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An archipelago between South Asia and Oceania of over 17,000 islands, Indonesia is the world's fourth most populous country. Despite significant progress towards democracy, reform of institutions and significant economic growth since the resignation of the authoritarian and repressive General Suharto in 1998, the country still suffers from civil, sectarian, ethnic and separatist conflicts. Overall, the human rights situation has improved greatly, but problems remain with abuses by police and security forces, restrictions on political activity in certain regions, reproductive rights and child labour.


Indonesia is a vast equatorial archipelago nation made up of more than 17,000 islands, 6,000 of which are uninhabited, and is spread over 5,150 kilometres from east to west. Located between Asia and Australia, the country shares borders with Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste. The capital city is Jakarta.

Population and language

Indonesia is home to 242 million people, making it the worlds fourth most populous nation. Population growth has been substantial over the past 30 years, rising from 150 million in 1980, but growth has slowed to an annual rate of around one per cent over the last decade. Ethnically, the country is highly diverse: a substantial proportion of the population identify themselves as Javanese (41 per cent) and Sundanese (15 per cent), but there are a large number smaller ethnic communities, including of Balinese, Madurese, Minangkabau and Betawi peoples.

More than 580 languages and dialects are spoken in the country, 13 of which have more than 1 million speakers. The official state language is Bahasa Indonesia.

History and politics

Indonesia declared its independence in 1945, though it was a further 10 years before the first national elections took place. Following a failed military coup, Major-General Suharto assumed power in 1965 and continued to rule until his regime collapsed in the aftermath of the 1997 Asian financial crisis[1]. The Suharto regime oversaw horrific human rights abuses, including the supression and killing of political oponents and the invasion of Timor Leste, in which between 80,000 and 200,000 Timorese people were killed. Since the end of the Suharto rule, the Indonesian political system has developed into one of the most successful democratic states in south-east Asia, and holds regular democratic elections. President Yudhoyono was re-elected in 2009 for his second and final term in the office, and became the first Indonesian President to be elected more the once since 1998.

Indonesian politics operates under the persistent threat of terrorism and sectarian violence. Hostilities peaked between 2000 and 2005, with serious outbreaks of communal violence in Central Sulawesi, Poso and Maluku. The Bali bombings of 2002[2] captured the attention of the world's media, but they were part of a broader campaign of violence.


Indonesia is the largest economy in South East Asia and has been growing rapidly at an annual rate of around 6 per cent. Despite this economic development, employment has grown slower than population and 32 million people live below the poverty line while half of the total population earn around the poverty national poverty level ($22 per month). The World Bank rated Indonesia 121 in its Doing Business report 2011, highlighting the need for the country to develop its infrastructure, conduct general regulatory reforms and increase investment in order to make it a more attractive investment market[3]. Major industries include oil, gas, mining, forestry, fishing, palm oil, rubber and agriculture, while major trading partners include Japan, Singapore, the U.S. and China.

Media and civil society

Reporters Without Borders rated the country 117 out of 178 in its 2010 Press Freedom Index indicating “noticeable problems” in the country. A large number of independent TV and radio stations operate nationally, mostly without hindrance, but in a small number of cases the state has interfered with the media, as with the closing down of Radio Era Baru[4]. Several deaths of journalists have also been reported in the country in circumstances that indicated that their deaths may have been related to their work. The organisation has also reported allegations of threats and bribery with respect to journalists who report on controversial topics such as bad environmental practices. Nevertheless, Indonesia is rated significantly better than most of its regional neighbours in terms of press freedom[5]. Human Rights Watch has reported that while the country has a vibrant media and active civil society, the criminalisation of those who raise controversial issues has had a severe chilling effect on peaceful expression[6].

Human rights and children's rights

Since the end of the Suharto regime, Indonesia has made a great deal of progress in becoming a stable democratic country, but a number of significant human rights concerns remain. Beyond the concerns with regards to freedom of expression, the impunity of soldiers in civilian courts and religious violence remain persistent problems. Perhaps the most pressing human rights concern facing children in the country is in relation to children working as domestic servants, hundred of thousands of which are employed in severely restrictive conditions and at risk of physical, psychological and sexual abuse. Legislation introduced in 2010 in response to this problem stalled in parliament, and little progress has been made on the issue[7].

  1. See, BBC, "Rise and fall of strongman Suharto" 28 September 2000 and "Obituary: Ex President Suharto of Indonesia" 27 January 2008
  2. BBC, "In depth: Bali"
  3. World Bank, "Doing Business 2011"
  4. Reporters Without Borders, "Radio Era Baru forcibly closed by police" 13 September 2011
  5. Reporters Without Borders, "World Report: Indonesia"
  6. Human Rights Watch, "World Report 2012", pp. 334-340
  7. Ibid.


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