June 10, 1998
Indonesians Report Widespread Rapes of Chinese in Riots
By SETH MYDANS
JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Human rights and women's aid groups have begun to document what they say appears to have been an organized campaign of assaults, gang rapes and killings of ethnic Chinese women during three days of rioting in Jakarta last month.
The aid workers say they have talked with dozens of victims or relatives of victims, and they estimated on Tuesday that more than 100 women and girls may have been attacked and raped in Jakarta alone as their neighborhoods were burning between May 13 and 15. There were reports of similar attacks during riots in other cities that preceded the fall of President Suharto on May 21.
One worker at a women's aid center, Sita Kayam, said she believed that hundreds of women were receiving physical or psychological help at hospitals here.
Other aid workers said most of the victims remained too traumatized to talk about their experiences and too terrified of reprisals to report their ordeals to officials or even to unofficial rape centers. The police said no reports of rape had been brought to the authorities.
Another worker at the women's aid center, Ita Nadia, said some women had committed suicide after their ordeals.
The reported attacks ranged from the degrading and humiliating to the horrific; from women who were made to strip and perform calisthenics in public to women who were repeatedly raped and then thrown into the flames of burning buildings.
The reports involve girls and women ranging in age from 10 to 55, the aid workers said. Some were gang-raped in front of a crowd in the Chinese commercial district of Glodok, said Rita Kolibonso, executive director of the women's group Mitra Perempuan.
"Some of the rapers said, 'You must be raped because you are Chinese and non-Muslim,"' said Ms. Ita, who works at a crisis center called Kalyana Mitra. Ethnic Chinese citizens, who control much of the country's commerce, have been targets of violence in Indonesia for years.
The consensus among human rights workers and rape counselors is that the attacks were mostly organized by unknown groups, in the same way that increasing evidence suggests that organized groups were involved in instigating attacks of arson and vandalism aimed largely at ethnic Chinese neighborhoods during the rioting. This evidence is based on reports that groups of men arrived simultaneously at various targets in the city with gasoline bombs and other weapons and initiated the violence.
Albert Hasibuan, a member of the National Commission on Human Rights, said human rights workers had talked with a participant in the riots who said he had been recruited, briefed, paid and transported by unidentified men, who provided him and others with stones and gasoline bombs. The commission is the official government human-rights monitoring agency, but since its formation in 1996 has often been critical of the government.
Because of the organized nature of many of the reported assaults and because of some physical descriptions of the attackers, the aid workers said they suspected that some elements of the armed forces might have been involved. Some witnesses said they observed men with muscular builds and military haircuts, and one victim said she was raped by men who had a military uniform in their car.
Human rights groups have reported similar suspicions about reported instigators of the looting and arson, who traveled in groups through the city in vehicles.
Hasibuan's group reported last week that at least 1,188 people had died in the rioting in Jakarta and that 40 large shopping centers, 4,083 shops and 1,026 private homes had been attacked, burned or looted.
Lt. Col. Iman Haryatna, the Central Jakarta police chief, told reporters that victims were welcome to come forward but that the police had so far received no reports of assaults on women during the riots.
Because of a widespread mistrust of security forces both among the victims and human-rights workers, the reports of rapes are being gathered instead by two prominent women's crisis centers and three well-established human rights groups.
Two aid workers said they had received telephone threats warning them to stop their investigations and their aid to victims. One of these, a Catholic priest named Father Sandiyawan who works at the private Jakarta Social Institute, said someone had sent him a hand grenade in the mail as a warning.
The other said she received a telephone call on Saturday in which a man said: "Do you know that a week ago we sent a grenade to Father Sandiyawan? Do you want more than the grenade we sent to Father Sandiyawan?"
Ms. Ita said that three weeks after the riots it is still very difficult to approach the victims of rapes and harassment "because their trauma is very deep."
"Even for myself, I will tell you that it is really emotionally difficult because I have to confront the experiences of the victims," she said. "It is really very, very bad."
Slowly and painfully, she and other counselors have compiled accounts like the following:
A student was abducted at a bus stop, taken to a swamp near the airport and raped by four men in a car. There was a green uniform in the car and she asked her abductors if they were police officers. "If you are police, you have to save me," she told them, according to Ms. Ita. One of them answered: "No, I have to give you a lesson. You are a woman and you are beautiful and you are part of the Chinese."
In the midst of the riot, a group of men stopped a city bus and forced out all the non-Chinese women. "Then they chose the beautiful women among the Chinese and raped them inside the bus," Sandiyawan said. "The victims of that incident are really depressive. They are in the hospital with their families. They are trying to hide themselves from the public."
A 10-year-old girl returning from school discovered that the shop-house where her family lived and worked had been burned. As she went in search of her parents, she was seized by two men and raped in front of her neighbors.
One woman, a bank officer, told a local reporter that she was seized from the back of a motorcycle in the middle of the riot and thrown to the ground by a group of men. "She told me she was so hysterical and she was so panicked that she does not remember what happened," the reporter said. "But she showed me a lot of bruises on her body, especially on her legs."
In an incident of public humiliation, a group of about 15 men entered a bank where 10 ethnic Chinese employees were taking refuge from the riot. The men locked the door, made the women take off their clothes and ordered them to dance. In a similar incident during a riot in the city of Medan on May 4, 20 female students at a teachers' training college were stopped by police officers when they tried to flee the violence on their campus. The officers forced them to take off their clothes and perform calisthenics. In both cases, the women reported that they were fondled but not raped. In another incident of harassment during the riot in Jakarta, a number of ethnic Chinese women were reportedly stripped and made to swim in a pond.
Ms. Ita told of an ethnic Chinese woman who hid in her house with her two younger sisters as the rioters approached. About 10 men came into the house and found the sisters on the third floor. They made the two younger women take off their clothes and told the older sister to stand in a corner, "because you are too old for us." Meanwhile, arsonists entered the lower floors and set fire to the building. "After they had raped her two sisters, the two men said to her, 'We are finished and we are satisfied and because you are too old and ugly we weren't interested in you.' So they took her two sisters and pushed them to the ground floor where there was already fire, and they were killed.
"When her mother heard the news, she had a heart attack and died," Ms. Ita said. "So now this woman is in a psychiatric hospital. Sometimes she cries when she tells the story and sometimes she is normal again. That is one of the stories we have confirmed."