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Jakarta Post

Access to justice should be development priority

  • Erna Witoelar and Alvon Palma

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Mon, November 17, 2014   /  11:08 am

Now that the dust has settled on President Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo'€™s inauguration, it is time for our new President to live up to the enthusiasm, faith and hope of the Indonesian people who greeted his election. A key item on his agenda is to ensure equality in the country'€™s economic development.

Jokowi'€™s predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, deserves acknowledgement for his impressive achievements in international diplomacy, particularly on global development issues. Yudhoyono won widespread respect for his extraordinary role in the debate over the new set of development goals to succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which expire next year.

Jokowi must build on SBY'€™s foundation and go far beyond it '€” in particular by placing human rights, justice and the rule of law at the heart of the development agenda.

Indonesia has already taken important steps in this direction with the 2011 Law on legal aid and the national strategy on access to justice, which seeks to give ordinary people access to legal protection '€” and to realize the rights and benefits promised in theory by the law.

But these steps will be ineffective without strong implementation and inclusion in the next medium-term development plan. Not only do we need to make access to justice a reality, we also need to integrate justice strategies in our own development planning framework.

Past governments have referred to the MDGs when formulating national development plans but the fact remains that the country is lagging behind other countries. Indonesia failed to meet four of the eight goals '€” on education, child mortality, maternal mortality and deforestation and sanitation. This failure is exacerbated by the country'€™s economic success, which has widened income inequality.

Since its inception in 2010, the Master Plan for the Acceleration and Expansion of Indonesian Economic Development (MP3EI), has often resulted in people'€™s rights being violated in the name of development. Last year the Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI) found 845 cases of violations of economic and social rights, most were related to employment and land disputes stemming from natural-resource exploitation.

While we appreciate the success of Yudhoyono in initiating and participating in international dialogs, we will not see the fulfillment of MDGs when they expire next year.

Indeed, instead of going all-out to catch up with the MDG targets, the government'€™s MP3EI has sought to accelerate economic growth that is fueled by natural resources. This has strengthened companies in the natural-resource sector and resulted in more land disputes involving local communities or indigenous peoples.

Only with access to justice can we make development more equitable and particularly help to distribute the benefits of economic success to the underprivileged. As such, access to justice is an indispensable part of future development goals. It should be a priority for the state as part of its obligation to respect, protect and fulfill human rights and to promote political stability.

Of course, the government has made some efforts to uphold justice through the enactment of the 2011 Law on legal aid. This law stipulates legal aid free of charge for the poor. Unfortunately, three years after the law was passed, it largely remains out of the reach of many potential beneficiaries.

The YLBHI has monitored the implementation of the Legal Aid Law in West Java, Yogyakarta and Lampung. It has found a widespread lack of knowledge about legal aid, inadequate budgets, poor government implementation and little take-up by particularly vulnerable populations.

Jokowi'€™s '€œNine-Point Agenda for Change'€ (Nawacita), includes laudable statements about justice and human rights. To ensure they become a reality for Indonesia'€™s people, the YLBHI recommends the following justice plan to the new administration.

We should ensure the provision of effective legal aid throughout all phases of the criminal justice process and particularly provide legal aid to those who have been arbitrarily arrested, detained or unfairly convicted, so they can appeal.
The National Development Planning Ministry should enhance coordination between the justice system and those providing medical and social services for survivors.

There should be greater support for community-based paralegals and community members in the making and implementation of laws and policies particularly related to land use and natural-resource management.

Indonesia should support the inclusion of justice targets in the new set of development goals being negotiated at the United Nations and ensure that justice goals do not fall through the cracks of international political bargaining.

The new presidency provides an opportunity to pursue what is right and must be grasped. Deprivation cannot be defeated, nor can the threat of dispossession and exploitation be lifted, without spreading access to justice to all of Indonesia'€™s people and to the rest of the world.  

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Erna Witoelar is a former minister and UN commissioner. Alvon Palma is the chairperson of the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI).

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