Chinese Women in Indonesia Victims of Mass Rape During May Riots
It's just over a month since President Suharto was
ousted from power in Indonesia. The killing of six
students which sparked off the unrest has been
investigated and the perpetrators found. But
reports are now emerging of other atrocities that
were committed whilst Suharto was ousted from
power in Indonesia. Our Asia correspondent,
Matt Frei, reports:
Last month hundreds of journalists, including
myself, descended on the Indonesian capital,
Jakarta, to cover the rising wave of popular
unrest which finally swept President Suharto from
power. Most of our attentions were focused on
the demise of Asia's longest ruling dictator. He
was the story.
But behind closed doors something far more
sinister was taking place. The Chinese minority
has traditionally been the scapegoat in Indonesia.
But what happened on May the thirteenth and
fourteenth defied their own worst expectations.
Thiem Sentee, a Chinese hotel manager, used to
have a hotel located in the heart of Jakarta's
Chinatown until it was burned down by the mob
together with thousands of other Chinese-owned
shops and houses. He said he'd heard a story of
a woman being raped in front of her husband and
children. She took insecticide the second day
and couldn't be saved. Other women were
victims of gang rape, some of whom found the
trauma too much, preferring to commit suicide.
Many ethnic Chinese are Christians and it was at
church that the rape victims first overcame their
shame. As one woman spoke out another stood
up and told a similar story and then another. A
terrible realisation dawned on congregations in
Jakarta and elsewhere. The Chinese women had
become victims of what looked like a campaign
of mass rape. Swamped by appeals for help from
the churches the psychology department at
Jakarta University set up a forum to encourage
the women to speak out in public. None of them
dared but there were plenty of eyewitnesses. One
man described how he helped a mother and
three daughters escape the country.
On the fourteenth of May my friend's three
daughters were put on the back of a truck by a
group of men. They were repeatedly raped from
four in the afternoon until three in the morning.
The youngest was fourteen. The next day I drove
them to the airport. They escaped on a plane to
Singapore and then Australia.
Many of those who couldn't flee are still in
hospital, their minds scarred and their bodies
often horribly mutilated. One of their doctors said
the youngest victim had been eleven years old
and the eldest eighteen or nineteen. She knew of
at least four hundred cases of rape. In one
incident sixty-eight Chinese women and girls
were raped by groups of as many as ten men
who systematically worked through the floors of
an apartment block in a middle-class, residential
district. Frequently the victims were humiliated in
front of their Indonesian neighbours.
A psychologist, Christie Powandari, has set up a
crisis centre for the victims, some of whom had
been ordered to dance naked whilst people
clapped their hands as if they were animals.
According to him, rape is quite common but
mass rape like this is definitely not.
The unanswered question haunting the Chinese
community, still numb with fear, is who did this. A
number of victims have said that the men who
raped them had crew cuts and tattoos and that
they seemed to be drugged, or drunk. In the
rumour mill of Jakarta, some have pointed to the
same renegade units in the army which allegedly
encouraged the rioters and looters; possible, but
not proven. What is proven is the racism and
jealousy of many Indonesians towards their
relatively wealthy Chinese neighbours. Could the
rapes have been committed by ordinary people
venting their anger against a helpless minority? It
was a question that Christie Powandari was loath
I don't think that Indonesian people, even when
they really hate Chinese, for example, can do that
- rape groups of twelve years old young girls. I
don't know. It's really unbelievable.
What we do know is this. Hundreds, perhaps
thousands of Chinese women were
systematically raped on two consecutive days in
May and so far the government of President
Habibie which has promised reforms and the
respect of human rights has done absolutely
nothing to find the perpetrators and punish them.