An Indonesian soldier and an Ambonese carrying a fake M-16 gun look at each other in the Muslim area of Simpang AJ Pati, in Ambon the capital of Maluku province at the height of communal vilence between Muslims and Christians in this Jan. 11, 2000 file photo. (Photo by Oka Budhi/AFP)
Indonesia’s Supreme Court has ordered the government to pay 3.9 trillion rupiah (about US$273 million) to victims of a sectarian conflict in Maluku province 20 years ago.
In doing so the court rejected a final review petition by the government, which had challenged a 2016 decision by the same court that it was obliged to make the payment.
The decision on Aug. 19 also upheld previous rulings by lower courts ordering the government to pay the sum in compensation to more than 200,000 families affected by the deadly conflict between Christians and Muslims from 1999-2002.
Fighting erupted in Ambon, the capital of Maluku province, in January 1999 following an altercation between a Christian bus driver and Muslim youths, according to Human Rights Watch.
The conflict quickly spread throughout the province and claimed more than 5,000 lives and displaced more than 700,000. Around 30,000 houses were burned as well as 45 mosques and 57 churches.
Nine years later, in 2011, victims filed a lawsuit against the government demanding better compensation despite admitting the government had paid them about US $250.
In 2012 the district court ruled in favor of the victims and ordered the government to compensate each family to the tune of about $2,500 for construction materials to rebuild houses and $250 in cash assistance.
The government challenged the ruling in the Jakarta High Court, which upheld the lower court’s ruling.
Refusing to give up, the government appealed and lost again in the Supreme Court in 2016.
The court’s rejection of the review petition on Aug. 19 means the government cannot lodge a further appeal.
Sacred Heart Bishop Petrus Canisius Mandagi of Amboina in Maluku, welcomed the Supreme Court’s ruling.
“Financial assistance was desperately needed because the conflict impoverished many people who now might be able to improve their lives,” the bishop told ucanews.com.
He said compensation should be paid not only to people in Maluku but also to residents in North Maluku province who suffered much due to the conflict.
“The government must build infrastructure in the two provinces, such as roads, ports, schools, and hospitals,” he said.
He said the government must also continue to facilitate health interfaith ties in the region, even though current relationships between Christians and Muslims are good.
Zaenal Abidin, 57, a Muslim from Ambon, said the conflict saw his family lose everything.
“My family never received any assistance. My house was burned down during the conflict and we still live with relatives,” said Abidin, a father of two.
He said he hoped the government would not drag its feet and would comply with the order to pay the victims.