The International Observatory on Statelessness


Populations of concern in Indonesia include ethnic Chinese, whose citizenship rights have improved in recent years, and former East Timorese. Ethnic Chinese represent about 10 million of Indonesia’s 210 million people, and an unknown number are stateless. In the early 1960s, the government barred Indonesians from having two nationalities, partly in response to the Chinese government’s claim in 1958 that every Chinese person in the world was a Chinese citizen. Individuals of Chinese descent were then obligated to choose a single citizenship.

Government accusations that the People’s Republic of China supported the communist party’s failed 1965 coup attempt fuelled doubts about the Chinese community’s loyalty to Indonesia. The government soon introduced regulations that treated ethnic Chinese differently, such as issuing to each one a Letter of Proof Evidencing Citizenship of the Republic of Indonesia. Ethnic Chinese cannot serve as public servants, nor can they join the military or police forces.

In 2000, Jakarta stated that out of the 208,820 registered stateless ethnic Chinese, 140,000 would receive Indonesian citizenship by the year’s end. In 2006, officials from the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights repeated the same statement, announcing that 145,070 of the 208,820 registered stateless ethnic Chinese have sent in applications for citizenship since 1993. Among the applications, 139,788 were reportedly approved and 3,974 returned because they were incomplete.

In July 2006, Indonesia’s House of Representative passed Law No. 12 regarding Citizenship. The law defines an “Indonesian national as anyone born in the country” and allows children born of parents of different citizenship to choose citizenship upon reaching the age of 18. The new law accordingly enables Chinese-Indonesians who have resided in the country for generations to become full-fledged citizens.

In May 2008, the Minister of Justice and Human Rights again presented certificates of citizenship to 139 ethnic Chinese in a symbolic ceremony. The government has reportedly simplified the bureaucratic procedures to obtain Indonesian citizenship.

An unknown number of former refugees from East Timor are at risk of statelessness. At least 30,000 of the 250,000 East Timorese who fled to West Timor at the height of the referendum crisis in 1999 have remained in Indonesia. They are mostly former militia, military, police, government officials, and their families. At the end of 2005, UNHCR estimated that about 10,000 former refugees were “living in conditions of concern,” while 16,000 others had been resettled. Local NGO and provincial government estimates are higher, with one official citing a figure of 104,436 individuals of East Timor origin remaining in West Timor. After the December 2002 declaration of the cessation of refugee status (which was concurrent with the cessation of IDP status for up to 1.4 million Indonesians displaced in other provinces at the time), the official term assigned by the Indonesian government for those remaining in Indonesia is “warga baru” (new residents).

In September and October 2003, the Indonesian Directorate for Population Registration of the Ministry of Home Affairs conducted a registration. The vast majority of those who registered opted for Indonesian citizenship, but they were also allowed to opt for East Timorese citizenship and stay in Indonesia as aliens with a valid resident permit. A minority chose not to become Indonesian citizens. In the absence of bilateral arrangements between Indonesia and East Timor, these individuals were unable to apply for East Timorese citizenship, thus left at risk of statelessness. Considering that East Timor has only recently established a Central Civil Registry to issue birth certificates, many children of the “warga baru” who opted for East Timorese citizenship but currently still reside in West Timor may not have appropriate documents and thus are in danger of lacking nationality.