Advocacy groups
CCEVI trifold

Canadians Concerned about Ethnic Violence in Indonesia

E-dossier #5. Canadians Concerned with Ethnic Violence in Indonesia (CCEVI) was a Canadian human rights advocacy group based in North York, Ontario formed in 1998 in response to violence against Chinese-Indonesians. The group built a strong reputation through its key support for victims of ethnically motivated violence in Indonesia. CCEVI consulted regularly with the Canadian government to bring awareness to the inability of the Indonesian regime to protect its ethnic minorities. It would also go on to make recommendations to the United Nations in 2006. In addition, CCEVI presented pertinent speakers to the Canadian public who spoke of the state of human rights in Indonesia. Therefore, both in key institutions and in civil society, CCEVI facilitated conversation around major violations of human rights thereby putting them higher on the Canadian foreign agenda.

After decades of legal discrimination against the ethnic Chinese in Indonesia under the Suharto regime (1966-1998), the May 1998 riots in Jakarta ravaged their communities and caused irreversible physical and mental trauma. These human rights violations went largely unpunished in Indonesia. This caused great concern among a group of Canadians, themselves for the most part ethnic Chinese from Indonesia and elsewhere. In June 1998, they formed Canadians Concerned with Ethnic Violence in Indonesia (CCEVI) and began sounding the alarm about impunity for Indonesia’s human rights abuses. For over a decade, CCEVI consistently voiced concerns and made recommendations in various forums to expose and condemn violence against ethnic minorities in Indonesia. Ultimately, CCEVI influenced Canada to take a stronger stance in combating these issues.  

In 1998, Indonesia experienced a massive economic crisis. As its currency inflated and its unemployment reached unsustainable levels, the population began to riot. As described in the CNN article below, as early as February 1998, the property of ethnic Chinese Indonesians was being looted in Jakarta, resulting in some fatalities. Government security forces patrolled the streets but did little to stop the violence. Comments included in the article from looters demonstrate the ethnically based motivations of their violence.

Click to view original format.

The Indonesian riots escalated in May 1998 and violence against the ethnic Chinese communities worsened. The BBC article below explains the ethnic and economically based hatred that existed in Indonesia towards those from the ethnic Chinese community. Making up a small percentage of the total Indonesian population, the community was on average the most well-off financially and it was an easy scapegoat during Indonesia’s financial crisis.

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Ethnic-Chinese women were also systematically raped during the riots. The trauma of these experiences was aggravated as Indonesian officials tried to deny their occurrence. As explained in the Washington Post article below, the impunity for the perpetrators combined with a culture of shame for rape in Indonesia created a volatile situation for the victims.

CCEVI described its own activities in January 1999, less than a year after the group’s formation. A summary or the group and its work provides first a brief description of CCEVI, then it discusses “The Historical Context of Anti-Chinese Discrimination and Violence” focusing on three components: “Pre-Suharto,” “The Suharto Years” and “Anti-Chinese Violence.” After, it presents “The Events of Mid-May, 1998” with sub-sections “The Riots” and “The Rapes”. Finally, it provides both “Recent Developments and CCEVI’s Recommendation to the Canadian Government” and “CCEVI’s Recommendations” – four courses of action that it argues the Canadian government could take to help re-establish stability in Indonesia. Click to view the document.

Following the “Rape of Jakarta”, CCEVI took action to bring awareness to issues stemming from the violence and provide relief to victims. For example, CCEVI organized annual memorial services for the victims of the riots and helped fund the services of a Canadian-trained trauma counsellor to work with the rape victims.

As the facts began to emerge on the 1998 Jakarta atrocities, Canadian politicians lauded CCEVI for its work in supporting and remembering the victims. In May 2000, Howard Hampton (Leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party from 1996 to 2009) thanked the group for their contributions to the dialogue around human rights in Canada.

In May 1998, John McKay, the federal Liberal MP for Scarborough East, spoke at a CCEVI memorial vigil. Three years late, he spoke in of the House of Commons of the group’s contributions in putting the Indonesian human rights violations on Canada’s agenda.

