Mar'ie Muhammad, chairman of the Indonesian Red Cross
by Jean-François Berger
the fourth most populous country in the world with 210 million
inhabitants, is coping with constant threats to its stability
from socio-economic crises, internal violence and devastating
natural disasters. Red Cross, Red Crescent asked Mar'ie Muhammad,
president of the Indonesian Red Cross (PMI), about the country's
and the National Society's current challenges and changes.
What is the main constraint on the activities of the Indonesian
Red Cross (PMI) today?
Our biggest constraint is human resources. We are working
to strengthen and to modernize our National Society in order
to improve our capacity-building efforts in all areas. That
has been at the core of all of our programmes since 1999.
At present, we are developing our human resources both in
headquarters and the branches, as well as with the volunteers.
We must be honest and admit that the Indonesian Red Cross
is far behind in tackling the many challenges facing our country
today. And frankly speaking, we do not have a sustainable
income to pay for our routine activities, which is another
But you do have some assets?
Yes, our biggest asset is our volunteer. The Red Cross is
nothing without its volunteers, particularly youth. But there
is a challenge here too: how can the Red Cross better serve
the people helping it on a voluntary basis? Most of our volunteers
are between 15 and 25 years old. Many of them are students
or go to secondary school and generally they do not belong
to well-off families. So we have to give them certain honoraria,
otherwise they cannot pay for transportation and meals.
What do you consider the most important change that has
occurred within the National Society since your election as
chairman three years ago?
Our National Society has over 300 branches. Three years ago
less than 40 per cent were really active branches while the
others were more or less dormant. Now we can say that 60 per
cent of the branches are active.
If you want to develop the capacity building of the PMI,
you must rely on public support.
One of our priorities is to improve our image throughout Indonesia
and the international community. For instance during the major
floods in Jakarta and after the earthquake in Bengkulu, we
opened several field kitchens and provided shelter to victims
of these disasters. These actions generated sympathy and spontaneous
support from the Indonesian public as well as from international
organizations, namely the ICRC and the Federation.
The PMI plays an important role in organizing blood services
nationwide. How are things going in this area?
The PMI is still the only institution mandated by the government
to oversee the country's blood transfusion service. We supply
blood to hospitals, but here too we face a major challenge.
Unfortunately, our equipment is for the most part out of date
and inadequate. I am very concerned about the quality of our
blood transfusion service. I have approached the Japanese
Red Cross for help in this area because they manage almost
100 hospitals. We are also discussing a possible commercial
relationship with the Australian Red Cross related to blood
What is the PMI's strategy for preventing the spread of
HIV/AIDS in the country and caring for those already infected
with the virus?
The focus is on ensuring a safe blood supply, screening blood
donors, providing home care to people living with HIV/AIDS
and undertaking youth and women peer education initiatives
as well as promoting anti-discrimination. Today, it is estimated
that 60 per cent of those infected with the HIV/AIDS virus
in Indonesia are intravenous drug users. To combat this, we
have trained our volunteers to disseminate throughout their
communities the many dangers related to drug abuse, in particular
the sharing of needles.
The PMI works actively in several internal conflicts and
violent areas, such as in Aceh, in Maluku and in Irian Jaya.
How can you work in these delicate contexts and to what extent
are you accepted by all parties to the conflict?
It is indeed a delicate task. In Aceh, the PMI is accepted
so far by both parties to the conflict, that means by the
Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and by the government. In Maluku,
in early 2000 it was even more delicate. Today, the situation
there is much better with all parties, Muslims and Christians,
The PMI is actively involved on the humanitarian front
in Aceh. It is monitoring casualties. What are the limits
of such an involvement, especially with regard to security?
As long as the GAM and the government accept our services
and our presence we will do everything we can. You know that
many victims are unidentified, so our teams are going to the
field to identify the victims of the violence. We have had
some problems, but since we have established standard operation
procedures it's safer. Together with the ICRC, we also disseminate
humanitarian law to the armed forces and to the police. It's
an intensive process involving all branches and volunteers
in Aceh. The motivation of these volunteers is a key factor
in the field.
Boat people keep arriving in Indonesia. What role does
the PMI play in this context?
Boat people come mostly from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Somalia.
They seek asylum in third countries through the UN High Commissioner
for Refugees (UNHCR). Following an agreement we made with
UNHCR, PMI assists those who have been granted refugee status
to get appropriate medical treatment.
Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population and
its National Society bears a Red Cross emblem. Isn't it difficult
This is not a problem! But there are some minority groups
in Indonesia, not within the PMI, that ask why a country with
a majority of Muslims uses the Red Cross rather than the Red
Crescent. I keep telling them that the most important point
is not the emblem but our capacity to serve. So far government
rules stipulate that the PMI must use the emblem of the Red
Cross and that this emblem will be protected. I have spoken
with several ministers involved in this issue and I know that
the government has no intention of changing our emblem.
What kind of cooperation do you entertain within the Movement?
We have a good cooperation with all components of the Movement.
We have joint projects with the Singapore Red Cross, the Dutch
Red Cross, the Japanese Red Cross, the Australian Red Cross
and some others. Collaboration is fine with both the ICRC
and the Federation. In fact there is no Great Wall of China
between the Federation and ICRC here! I hope one does not
exist in Geneva between the two organizations!
What future do you see for the Movement?
Fifty years ago, the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement had more
or less a monopoly in the field of humanitarian assistance.
Today, there are thousands of non-governmental organizations
doing the same work, thus putting us globally in an extremely
competitive environment. So what to do? Just serve better
and cut costs. Geneva is indeed a very expensive place!
What do you value most on this planet today?
In this country, we never imagined one day there would be
so many displaced people and such terrible conflicts in Aceh,
Maluku and earlier in Kalimantan. Now, we value and support
any initiative for a peaceful settlement to the conflicts
and will back it up with our humanitarian activities. This
is a good beginning!
Are you an optimist?
I am a conscious optimist.
Interview by Jean-François Berger.
Blast in Bali
Immediately after the bomb attacks in Bali on 12 October
which killed over 180 people and injured more than 300, the
PMI moved into action, with chairman Mar'ie Muhammad coordinating
this emergency operation. Eighty-eight PMI volunteers provided
first aid, transferred casualties to the hospitals, assisted
in identification of dead bodies and made contact with relatives
of victims. The Federation, the ICRC and the Australian Red
Cross supported this swift operation.
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