The International Republican Institute (IRI) hosted representatives of Iraqi civil society organizations to Indonesia from November 14-25, 2006. The Iraqi groups, part of a coalition known as Ma’an meaning together, are promoting religious and ethnic minority rights in Iraq and traveled to Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, to see how they protect minority and religious rights.
During the trip Iraqi delegates met with Indonesian nongovernmental organizations (NGO) active in religious and ethnic minority rights, members of the Indonesian House of Representatives and former President of Indonesia Abdurrahman Wahid (also known as Gus Dur), who is well-respected for his work on the promotion of ethnic and religious rights. Visits and meetings took place in Jakarta, Jogjakarta and Surabaya and concluded with a workshop on the legislative status of minorities and conflict resolution in Indonesia.
In the meeting with President Abdurrahman Wahid, the former president spoke to the delegates at length about the Indonesian government’s efforts to protect the minorities’ rights during his presidential term. The former president and delegates engaged in an open discussion on the political process of Iraq, and more specifically on the status of minorities in current day Iraq. Delegates found the meeting useful as they heard examples of how another predominantly Muslim country has dealt with the issues of minority rights. Perhaps more importantly, the delegates heard how the efforts of minority activists in a Muslim country have proven successful.
Other trip highlights included visits to Surabaya and Jogjakarta, both on the island of Java. There, delegates witnessed amicable relationships between various ethnic and religious groups, and between majority and minority groups. This experience was enhanced by visits to holy places of various minorities in Surabaya, such as the Tao temple, and the Chinese Moslems Mosque, two sites which were built collectively by those multi-ethnic communities.
The lively participation and discussions during visits and meetings reflected a high level of interest among the delegates from Iraq in protecting the rights of minority communities while coexisting with majority groups and finding suitable mechanisms to build peaceful ties between those communities in Iraq in the long-term.
At the end of the visit, the participants emphasized the following issues from Indonesia as being crucial to their future work in Iraq:
- The role of majority based organizations working on the promotion of minorities’ rights
- Tolerance of difference in Indonesian society
- Inter-religious and inter-ethnic dialogue in Indonesian public and political life
- Tools used by Indonesian NGOs in the promoting ethnic and religious rights
The members of the Ma’an Coalition returned to Iraq with hopes that they will be able to modify the work of the Indonesian civil society organizations to the Iraqi context to help them move ahead as the Constitution Review Committee takes up the matter of the status of minorities in Iraq.Top