In an opening comment in Indonesian, a CCEVI member notes (loose translation) that “efforts or speeches from members of parliament make it easier for Indonesian citizens who are applying to become refugees or immigrants in Canada. Such “exposure” that the homeland [Indonesia] is still experiencing chaos and turmoil can encourage immigration officials in Canada to be more compassionate and agile in granting visas.” The comment concludes in English: “better late than never.”

Link to the archived speech:

References to migration in the CCEVI comment reveal another important aspect of the group’s work, which was to assist Indonesian citizens in danger at home to gain entry to Canada. Files on this topic are confidential, but they do indicate an important and successful (if quieter) aspect of CCEVI advocacy.

Ethnically motivated violence continued in Indonesia after May 1998. Violence in the Maluku islands (1999), on Sulawesi island (2000) and on Borneo (2001) killed and displaced many members of ethnic minorities as Indonesian security forces continually failed to protect their human rights.

In the tri-fold leaflet below, CCEVI presents its perspective on the human rights violations in Jakarta and those regions. Click here to access in pdf.

After having built its credibility through its role in the aftermath of May 1998, CCEVI was able to highlight Indonesian human rights violations to the Canada to shift its international priorities. Beginning in 1999, CCEVI annually updated the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) – now Global Affairs Canada – on Indonesia’s human rights record. At DFAIT’s Human Rights Consultations, CCEVI’s public statements would reiterate particular concerns with the treatment of ethnic minorities in Indonesia, call on Canada and the UN to invest into solutions to these issues and call on Indonesia to bring perpetrators of human rights abuses to justice.

The group was increasingly willing to broaden its critique and to join forces with others campaigning for human rights in Indonesia. For instance, it joined in 2005 with a coalition of Canadian civil society groups to call for tsunami relief aid to Aceh province in Indonesia to be demilitarized. Aceh was then the site of a secessionist conflict between the Free Aceh Movement and the Indonesian army, and of multiple human rights violations. The coalition therefore asked that civilian groups, rather than the Indonesian army, be responsible for relief aid. Signatory groups included: Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace; Pacific People’s Partnership; Canadians Concerned About Ethnic Violence in Indonesia (CCEVI); West Papua Action Network (WESPAN); Canadian Action for Indonesia and East Timor; Green Lotus International and Mining Watch Canada.

CCEVI also brought its advocacy efforts to the international level through Canada’s delegation to the United Nations. In 2006, the group submitted recommendations to Canada’s delegation to the 62nd session of the UN Commission on Human Rights (CHR). CCEVI’s recommendations included a call for justice for humanitarian crimes in both Timor-Leste (now East Timor) and Indonesia, with an expanded call for an end to rights violations in West Papua, Aceh and Poso district in Sukawesi, for justice in the case of murdered human rights defender Munir, and for accountability for massacres in 1965-66. In addition, CCEVI recommended specific courses of action to the delegation including points to raise about Indonesia’s human rights practices in Canada’s item 9 speech.

Finally, throughout its existence, CCEVI put a strong emphasis on welcoming impactful speakers to speak in Canada about the challenges to human rights under Indonesia’s government. Ranging from Indonesian activists to Canadian academics, these occasions amplified key voices in the struggle for justice in Indonesia and brought these conversations into the Canadian context. A 2010 leaflet published by CCEVI features a list of CCEVI’s notable speakers with short biographies, and three event flyers follow.

There is no way to tell the exact influence CCEVI had on Canada’s approach to its international relations with Indonesia in the 2000s and to immigration from Indonesia. Nevertheless, it consistently brought awareness to Indonesian human rights violations at consultations of the Canadian government, and advised its UNCHR strategy. Furthermore, CCEVI encouraged discussion of these issues within Canada civil society through events such as its guest speakers. CCEVI’s passionate advocacy cast an important spotlight on issues that may have otherwise stayed in the dark in Canadian discourse.

Compiled by Duncan Crabtree and David Webster