Ambon violence.” November 13, 2001.
Agence France-Press. “Bomb blasts rock Ambon after peace
pact.” February 14, 2002.
BBC News. Head, Jonathan. HH “Ambon’s troubled history.” BBC Online Network. June 1, 1999.
BBC News. “Laskar Jihad entering Moluccan Islands.” BBC Online Network. May 9, 2000.
BBC News. “Who are the Laskar Jihad?” BBC Online Network. June 20, 2000.
BBC News. “Moluccas emergency declared.” BBC Online Network. June 26, 2000.
BBC News. “Calls for Moluccas aid effort.” BBC Online Network. June 27, 2000
BBC News. “Intervention warning in Moluccas.” BBC Online Network. July 19, 2000
BBC News. “Deadly Foes Embrace in Ambon.” BBC Online Network. February 28, 2002.
BBC News. “Bomb blast in the Moluccas.” BBC Online Network. April 3, 2002.
CNN.com. “Death Toll Mounts in Indonesian Religious Clashes.” Associated Press, Reuters. January 20, 1999.
CNN.com. “Boat Carrying Hundreds of Indonesian Refugees Sinks.” Associated Press, Reuters. June 30, 2000.
CNSNews.com. “Afghan Conflict Triggers Backlash Against Christian Minorities.” October 24, 2001.
Chew, Amy. “Maluku Peace a Long Way Off”. CNN.com. July 10, 2001.
Galpin, Richard. “Indonesian Military to Withdraw Troops.” BBC Online Network. January 19, 2001. Sydney Morning Herald. Available .Online:
Tesoro, Jose Manuel. “Suicide of a City.” CNN.com. August 31,1999.
US Government Sources:
Center for International Disaster Information. U.S. Agency for International Development, Bureau for Humanitarian Response – Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance. “Indonesia – Complex Emergency.” Situation Report #2; Fiscal Year 2001; Sep 14, 2001.
United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.
United States Department of State. ” Indonesia. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – 2001.” March 4, 2002. Online:
United States Department of State. “International Religious Freedom Report – Indonesia.” October 2001.
Alhadar, Smith. “The Forgotten War in North Maluku.” Inside Indonesia. No. 63. July-September 2000.
Ambon Information Website. Rowat, Richard.
Antara: Indonesia Post. July 7, 2001. http://www.antara.com
International Crisis Group. “Indonesia: Overcoming Murder and Chaos in Maluku.” ICG Asia Report No. 10. Jakarta/Brussels. December 19, 2000.
International Christian Concern. “The Untold Tragedies of Moluku.” March 9, 2001.
International Christian Concern – September 2001. “Prayer Requests.” September 2001.
Norwegian Refugee Council: Indonesia – Background to the Conflict. December, 1998.
Posko Zwolle-Maluku News Portal. “Joint Appeal to the International Community from the Christian and Muslim Representatives in Moluccas”. April 17, 2001.
Xinhua. “Indonesia’s Ambon back to normal after bomb blast: report.” April 4, 2002.
http://www.reliefweb.int/w/rwb.nsf/6686f45896f15dbc852567ae00530132/7c3 82ba2862582a6852 56b91007e5a2a?OpenDocument
Human Rights Watch:
Human Rights Watch. “Indonesia Must Control Troops.” June 29, 2000.
Human Rights Watch. World Report 2000. “Indonesia: Investigation of Bias Needed in Maluku”. January 7, 2000.
Government of Indonesia. “The Moluccas agreement in
Malino (Malino II) signed to end conflict and create peace in the Moluccas.” February 14, 2002.
Taylor, Paul Michael. Testimonial presented to: United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), Hearing on Religious-Freedom Violations in the Moluccas, Indonesia. February 13, 2001.
The Genocide Prevention Center would like to especially thank the International Crisis Group for their reliable on-the-ground reporting and International Christian Concern for their up-to-date information. The ICG’s and the ICC’s information on the Moluccas region have both been invaluable to this report.